claire symonds bids farewell to the lowry…

As my last day at The Lowry approaches, I’ve been thinking about The Lowry’s Artist Development programme over the last eight years.

One of my favourite memories is the preview of Sophie Willan’s debut stand up show, On Record, which we supported through Developed With The Lowry. It explored her experiences growing up in and out of the care system and seeing the audience on their feet and roaring their approval was clearly a sign of things to come. If you’re looking for an injection of pure joy, pop over to Twitter to see her reaction to winning a BAFTA earlier this year (but choose your moment, it’s definitely NSFW).

Things haven’t always been smooth sailing though. I was once in a technical rehearsal for dance company Igor and Moreno’s show Andante, which involved a huge plume of theatrical smoke. We had already done lots of tests to check that the smoke would stay in the theatre but we suddenly found it was flooding into all the neighbouring studios through the air-con system! It was all hands on deck. Our learning and engagement team called in favours across Salford to relocate classes and activities. Our technical team managed to stop the smoke causing a full-scale evacuation of the building. Our programming team jumped in to support and reassure the artists. And Igor and Moreno’s show got its premiere after all.

Many of my most meaningful memories involve the four companies who were our Associate Artists. Sitting with Art with Heart, working out what it meant to premiere a show on the day we learned the UK would be leaving the EU. Bringing my baby in to experience her first ever theatre show with Colour The Clouds. Travelling with LUNG and young carers from Salford to present Who Cares at the House of Lords. And more recently, watching Kill The Beast give a a one-off, unrehearsed, slightly drunken and totally chaotic Zoom performance of their 2013 hit, He Had Hairy Hands, when I really needed a lift during lockdown.

I’ll remember the great partners I’ve worked with, particularly the team at New Diorama Theatre in London. We’ve collaborated in various ways over the years but I especially loved working with them to support new musical theatre company SpitLip create Operation Mincemeat. This award-winning musical about an entirely ridiculous, entirely real WW2 secret mission remains one of my favourite shows of all time (check it out for the next two months at Southwark Playhouse). The Lowry are working with New Diorama again this year to support another company, Police Cops, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

I’m also looking forward to seeing what happens with the brilliant artists I’ve been working with through the pandemic – our new Associate Artists, The Letter Room; our Developed With artists Melissa Johns and Lily Levin, Tian Glasgow, Jessica Thanki, TalkShow and Thick and Tight; composer Finn Anderson and all the other artists and companies who are creating new work for The Lowry’s stages and platforms over the year to come. Expect big things because these guys are great.

But the biggest thing I’ll take with me is my love for Salford and Greater Manchester. We have an incredible creative community here which has grown and come together in many different ways. Over the pandemic I’ve been leading GM Artist Hub, a network of performing arts organisations who came together to support freelance artists when the theatres closed. It has been a tough year but having a way to stay connected with local artists and this group of generous and inspiring peers has been a lifeline.

So, I’m raising a glass as I get ready to move on to new adventures. To all the artists and companies I’ve been able to work with and learn from; to the partners who have shared the journey; to my Lowry family; and to Salford and Greater Manchester itself. Thank you for having me. It’s been a blast.

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