Claire Symmonds, Senior Producer for Artist Development at The Lowry
- Arts and creative
Name: Claire Symmonds
Job title: Senior Producer for artist development at The Lowry
How I got the job…there isn’t a single, straight forward path into artist development, I didn’t know it existed when I was studying. I did my A levels in English, Theatre Studies, Classical Civilisation and general studies, I did a degree in creative writing and I worked as a Journalist for a while. I knew that I loved theatre so I wrote to some theatre’s and asked if there was any way I could get involved. I was offered some work experience reading scripts and I did some talent scouting, where I watched shows and made reports on what I’d seen. At the same time, I was reviewing theatres for the magazines I was writing for. I got a role in the theatre team at the Arts Council and I spent a number of years working on one of their funding programmes, helping artists get the money that they need to make new shows. This helped me get a good understanding of what was happening across the country. I then got a job as a programmer at The Lowry, where I made decisions about what kind of work goes on stage. I started building some artist development programmes and then over the years more of my work became about that and now I do this full time.
My position in a nutshell… my job is all about helping artists achieve their creative potential – by commissioning them to make new work or helping them understand more about how the industry works.
My typical day…I could be sitting in a rehearsal room watching a piece of work developing or meeting artists to talk about a new project they’ve got in mind. I could be traveling across the country to see other work and meeting people. I could also be working on budgets and spreadsheets or I might be helping develop funding applications, teaching in universities or running workshops.
The worst part of my job… I often need to have difficult conversations with artists – I give them feedback on the work that they are developing. That could be telling them that some parts need work or telling them we aren’t able to commission their show. Everyone is so passionate about their work but to my job well I have to be really honest about what will or won’t work for the lowry.
The best part of my job… That moment where I am sitting in the audience, the lights go down, the first performance is about to step out. I know everything that has taken place to get to that stage, I know what the work means to the artists and I know the audience are going to experience something fantastic. There is quiet just before the show starts and that is my favourite moment.
What are the key skills/attributes needed in your role…They are quite broad but you have really love your art form. Watch a lot of different work, understand who is making good work and what is it about it that is appealing, successful or interesting. Be interested in how the industry works so you can learn enough to start knowing where somebody else can find the answers to their questions. You need to be a people person, have good communication skills, listening skills and build relationships with people – communicating with them in a way that makes them feel like you understand what they are talking about and you care about it. It’s also important that you develop the ability to manage budgets.
Advice for someone looking to go into artist development… The most important thing you can do is watch a lot of different things and go to live performances. It can be intimating going to a theatre on your own, however most theatres have schemes to encourage young people to come and watch their shows. If there are offers, go, and see a show for £5. Also have a look online, on YouTube or interesting theatre companies and see the kind of performance that they make. It’s useful to have an eye on what people are talking about – read as much as you can, be interested and curious. Have a look at arts emergency – a brilliant organisation that can help connect with people working in theatre now. Find out how they got there and perhaps get some mentoring. It’s such an exciting field to work in, you are always doing something different and you can be apart of such extraordinary moments and journeys.