6 February 2013

Clare Amsel talks about her time at Lancaster and how her career took her to producing ceremonies for two Olympic Games.

Clare (Religious Studies, 1979, Cartmel) has been a producer of large-scale public events for over 25 years, which includes producing the Ceremonies for two Olympic Games. She was the Senior Co-ordinating Producer of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games Opening and Closing Ceremonies and the Producer of the Paralympic Opening Ceremony for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Here, Clare answers some questions about her time at Lancaster and her career to date:

What made you choose Lancaster University?

I chose Lancaster for a number of reasons: I knew the area was beautiful and I would prefer to be close to a town rather than a city: I had a school friend who was already at Lancaster and was pretty positive about it and I wanted to go to a campus university.

How did your degree or skills acquired in the process influence your career choice?

I arrived at Lancaster to do European Studies but decided to change to Comparative Religion with a minor in Social Anthropology. I had a number of professors and lecturers who were unusually charismatic and I learnt the value of being an engaging communicator. Certainly the degree kindled a growing interest in other cultures and this has remained with me to this day: I've been lucky enough to have travelled, lived and worked across the globe and I hope that there's more of that to come.

What are your happiest memory of student days?

I was very happy at Lancaster. I'd gone after a gap year and had friends amongst students and amongst lecturers and felt quite fulfilled. 

What would you do differently if you did it all again?

I'd invest in a heater. I can still remember the cottage a group of us had rented in Galgate where the curtains froze to the inside of the bedroom window panes in winter. 

Have you been back recently? Do you keep in touch with other Lancaster alumni?

I have stayed friends with some of the teaching staff and alumni. Certainly one of my closest friends was with me at Lancaster.

Describe your career progression leading up to and including your role in the 2012 Olympics

I knew that communications had to be central to whatever I went on to do in my career and ideally with a creative element and overseas travel. Not quite knowing where that could take me, I began by teaching English, with a two year posting in Buenos Aires. Whilst it was an unforgettable experience and afforded me the opportunity to evolve my communication skills, it was not as broad as I wanted in a career. So, on returning to the UK, I doggedly pursued roles in creative communications, struck lucky and began working as a production assistant in an industry which was then called industrial theatre. This was all about taking a product, be it a shoe, a car or a country and making it very desirable, very wanted, by creating an experience, an event and an engagement with it. This is now often referred to as experiential marketing. Following several years as a production assistant, I became a producer and then went on to manage experiential marketing and strategic communications companies in the UK, Belgium and Greece. When there seemed nowhere else to go, though I was very content in what I did, I was asked to join the team who produce the Olympic and Paralympic Opening and Closing Ceremonies. In terms of creating experiences, these are the pinnacle and the scale is quite startling: a live audience of 80,000 people and a broadcast audience of 4 billion. The responsibility of the Producer is to lead the production team in delivering the artistic vision. The production team is composed of all the elements that combine to make the Ceremonies happen, be they design, technical, operational, choreographic, music, audio visual, cast, costume, scenic or otherwise. So far I have played senior roles in the Athens 2004 and London 2012 Ceremonies. The experience is tremendously challenging but literally, thrilling.

What personal qualities do you have that have contributed to your success in your career?

I'm open-minded, pro-active, diligent and very determined. I'm lucky enough to also pick up languages quickly, so I've been able to communicate in the local language wherever I have worked for any period of time. This makes a tremendous difference.

What are your plans for the future? 

My plans for the future are evolving and I can't say too much about that at the moment, apart from saying I hope to go out with a bang, not a whimper!

Do you have any specific advice to current students as to how to make the most of their time at Lancaster and with regard to their future careers?

I think time at university is all about foming one's own opinions, getting to grips with making decision and gaining confidence.  Being pro-active is extremely important.  I have had a number of interns work with me and the ones who got jobs easily afterwards were the ones who clearly enjoyed and engaged with their role and went beyond its remit.

 

Read about other alumni who worked at the 2012 London Olympics - Norman Poole, Dean Hardman, Anna Fenton, Sarah Lamb, Anthony Worth, Nick Hope, Chris Houston, Tom Young, David Hodgson, Rob Mulgrue, Tom Levitt, Sarah Bater, more alumni