Alumni, MA Arts and Cultural Management, theatre, outreach

Theatre & Outreach: An interview with Alejandro Librero

For this week’s Alumni interview, I caught up with Alejandro Librero, the Coordinador de Acción Dramática at the Centro Dramático Nacional (Spain’s National Theatre), to find out about his current job, career path and academic publications, and to discuss the trajectory of the theatre industry.

Alejandro Librero is a theatre producer, passionate about outreach and engagement and the transformative power of the arts. He undertook an MA in Arts & Cultural Management at King’s College London between 2015 and 2016.

Can you give me an overview of your current job role and your career journey? How did you get to this position? 

I am currently working as Coordinador de Acción Dramática at the Centro Dramático Nacional, Spain’s National Theatre. The closest equivalent in the UK theatre sector would probably be Outreach Coordinator. I am responsible for two lines of programming: one provides professional development opportunities (like workshops and masterclasses) to emerging theatre talent in Madrid, at affordable prices and with leading creatives and industry figures. Outreach activity is our other priority, showing audiences parts of the theatre that usually remain hidden (workshops on how to write or theatre reading clubs) or taking the theatre beyond our walls (to schools or to neighbourhoods via audio theatre projects, for example).

To get here, I studied Business Administration in Spain (a degree I did not enjoy, but that allowed me do theatre at uni and also to learn managerial skills that have come in handy later in my career) and an Arts & Cultural Management MA at King’s. My career began in Madrid, in the producing side of theatre, working for independent theatre companies, and later took me to London, where I learnt the ropes of fundraising for the arts at the Royal Court and the Gate theatre. And now, in my current role, I have returned to producing and to Madrid!

Are there any expectations you had about this career path that you have found differed from reality, in both a good or bad way? 

When I decided I wanted to work in the arts, I knew what I was signing up to: a very tough sector, especially in Spain, with lots of access barriers, and lots of precarious work. This was totally the case, but reality was actually worse than I’d expected. I have had immense luck through my career, but there are lots of very talented people in Spain struggling to make ends meet, or to meet, because the resources and industry infrastructure just isn’t there. In the UK, the impression was the opposite: though there is much to improve, by contrast, the London UK theatre scene seemed full of schemes, of internship possibilities, of widely advertised jobs, of supportive people and institutions. And that felt great.

One other thing that I did not know when I was starting out is that different roles and different organisations afford variable degrees of involvement with the artistic side of things: though I was no creative, I thought any job in theatre would mean being in the room where it happens, in constant contact with the people that make it happen. But this is not always the case!

I would be interested to know a little bit more about your experience as an academic. Can you tell me about the academic publications you have produced, their inspiration and their focus? 

I actually have a very limited (but very rewarding) life as an academic. For my undergrad thesis, I researched the European Capital of Culture initiative, and attempted to quantify its impact through an econometric model. This was a very exciting undertaking that included travelling to Brussels to do research in European institutions. After I graduated, with the help of my phenomenal tutor, Pedro Gomes, we turned my thesis into a paper, published in the Journal of Cultural Economics. That was the end of my life as a published author. After that, I very much focused on the practical side of things.

Though it did not have a life beyond King’s College London, my master’s project was an arts based research project that afforded me the chance to engage with my more creative side, with the help of two outstanding theatre practitioners from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama: Abigail Darton and Mariana Aristizábal-Pardo. 

I would assume that Covid-19 had a significant impact on the theatre industry, both in the UK and in Spain. From your experience would you say the industry in either country has changed as a result? And looking to the future, what do you believe the trajectory of this industry to be? 

The UK theatre industry is far ahead in terms of thinking critically about itself, and I feel the greatest deal of change will be happening over there. All of the conversations that took place during the pandemic, around freelance creatives, those artists that are the beating heart of the theatre industry but often struggle under very difficult working conditions, I think they will leave a mark and courageous theatre leaders across the country will help materialise those ideas into a better industry for everyone. The never-ending discussion on what theatre should be for, which is also one of the brilliant things about theatre, as it mutates and shifts to meet the needs of the community at any given time, is now underpinned by a conversation about material conditions, sustainability. I feel it’s a very exciting moment for the UK theatre industry, with lots of potential for change. 

In Spain, I think things have gone back to the old ways a bit more. I don’t hear much of a conversation about how to do better going forward, about improving conditions for everyone in the industry. Creatively, I feel Spain is buzzing. But we still have a long way in terms of industry development. I am hoping that, eventually, I can bring some of the ideas that were flying about when I was in the UK to the table in Spain.