Working Abroad – Christina Penna

Sketches on the death of Ivan

Sketches on the death of Ivan

I must admit that I didn’t chose actively to work abroad but I am the kind of person who would never say no to an experience out of my territory. After having studied and worked in my home country, I decided that I needed to go abroad for a while for further studies. I was lucky enough to get a grant and could make it to London. After the course (MA Scenography at Central St. Martin’s College of Art and Design) I had the chance to be invited by a fellow student along with 3 more designers from the course to co-design an opera for the main opera-house (Degollado) of Guadalajara, Mexico. After this experience, I felt I needed to come back to London and catch up with the massive creative production that this city has to offer to young artists.

Being Greek and an European Union citizen, I haven’t had many problems working and studying in the UK. I spent my first year in London as a student, when I decided to come and stay in London, everything seemed to work naturally. It was very easy getting a national insurance number.


I believe that being self employed here can be a quite complicated matter but one has to deal with it on it’s own. Personally to survive in London I have to take up part time jobs other than that of theatre designer. Similarly in the past in my home country I have had to do the same, only in Greece I was luckier and the part time jobs I found were within my field of studies.

First Steps:

Where I have found it difficult to get work it’s because I haven’t settled in a place, so every time I have to start building a new network to get started. Slowly I think one finds the way through the industry but it needs a lot of hard work and of course luck. I believe that in London the competition is greater than in my home town (Athens) but there are definitely more things going on here in terms of projects, benefits and funding for artists. At the same time in London a lot of designing work is being done voluntary or with very little money. So according to the above the status of artists is more or less the same in the two main places I have worked.

Where I have found it difficult to get work it’s because I haven’t settled in a place, so every time I have to start building a new network to get started.

Working abroad is definitely a maturing experience for an artist. One gets to overcome difficulties that one wouldn’t have to deal with in it’s own country such as the language for example or even the orientation (having to figure out each time where things are and how things work in a country). My work abroad has helped me as an artist to overcome the stereotypes one might have of different cultures. It has made me want to to explore the different cultures and the way people deal with this code called theatre.

Now or Forever

Now or Forever

Another interesting aspect is the reaction of the audience. Exposing my work in different countries means that I am exposing it to a broader audience. When the work communicates with this audience the fulfilment is greater and I have realised that I understand more about my work.

The fact that I have worked abroad has made me more in control of my work in terms of production and time management and quality wise it has enriched my point of view. I am less impatient with the process of making theatre, more analytical but at the same time more practical. I have also learnt to deal with people in all levels and have improved my communication skills. The work abroad hides many obstacles and unfolds many paths that make it more difficult to focus. But in the end, the experience gained helps one become more confident with one’s work as a professional artist.

Work I have made in other places, though it might impress people, doesn’t really seem to help in terms of finding a job.

In terms of my expectations, what I have realised unfortunately, is that work I have made in other places, though it might impress people, doesn’t really seem to help in terms of finding a job. Industry people are more interested to see what you have achieved in the country they are working in and are not really interested in projects one has made in for example Mexico or Greece.


I have gained much through my experiences abroad but at this point I would like to settle in one place (London at the moment) and focus. If I was offered a job elsewhere though… I don’t think I could have said no… working abroad is more than a job for me. Talking from my personal experience what I enjoy most in working abroad is discovering the different markets in every country. In Poland we would try and find materials for our designs in huge industrial stores or in the Jewish markets. In Guadalagara, Mexico one loses the sense of time when going around the market as one can find anything that crosses one’s mind. In London I like finding my way around the local markets of Dalston, Sheperd’s Bush and Whitechapel. You come across different kinds of materials and people who can advise you in many things. Markets for me are places of inspiration.


Recommendations/Where to begin?

It definitely is a lesson on it’s own. Other than Greece, which is my home country, I have had the chance to work in Poland (as placement through my MA course), the UK and Mexico. It is not an easy thing to do as every time is like starting from the beginning. This is due to the nature of theatre that mostly works around a network of people whom one needs to keep in touch in order not to be “forgotten”. Despite that I would recommend designers to cross the borders of their home country and exchange views and ideas with people in other countries. As I said it’s a maturing experience and helps one stand on ones feet at the same time it enriches one’s point of view.

I think artists should start by being more communicative and open to other cultures and other artists. Practically speaking, if someone lives in London is surrounded by so many cultures and it is not that hard to create a network of people around the world. Next step is to start making projects and try to present them in festivals or other venues in other countries, then one thing leads to another. I was surprised to realise during my MA course in Central St Martins how 30 people from all over the world (Taiwan to Mexico) could communicate. We had our differences of course, but this is part of the procedure.

About Christina’s Work:

Alpha Omega

Alpha Omega

My main field is design for theatre. I have always considered the design as an organic part of a show and have always tried with my designs to meet the needs of the play or script, director and performers. This is what urged me to get involved also with puppetry, where one has more control of the whole piece. I have collaborated with directors and designers of different kinds (plays, performance, video, opera). I have also developed my own piece, a mixture of puppetry and mime theatre that I presented this May at the Baron’s Court theatre as part of the new writers event “Write Side of the Brain”. Main interest in my work is to try and create an international language that can communicate visually ideas in an international level. Recently I have also been designing for events.

Top Tips:

  • Research local employment laws before you leave.
  • Finance: make sure you have accounted for currency exchange differences in your budget.
  • Visit sites such as www.on-the-move.org
  • Try to build up a base of contacts before you leave.
  • Be prepared to start from the bottom and build your way up new networks.

Read More:



One thought on “Working Abroad – Christina Penna

  1. really insightful article, learning more here than in my college lectures. keep up the good work!

    Posted by Alex Fox | March 5, 2010, 5:52 am

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