I have always been interested in traveling, before university and especially after. After graduating I knew I wanted to take theatre design further and get relevant experience, but I wanted to combine it with travel.
For me theatre is a way of learning about life, people, and cultures. I actively chose to work abroad, and searched for different programmes that support you financially along with finding a job. For me it meant being able to live abroad, to be part of a community, to learn a new language, and most of all to experience art and theatre in a different country.
I joined a programme called European Voluntary Service that is open to anyone living in the European Union aged 18 to 25. The projects are all over Europe and further abroad. It is free to join; you just need to find a ‘sending’ organisation at home that is part of the network. I joined because their aim is to enable young people to travel and work in jobs they won’t necessarily find alone. It was important to me to combine social work with art and theatre, and to work with children. It was up to me to arrange where to go and contact the different organisations. There was also a lot of paperwork and applications and three months of waiting for an answer.
The programme is responsible for health insurance, and also a visa if it is required. Luckily I did not need anything else, either a visa or legal requirements, as it is a voluntary programme. They pay for travel, rent for house and we receive a monthly allowance. It’s not for saving money but for day to day and the experience.
For me theatre is a way of learning about life, people, and cultures.
Compared to Greece, I think the whole ‘art world’ in England is much more developed, given more emphasis and taken more seriously. There are many art and dance festivals throughout the summer in Athens, Kalamata and other islands. I was fortunate to go to some – the standard is high, but they are mostly foreign artists touring.
I think it is an important time for artists in Greece now. Things are starting to contemporise, and questions are being asked. Greek society is still fairly traditional, and the Greeks are rightly famous for their ancient theatre and archeological sites. Modern art is thin on the ground outside of Athens.
There is definitely a stigma here about being an artist, which you would not find in the UK. Young people are interested because it’s different, but most would not choose to study art-related courses as they do not guarantee a job. There is high unemployment in young people here, and since the euro everything has doubled in price but the salaries have stayed the same. I think in the UK there is more support to take up art and theatre.
Finding accommodation is very difficult. Young people before marriage often live with their parents, and there is a reluctance to rent rooms/houses to young foreigners, believing they may party too much without their parents around. Athens is always something of an exception as it’s a modern city with many foreign students. But in the rest of Greece it is difficult to organise.
Communication is one of the most essential elements in theatre, so it can be a large obstruction. In Greece English in school is learnt to a high standard, however it was important to me to learn Greek nevertheless.
Communication is one of the most essential elements in theatre, so it can be a large obstruction. In Greece English in school is learnt to a high standard, however it was important to me to learn Greek nevertheless. Firstly not to be seen as a lazy English person! But also to help break down the barrier. Older people for instance don’t speak a word of English, so learning Greek can be very useful, and the locals appreciate the efforts. Spanish is much easier and after 4 months in Spain I was able to understand the language, but here after 5 months I still speak simple Greek, so it depends which country you are in. If anybody wants to work abroad the language shouldn’t put them off, however they should be prepared for a few frustrating months of battling to try and understand what’s going on. Sometimes you feel left out because of the language. But people from the UK are lucky enough that English is the common language between many foreigners.
It’s an enriching experience. Working with new people that you haven’t chosen breaks cultural barriers. In Greece, they are infamous for being a little ‘siga siga’, which means ‘slowly, slowly’. They are often disorganised and like to talk a lot rather than do. But towards the end, there is a quick fuss, stress and a rush to get it finished! I found it difficult to adapt to as it can sometimes be frustrating.
I feel that this experience has enriched me as an artist, as my work gets different feedback because it’s in a different context, with a different audience. Of course it’s subjective as always but my identity as an artist has developed, and confidence grown. It can be difficult working in a new country as you may feel that you are taking a step back rather than forward. If you are at home you are pickier about the jobs you take, and they would normally be of the standard you want. You take jobs that are relevant to the career path you wish to follow and you feel that you are climbing a ladder. Abroad you may have to start again from the beginning.
I am designing two shows, one for a youth theatre and one for the small local children’s theatre. Both shows are educational and involve children acting. The youth theatre show is the adventures of a girl called Cristina. It’s a Greek story, adapted by the director. The cast is made from ten children, all of them taking three roles each. As a designer I have a lot of freedom to do what I want, provided it’s within budget and physically possible. I have a nice space to work in and the director is always at hand if I have any queries or need any help. It’s a good set-up and most importantly it lets me dictate my own process of creativity, from designing to making. It’s a small budget production and we do a lot of “borrowing”, but as a first professional production it fits the bill.
As the play is in Greek I don’t completely understand the text, and as a designer it’s often very frustrating as it changes the process and you have to rely on the director or others to explain the plot. This can take away the “personal images” that arise when reading a play.
I also lead creative workshops at the youth community centre, which are open to anybody. This challenged my responsibility, my organisational skills and planning! I learnt a lot about creativity, and its power to learn, to use the imagination in all forms. I decided to concentrate mainly on making things from recycled material, such as found objects, as anyone can do this and the people become aware of this creative possibility. I realised while doing this that its something I want to take further, and plan to start workshops with the theme of ethical creativity.
The experience is definitely not just another job, especially as the pay is not great.
I chose to do this as I knew it wouldn’t be an easy experience, but I also knew it wouldn’t be too difficult. Before coming here I was planning to work in Sao Paulo doing art workshops with the children in the favellas. I see this experience (in terms of cultural difference) in-between the two as the culture shock is not enormous. Traveling always opens the horizon up, it’s a clichÃ© but it’s true. You learn about another way of life, which puts your own life in perspective and you develop and grow.
In one way it’s also a holiday, but it’s important to strike a balance. I want to do meaningful work, but I also want to see the world. Here I am lucky to live on the beach, and every month I am able to travel to a beautiful island somewhere in the middle of the sea. All of these things are building my experience here. However it is a compromise – I will have to go home and work straightaway to pay the rent at home. Its a personal choice, some people aim to work for the BBC, or the RSC but I want to combine social work with theatre and art, and that probably means never having money.
EVS offers volunteers not only the chance to go live and work in another country in Europe but also offers volunteers a rare opportunity to become involved in work that is carried out by communities, NGOs and ‘not for profit organizations’ across the continent. There are a wide variety of placements available.
The European Voluntary Service aims to support young people. It enables you to gain skills and experience in another European country, and also to improve language skills. EVS also promotes volunteering as a way to support community development and allows many organizations to benefit from the efforts of volunteers. Of course I would recommend it, but that goes without saying. Be prepared for anything. I came here with expectations, which were not really fulfilled. Don’t expect the perfect job, and try to be adaptable and enthusiastic. Sometimes you may have to do jobs which you haven’t chosen. Meeting other volunteers and the enormous network of social work that you are part of is invaluable and something I will never forget.
Through my EVS experience other doors opened; I will be a workshop co-coordinator in a large scale creativity camp organised by Kids In Action, www.creativity.gr, and I’ve also got a paid job designing a touring one man show.
There are a large variety of different programmes and organisations to join who do meaningful work and need artists willing to give their time and energy. It takes time to research – it’s not quick.
I studied theatre because for me it combines all art forms, from literature to make-up. And I want to be part of a group of like-minded people who want to create together with similar aims. For this reason I undertook this project; it combines actors with photographers, clowns with animators, designers with musicians.