Fika - The art of the (staff exchange) break

What impact does working in a completely different theatre, on the other side of Europe, have on a staff member? Nina Jacques shares her experiences during the month-long ETC Staff Exchange at Folkteatern Göteborg in 2022.

What impact does working in a completely different theatre, on the other side of Europe, have on a staff member? Nina Jacques shares her experiences during the month-long ETC Staff Exchange at Folkteatern Göteborg in 2022.

“I am a fixed dramaturg at Národní divadlo – National Theatre Prague, and this is my fifth season.” This is how Nina Jacques introduces herself. For this young theatre professional of French origin, mobility has always been part of her life. “I always think about mobility - every chance that I have had in my life, I have used it,” she says.

Nina applied for ETC’s staff exchange programme in 2022 and spent a month at Folkteatern Göteborg. She never thought that she would have access to a mobility opportunity as a permanent staff member within a theatre.

“It feels like there are a lot of (mobility) possibilities out there, but most of them are not suitable for employees; the artistic field is more freelance-based,” she explains.

Nina works for the biggest theatre venue in the Czech Republic and spent a month through the ETC Staff exchange programme in a much smaller venue, in a much smaller city, in Sweden. Her host was anxious to provide the best experience for her, she says, as it was not a rehearsal period.

“But I was not interested in the creative process. I wanted to see how the institution works and how work is organised, how they create their artistic vision – this is what interested me, not purely dramaturgical work.” And, as she explains, this required an open mind from both sides, so that her hosts would let someone in and “enter the void and see what happens.” 

Even if following meetings in Swedish was not the easiest, Nina explains that that’s the way it should be: “I am there as a guest, and they need to work.” From her desk in the theatre, she continued working for her own theatre-related projects she had left behind; “while taking some distance as well.” But she also had lots of opportunities to exchange with the theatre’s dramaturgs.

“I realised that we, dramaturgs, are professionals of dialogue: you just put us on a table, and we talk for hours,” she says.

Nina wanted to question whether they were doing it ‘right’ back home. “And we are doing everything right, somehow. They were dealing with the same problems but on a different scale,” she says. For example, she explains that when she attended a staff meeting at Národní divadlo – National Theatre Prague, every member of the theatre staff was there. “We are not a closed institution, but for us a staff meeting is with 600 people, and it takes place at the beginning of the season. It is more to present than to discuss and debate.”

But in a mobility programme, it is not only a professional life one leaves behind. For Nina to participate in the staff exchange, she needed to make sure she could take her little daughter and partner with her. This meant a lot of organisation and a lot of operational support from the hosting theatre’s side.

What did she take back home? Nina explains that when observing the work practices within Folkteatern Göteborg, she found that they had a flyer addressed to guest artists that they called production plan, and in which they described how the production loop works with guest artists. She brought this flyer with her, and they made something similar in her theatre for all guest artists, but also for all the freelancers that work with the theatre. For her this small change was significant.

“You don’t need much money to change some ways of thinking and this flyer helps a lot on a human basis.”

What does it mean to leave your permanent position for a month? “My colleagues understand that my job is to stay open-minded and look at different inputs. That was what I was expecting: new inputs and contacts, and connecting the Czech theatre with Europe,” she says. “And because it is within ETC, this adds extra credibility.” And her personal life?  “Both ETC and the hosting organisation understood that I needed to take my daughter with me,” Nina explains, grateful to the hosting theatre and ETC for making the necessary arrangements for this.

Nina adds that in Sweden they have a break of around 15 minutes for coffee and sweets. They call this ‘Fika’. Nina enjoyed meeting people and exchanging with them in this informal - but at the same time, institutionalised – setting. It was a learning moment for her. She saw this as a ‘cultural thing’ that it would interesting to bring back home. And she cherished the hospitality and the connections facilitated by the host, especially by Lotta Lekvall, Folkteatern’s CEO.

If this mobility break would have a name, it might be called Fika.


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