Intro to working internationally
By Susanne Danig
In some way all performing artists probably have an international perspective on their work. Creative artists relate to, and comment on the world they live in – and the world today is global.
The world we live in and the art we encounter inspire us all. And we need to see the work we create in a context – and today this context is international. That is how we best measure the quality and impact of the work we do, and that is why we need to be conscious about how and why we work in an international context. We need to be aware of the structure in which we work, the nature of our work and the specificity of our brand(s), and we need to care for how our work will be sustained and developed. In other words, you need to take charge of your own situation, take ownership of your work and learn the thinking, the people/institutions and the technicalities of working internationally.
This toolbox is designed to provide you with tools that can assist you in acting strategically when going international.
Language used to be a barrier – this is clearly not the case any longer, as we have a great many successful international actors today. There is no need to perform only dance and mime abroad any longer. Many text-based performances do very well when performed in English. Some places even find performances in Danish exotic. Meanwhile, thanks to technical development, the art of subtitling has grown tremendously. Danish theatre for young audiences is doing very well internationally. We all find a way to communicate, if we have something to say.
Mobility has also become easier in the last decades with open markets, fewer visa restrictions (at least if you come from Denmark), easy access to knowledge about possible partner organisations, networks and funding, and not least in the realm of travelling and transportation planning. But there are still hurdles you need to be aware of, in order to overcome them.
HOW AND WHY WE WORK INTERNATIONALLY
The best performances from all over the world circulate continuously and theatre directors often work hard to find exciting new plays and playwrights from the international scene. Many people from the performing arts scene watch international performances, travel to festivals to see work and draw inspiration, and many know the big international festivals such as the Edinburgh Festival, Avignon Theatre Festival and Theater der Welt.
Many young performing artists have had an international education, and the international perspective is embodied in them. Some form independent groups with multi-national performers, and relate naturally to international opportunities. For many of them the use of residency opportunities has become a new way of producing.
The independent field has been driving international mobility. Many independent performing arts groups, especially within the field of theatre for young audiences and movement-based work, have grasped the possibility of touring internationally. The reasons for doing this can be many, and it is wise to be aware of one’s motivations. Do you ‘just’ want new experiences? Is your focus on sharing knowledge and experience? Are you doing it primarily to raise your status and get a stronger profile in Denmark and to improve your chances of getting funded? Are you driven by the aim of strengthening the economy around your work and company? Or do you want to be challenged and develop your artistic work? Your strategy will change dramatically depending on your answers to these questions. What gigs you say yes and no to will make a difference. What funding options you will have will be different.
When you have more experience and know the international scene and have positioned yourself as an international artist, you can become part of co-producing circuits with many partners collaborating to help you produce, or you can enter into long-term artistic partnerships. For many this leads to being part of more formal networks or projects, particularly in the EU, where there is the possibility of applying for funds via Creative Europe and other funding programmes.
Theatres that have worked for a longer time might develop on a structural level and become truly integrated international organisations based on understanding the relationship between local and global, integrating this aspect into the strategies they have for collaboration with local institutions too. They might begin to perform at festivals and/or invite new international colleagues to present their works. As a ‘final stage’ this can develop into programmes supporting the development of new work by international artists and affect everything the organisation does.
WHAT ARE YOU OFFERING? IS YOUR ARTISTIC WORK READY FOR THE INTERNATIONAL MARKET?
In order to collaborate with anyone, and even more so in an international context, you need to have a clear idea about your artistic work and ambitions. You need to have been in the lab and experimented to find your language and to have developed a clearly articulated artistic work: the right performance to start with. It is important to be able to relate it to an international context: to know your peers, whom you can compare yourself to and with whom you are competing. You also need to raise your awareness about your audiences: who are they, and how do you reach them in order to sell performances? It is difficult to say when you are ready. Some artists start the other way around by producing in an international context, and might not present in Denmark until later. But of course you need to want to go international, and want it enough to make it a priority. It is a packed market with strong competition and you need to network and sell to gain from it.
There is a vocabulary you need to learn. You need to look carefully at your brand and communication tools (all of which we will go into in more in detail). You need to have references and reviews or, even better, international mentors and promoters who are interested in your work. You also need to develop your network.
WHO WILL DO IT? IS YOUR ORGANISATION GEARED TO WORKING INTERNATIONALLY?
To work internationally your structure/organisation needs to be stable and have a long-term vision. At the same time it also needs to be flexible and ready to move quickly. For the independent field the latter is the easy part, finding the stability is what you have to be determined about. For bigger institutions stability makes it very difficult to move quickly. It requires organisational willpower. Danish egnsteatre (regional or municipal theatres) and små storby teatre (smaller city theatres) are types of structures that have a good combination of stability and flexibility, which enables them to act and commit themselves to international work. You need to be aware of the base you are working from, and you need to be determined to overcome various issues and conditions. You have to find solutions to secure a stable, professional communication. Look for partners that can support you in this: for example, the right international producers or agents. You also need to know just how much you prioritise this: how much time in your full workload can you allocate to international work?
You and your organisation need to have knowledge about the international market, its operators and ways of working. You can find this information in many ways: by participating in international networks, in seminars about international work (like the ones the Development Platform does), counselling and mentorship programmes etc.
If you are a bigger organisation you also need to make sure all your employees understand the vision and are supported in developing the intercultural competences needed for working internationally. You deal with people, and they come from different cultures and might understand things differently than you.
It would also be wise to acquaint yourself with the strategies of the Danish Arts Council for international collaboration and support, how the Danish Embassies and Danish Cultural Institutes support cultural exchange, and what other organisations and funding bodies are relevant to you. They might be able to give you the support you need, if you are able to fulfil the requirements.
WHERE WILL YOU START WORKING?
It is impossible to work in the whole world. Your need to choose which areas (countries or regions) you will focus on and then take things from there. Where are you, and is your work already part of a context? Where do you already have contacts you can build on?
Considering all these things will provide you with a strategy for your international work, so you do not get lost before you even get started, or before you fulfil your potential. Your strategy will be your road map for building the right brand and choosing communication channels, and leading you to your contacts and developing your network. It will help you define how much you want to invest and the reason for doing it, so that people and structures around you will understand how to support you.
We have created a workbook with a series of questions for you so you can consider all the issues in a structured way. It is a step-by-step approach to developing a strategy for your international work and being more deliberate in how you engage in it. The main goal is to get more clarity and decide on an action plan for where you are going.
BECC Toolkit from ENCC – a toolkit for cultural centres professional (PDF) On page 58 you find this template where you can record the impacts of your mobility.