18 March 2014 • by Nina Segal and Christopher Shea
Far From Home: Working in the US vs. the UKAs we gear up to take Grounded to Washington, Nina and Christopher discuss the differences in working in the arts in America versus England. Practical details! Sweeping opinions! Patriotism!
Nina is the Gate’s producer. Originally from London, she worked for almost three years at 59E59 Theaters in New York. Nina has also worked with The TEAM, Bushwick Starr, Donmar Warehouse, Gym at Judson, Old Vic Tunnels, Finborough Theatre and BAC.
Christopher is the Gate’s current intern. He is completing his work placement as part of a master’s program at Berlin’s Humboldt University. He is from Boston, but lived and worked in Chicago as both a freelance writer for Time Out and a marketing administrator at Steppenwolf Theatre Company.
FAVORITE THEATRE IN YOUR COUNTRY OF ORIGIN
Nina: The Gate’s certainly up there, but Battersea Arts Centre, where I got my first job as a naive fifteen year old, will always feel like home.Christopher: Brooklyn Academy of Music and The Public Theater.
FAVORITE THEATRE IN THE COUNTRY THAT IS NOT MINE
Nina: St Ann’s Warehouse – or the Public when they’re got Under the Radar on.
Christopher: The Yard is hip, and I like the Battersea Arts Centre a lot. It's also pretty great to have a National Theatre.
FAVORITE THING ABOUT THE COUNTRY THAT IS NOT MINE
Nina: Biscuits and gravy. It can look a little like grey slop, but it is delicious grey slop. Also the drive from New York down to North Carolina.
Christopher: What a way with words this strange island people has. I like that they seem to put in and leave out indefinite articles at random (‘I got flu,’ ‘it’s on the Tottenham Court Road’). I also like that everything can be proper. A proper hangover, for example. How proper could that be?
THE THEATRE LANDSCAPE
Nina: Having worked in new work and play development in both countries, it seems like the countries differ a little in terms of approach to emerging theatre-makers. The US is very focused on a lengthy reading process, whereas the UK has more of an immediate scratch culture. That said, both have amazing regional strongholds where new work is thriving away from major hubs.
Christopher: America is a vast country with many merits and no particular belief in public funding for the arts. The country’s biggest theatre cities are New York, and then Chicago, and then slightly further down the list, Minneapolis. But there are interesting venues in cities across America, like places in LA, DC, Seattle, and Lexington, Kentucky, for example. Let freedom ring.
THE VISA SITUATION
Nina: I was very lucky to be offered a visa by 59E59 Theaters, who programme the annual Brits Off Broadway festival. You essentially have to prove that no US citizen could do your job, which is where the British connection was invaluable to the 59E59 position. If you’re hoping to apply for a visa, be very specific about what skills you bring to the table and why they can’t be easily replicated. My first visa was for 18 months, which I then extended for another six years – before the Gate job beckoned me back to London.
Christopher: Getting a visa to the UK is pretty difficult these days. To get a permanent work visa, you have to be sponsored by a company that will say you can do the work better than anyone who lives in the E.U. The Americans I know who have gotten such a visa usually have very specialized knowledge or work in a profit-making field like banking where there’s already an in-house lawyer who can handle visa stuff. If you want an internship visa, you have to apply online, showing that you have an internship offer, and have had something like £1000 in your bank account for the past three months. You can’t work for any money other than what you make in your internship. It’s important to apply for the visa about 3-4 months before you plan to come to the U.K. So if you want to work in the arts in the UK and get paid for it, I think the best move is to try to find a study scholarship and then come to a university in London.
GETTING AN INTERNSHIP
Nina: Internships are a grey area – I know people often undertake them whilst on 90 day tourist visas, but legally you’re not supposed to be employed in any sense without a full work visa. Especially as regulations are becoming stricter (in both the US and the UK) regarding internships needing to be paid, you’re unlikely to find an employer willing to take on a non-US intern without a work visa. The J1 visa is an 18 month study/work visa that is aimed at early career employees and positions that offer training and development, so that’s a good place to begin in terms of interning on a work visa.
Christopher: I found that when I was applying for internships, nearly everyone would only consider me if the internship was a required part of my education. That’s true of anybody that’s Arts Council-funded, i.e. anyone that’s an arts organisation. If you want to intern without being enrolled in a degree program, it’s best to go for jobs in for-profit fields that can make their own rules on offering internships.