‘Theatre brings you closer than just going for a drink’

Why a Malmö-based German and Brit believe English-language theatre could help connect Swedes and foreigners.

'Theatre brings you closer than just going for a drink'
On Stage Skåne. Sixth from left, Anne Alcott. Second from right, Richard McTierney. Photo: On Stage Skåne

Anne Alcott and Richard McTiernan together established southern region Skåne’s first English-language theatre group, On Stage Skåne, in February of this year. Just closing the curtains on their most recent play entitled 'The Nine Worst Break-Ups of All Time', they spoke to The Local about how they got started.

Alcott is not new to the stage. She started out teaching improvisation comedy in Malmö, which she had previously done in her native Germany, before making the switch to theatrical productions.

“I wanted to do some drama, so I took some drama lessons, and then I got together with Richard. We had a lot of common friends because you know, international people tend to stick together, but despite us having the same friends for about three years we actually hadn't met until this year,” she tells The Local.

“I was looking for something to do because I work from home as a freelance writer, but I couldn't find anything,” adds McTiernan, who is from the north of England, about how he got involved.

“I think there can be a lack of groups which are accessible to people who don't speak Swedish. Swedish culture is a little bit difficult for Brits if you don't speak the language,” he says.

And so they created their theatre group, performing in English. They were able to register as a 'study circle' and make use of a room at Malmö Academy of Music, courtesy of the local authority.

Despite her background in theatre, the project was not without challenges for Alcott, who is a native German speaker and has learned English alongside Swedish after moving to Malmö five-and-a-half years ago with her husband. But that was just the way she wanted it.

“Once I'm comfortable with something and I know I can do it, I want to push it a little further. So I know I can do improv theatre, I've done it for many years now, and I know I can teach it. It's not really a challenge for me, it got a little bit boring,” she says, explaining this led her to pursue productions, focusing on directing.

“Richard,” she says, “is the more technical one!”

After putting on their most recent play entitled 'The Nine Worst Break-Ups of All Time' just over a week ago, it seems they may have to put upcoming ideas on hold for a short while, focusing on family life instead.

McTiernan and his wife are expecting a baby and Alcott, has a three-year-old-son called Jamie. “And I'm making number two right now,” she tells The Local excitedly. It's a mix of languages in her household. “Jamie speaks a little Swedish, English and German – and mostly his own made-up language. Honestly, I think it's a great opportunity,” she says about her son being trilingual from birth. “I wish I had that!”

Anne Alcott and her son Jamie. Photo: Private

But sticking with English for now, McTiernan says he believes there is scope in Sweden for more plays performed in the international language, stating: “It's one of few countries that doesn't change the television, if you go to Germany it's dubbed, but they just subtitle shows here.”

“I think Swedes' English is really good; there could be a market for more English plays. I think a play can be understandable for the most part, and you can get a lot out of it, without the language. Shakespeare is very difficult to understand for a lot of people, for example, but there can be a lot going on visually. I think that's certainly something I would consider for our group too, doing it in a language other than English, or even other than Swedish.”

READ ALSO: 'We want Swedes and foreigners to laugh at their differences'

Despite being kept busy with the new additions to their families they are both expecting, it certainly has not stopped them from thinking about future avenues for the productions.

“Richard and I have talked about doing a play about being an expat,” Alcott says, “about the daily challenges in expats' experiences, I think that would be quite good.”

Asked what sort of scenes such a comedy might include, she responds: “Oh, I don't know, I think we would talk about the design obsession of Swedes and that everything has to be 'lagom'… we had some rough ideas.”

McTiernan adds: “Swedes have a very different kind of humour to the English in some regards. A really popular show here is 'Keeping Up Appearances'. Every Swede I've met has watched it, but I don't think I've ever met an English person who has. I mean, clearly someone did because it kept running!”

On forging his own life in Sweden as an immigrant, he says: “Part of the reason we moved is because of the social care, I'm a huge supporter of that. I think they have the work-life balance right. They look after new mothers and fathers. I really like that sort of thing from Sweden.”

Richard McTiernan. Photo: Private

However, although the Swedes make warm and wonderful friends once you get to know them, the Nordic society does have a reputation for being difficult to break into as a foreigner and many feel left alone.

“I think a lot of people just come to Sweden and get forgotten about in the system, I don't know what the answer is. I think there needs to be more projects like ours which help people make friends, to get out and do something and to give back to the community, because I think Sweden is very welcoming, but then some people can get left behind.”

Alcott says she would encourage non-Swedes and Swedes alike to go beyond the usual drinks meet-ups in their own integration efforts and social lives by getting involved in local theatre.

“I think if you do theatre together, you have to be closer to each other than you realize. There has to be a trust if you're on stage, because you catch each other if there are any problems,” she says. “It brings you closer than just going for a drink.”

Article written by The Local's intern Jack Schofield.

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Reader question: When am I eligible for a Swedish pension?

A reader got in touch to ask how long he had to work in Sweden before he was eligible for a pension. Here are Sweden's pension rules, and how you can get your pension when the time comes.

Reader question: When am I eligible for a Swedish pension?

The Swedish pension is part of the country’s social insurance system, and it can seem like a confusing beast at times. The good news is that if you’re living and working here, you’ll almost certainly be earning towards a pension, and you’ll be able to get that money even if you move elsewhere before retirement.

You will start earning your Swedish general pension, or allmän pension, once you’ve earned over 20,431 kronor in a single year, and – for almost all kinds of pension in Sweden – there is no time limit on how long you must have lived in Sweden before you are eligible.

The exception is the minimum guarantee pension, or garantipension, which you can receive whether you’ve worked or not. To be eligible at all for this, you need to have lived in Sweden for a period of at least three years before you are 65 years old. 

“There’s a limit, but it’s a money limit,” Johan Andersson, press secretary at the Swedish Pension Agency told The Local about the general pension. “When you reach the point that you start paying tax, you start paying into your pension.”

“But you have to apply for your pension, make sure you get in touch with us when you want to start receiving it,” he said.

Here’s our in-depth guide on how you can maximise your Swedish pension, even if you’re only planning on staying in Sweden short-term.

Those who spend only a few years working in Sweden will earn a much smaller pension than people who work here for their whole lives, but they are still entitled to something – people who have worked in Sweden will keep their income pension, premium pension, supplementary pension and occupational pension that they have earned in Sweden, even if they move to another country. The pension is paid no matter where in the world you live, but must be applied for – it is not automatically paid out at retirement age.

If you retire in the EU/EEA, or another country with which Sweden has a pension agreement, you just need to apply to the pension authority in your country of residence in order to start drawing your Swedish pension. If you live in a different country, you should contact the Swedish Pensions Agency for advice on accessing your pension, which is done by filling out a form (look for the form called Ansök om allmän pension – om du är bosatt utanför Sverige).

The agency recommends beginning the application process at least three months before you plan to take the pension, and ideally six months beforehand if you live abroad. It’s possible to have the pension paid into either a Swedish bank account or an account outside Sweden.

A guarantee pension – for those who live on a low income or no income while in Sweden – can be paid to those living in Sweden, an EU/EEA country, Switzerland or, in some cases, Canada. This is the only Swedish pension which is affected by how long you’ve lived in Sweden – you can only receive it if you’ve lived in the country for at least three years before the age of 65.

“The guarantee pension is residence based,” Andersson said. “But it’s lower if you haven’t lived in Sweden for at least 40 years. You are eligible for it after living in Sweden for only three years, but it won’t be that much.”