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MY SWEDISH CAREER

‘Sweden keeps pulling me back’: How this nomadic actor fell in love with Stockholm

MY SWEDISH CAREER: Though living in Sweden was never on Chris Killik's agenda, the performer found himself being convinced to audition for a play in Stockholm. Four years later it's the place he calls home.

'Sweden keeps pulling me back': How this nomadic actor fell in love with Stockholm
Killik celebrating midsummer at Galärparken. Photo: Chris Killik

The actor, singer and writer, originally from West Sussex, moved to Finland in 2013 after he fell in love with a Finnish girl at drama school. Killik succeeded in getting a role in the Swedish performance of Jesus Christ Superstar at Åbo Svenska Teater in Turku, a Finnish city across the Baltic Sea from Sweden.

While on the job he met several Swedish people who encouraged him to audition for a Shakespeare play in Stockholm. In 2014 he took the boat to Sweden and auditioned for the role of Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing, and got it.

The plan was to only stay in Sweden for three months, but after getting a job at Stockholm City Theatre (Stadsteatern), he ended up staying a further 10 months. Before he knew it, it had been three and a half years and he was still happily living there.

“With Sweden I think you end up loving it so much that you end up staying. The quality of life over here is just so great. (Stockholm) is a fantastic capital city,” Killik tells The Local.

During his time in Sweden, Killik says he has lived “all over the place” in the capital. “I think it's the nomadic nature of an actor… You can always travel if you want to and kind of have paid holidays, you just need to get a job in the country you want to go to.”


Killik on the boat from Slussen to Djurgården. Photo: Chris Killik

An obstacle the Brit faced when he first moved to Sweden was one that still exists for him now: “If you're a performer who makes his career by talking, it's much harder to do it in a language that you don't fully have a grasp of.”

“To get rid of an accent is a tough job,” he tells The Local, going on to explain how you have to really know the language first before then working on the intricacies of it. “It's just practice.”

“You have to convince people that you are a Swedish person on stage, which is the same all over the world. If you watch theatre in England and you hear an Italian accent from someone that's supposed to be speaking in an English accent, you think about it,” he adds.

The performer's most recent job in Swedish was his most difficult as he had a lot of stage time on his own.

“I was thinking if I blank there is no way that I could improvise out of this situation. I'm just going to have to apologise and say to the 800 people watching 'I'm sorry this is really difficult, I'm not from Sweden, give me a second and I’ll come back and remember what I'm supposed to say',” he laughs.

READ ALSO: Why this theatre company is putting on Shakespeare in Stockholm for free

While doing Much Ado About Nothing for another company, Killik met the three other future founders of his theatre troupe Polar Eclipse Theatre Company: Cheryl Murphy, Jo Rideout and Pontus Olgrim. “We decided that we could do it ourselves and raise the game a bit.”

“I think English speaking theatre was a little underrepresented in Stockholm… We wanted to raise the bar a bit for Stockholm and create some great theatre at the same time.”

And according to Killik, it seems to be working. “The city's park theatre [Galärparken] has been very generous to us and given us a great platform.”

Led by internationals in Stockholm, Polar Eclipse Theatre Company puts on Shakespeare in English, but according to Killik there are still a lot of Swedish people in their shows.

“It's really important for me as a company member to employ native Swedish people in a company that does English speaking theatre, because it would be hypocritical of me to want to get jobs in Swedish and not to offer the same thing to other people.”

Killik says the company is funded “on a shoe string”.

“We're always looking for funding, that's the challenge. That’s the biggest challenge with all theatre companies, getting people to believe in us, to believe in our work.”

Parkteatern (funded by the City of Stockholm) pays for their summer productions, but for other shows the troupe have to apply for funding from the state and rely on money from private sponsors.

Killik tells The Local how Polar Eclipse also continuously face the challenge of finding a venue to perform in, but other than that “people seem to love having English theatre in Stockholm”.

“A lot of people speak English if Swedish isn't their mother tongue, then it's a kind of way to bring all the cultures together, which is a big dream of Polar Eclipse – to create that unity.”

Currently Polar Eclipse put on two shows a year, one big summer Shakespeare comedy production, then a small, intimate play. They are hoping to expand to three shows a year however.

“The big dream is to have a musical once a year, but I think that’s a bit in the future. When we have a venue that's the next step.”

They have a lot of exciting stuff in the pipeline: a version of The Tempest, a version of Romeo and Juliet, and as Killik also tells The Local, “new writing from a great English playwright. A bit of a risqué production called Air Sick”.

Killik has now moved back to London for work and is planning on returning to Sweden in a year's time, but he is still back and forth to Stockholm, first for a show for three months at the beginning of last year, then for the summer Shakespeare production.

Next on the job list for the performer is a European tour where he will be singing compositions by Andrew Lloyd Webber in a series of concerts.

“Sweden keeps pulling me back,” he laughs, explaining how he auditioned for the tour in London but the final stop takes him to Cirkus in Stockholm. “I want to be back and Stockholm keeps calling me back, so I should take the hint.”

Killik met his current girlfriend when he was a part of Chicago at Stadsteatern, and that is another reason to return to Sweden.

“I think this is the one, which is really cool. She moved to London with me so we've lived together in London. We have thoughts of starting a family and all that stuff, and to do that in London or to do that in Sweden is a bit of a no-brainer to me.”

Killik's plan for when he returns to Stockholm is to continue working at some of the drama schools in the capital and do performance coaching to “offer a bit of what London teaching has”.

“Hopefully I will audition for shows and try my Swedish out to some panels of directors and casting agents to see what they think,” he adds.

“The dream would be to be living in Stockholm with a huge theatre in the very centre, purpose built for Polar Eclipse, putting on five shows a year. And that's what we're all heading and aiming towards, with you know, kids and all that stuff that goes with it.”

As for what advice he would give to someone wanting to move to Sweden, Killik exclaims “do it! And do it quickly before Brexit happens and ruins it for everyone”.

“It's just such a fantastic environment to be a part of and so welcoming to everyone. Even though I'm in London at the moment, Stockholm is still my home. Having only been here for a relatively short amount of time for my years on this planet, it’s amazing how quickly it felt good, it felt home. And that’s because of the people and the quality of life. “

Looking for work in Sweden? Browse thousands of English-language roles on The Local Jobs

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MY SWEDISH CAREER

My Swedish Career: How labour market training got me a job at Capgemini

Two years after she arrived in Sweden, Shreya Sai, from India, decided to use Sweden's 'labour market training' system to learn to code from scratch. A year later she was working as a developer at Capgemini.

My Swedish Career: How labour market training got me a job at Capgemini

Sai moved to Älmhult, the small town that hosts Ikea’s headquarters, back at the start of 2019, after her husband got a job working for the flatpack furniture giant.

She is a qualified physiotherapist and had spent two years practicing back home in India. But it didn’t take long for her to realise that it would be difficult to work in Sweden in her chosen profession, given the difficulty of getting a license to practice. 

“After coming over here, I saw that there were so many hurdles in medical fields, and it was a very long procedure of almost four years [to convert],” she says. 

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She worked as a substitute teacher, but after almost two years in Sweden, her handler at the Swedish Public Employment Services suggested she retrain. 

“I had a chat with my case officer. And I told her about my problems, the language barrier, and how, in the past, I had studied something related to IT, so that’s why she suggested I go for these certifications.” 

The case officer enrolled Sai on a six-month full stack developer course at Lexicon, an education supplier in nearby Växjö. It was a tough few months, but Sai didn’t lose hope. She completed the course in February 2021, and then started as an intern at a Stockholm startup the next month. 

“It was really tough for me initially, but anyhow, I grabbed some momentum and started understanding coding,” she remembers. “It’s so tough to be a coder, and it is the purest pressure in my whole training time, because I didn’t know anything about coding. All types of coding were alien to me.”  She had last studied computers when she was at upper secondary school.

The Covid-19 pandemic was still ongoing, so both the course and the internship were done through remote learning, but that did not stop her from getting a four-month contact as a web developer with a heating technologies company upon graduation.

Then in February this year, she started a permanent contract at Capgemini, after being hired through their Ignite graduate program. 

Sai believes that the Public Employment Service’s labour market training courses are a good option for newcomers to Sweden, with some 400 courses on offer, mostly provided by private sector suppliers such as Lexicon, Lernia, or AU utbildning. 

 You can see a full list of available courses here. And here is some information on going on a study visit.

“You choose which field you want to belong to, and when you choose, they give you some type of study visits,” she says. “And then you go and explore and receive information, and then your case officer enrolls you if there is a vacancy after a short interview.”

In May, the employment service reported that 20,210 people had undertaken labour market training in 2021, and that there were currently 40,000 people either awaiting a decision or engaged in labour market training. 

The program is expensive, costing Sweden’s government 1.5 billion kronor in 2021, but according to the report, 43.7 percent of those who took courses were working 180 days after their course was completed, and 36.2 percent were working 90 days after the training finished. 

While studying, you still qualify for unemployment benefit from the Swedish Social Insurance Agency.

Sai says that there were people on her coding course from Ireland, Israel, Iran, Sweden and Poland, among other countries, and that only about 20 percent had a direct background in IT, with the rest having had careers in other fields.

She was the only one in the class with absolutely zero experience with computers or coding, however. 

“It was very, very, very hard for me. I was like, ‘I will quit it. I won’t be able to do it.’ But my family supported me a lot. And they said, ‘you have to do it, you can’t back out because you can you don’t have any other option'”.

She lacked the qualifications, she says, to do a less intensive computer programming course at a university, and lacked the qualifications needed for other jobs in Sweden. 

“I used to like studying day and night, and somehow, I managed it. Right now, I will not say that I’m the best or a perfect coder in today’s world, but I’m working towards becoming a good coder.” 

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