When I moved to Malmö from San Francisco, the best advice I never received was: “Get over yourself and move on.” However, an expat living in London did warn me that it took at least five years to make anything happen. In my fifth year in Sweden, I now understand.
As an established small fish in the small pond of San Francisco’s theatre scene, I hoped to continue my writing and performing here. Yet I discovered emigration by its nature risks having to humble oneself and start over.
When we arrived in Malmö, I prioritised a paycheck over performing and took work at an international school, which put my creative work on hold. Estranged from my former life, I related to the taxi driver who claimed to be a doctor in his country.
The workload of being a full-time teacher, husband and father helped exhaust the regret out of me. However, when I quit my teaching job last year, I realised how living and working in an English-speaking environment had placed me outside Swedish society. It had limited my performance opportunities to coffee break improv storytelling and scattered appearances at Copenhagen Theatre’s Circle Open Stage.
Fortunately the Lund Humour Festival, hosted by Anders Jansson and Johan Wester, offered a glimmer of hope to this former fringe theatre performer. It not only includes English- speaking performers, but it sets the bar high, attracting acts like English comedian Bill Bailey and American humour writer David Sedaris. It was a bar that I failed to meet when I received my rejection notice.
To their credit, they softened the blow with a festival all-access pass and the offer of introducing an act. Being invited to watch those chosen over you is one thing. Being asked to introduce them felt like chauffeuring the girl who turned you down to the prom. Yet what were my choices – remain bitter or move on?
Besides, I reminded myself that my ascent to the bottom rung of the Fringe Theatre world started with volunteering not performing.
While volunteering at San Francisco’s Fringe Festival, I met Christina Augello, the festival’s artistic director, who presented mentorship essential to my development as a performer. After all, festivals run on the fuel that is volunteerism.
So taking a page from my own history, I volunteered for Lund’s festival. Like a sheepdog locked inside for too long and then unleashed into a field of sheep, I jumped into the festival, doing everything from putting up posters to taking tickets. I even made key professional contacts, yet the most rewarding aspects remained finally feeling a part of something truly Swedish.
Starting over is never easy, but what are the alternatives? Sitting around rejected and bitter, or getting over yourself and getting involved?
On the train to Lund, a guy stopped me, pointed to my festival t-shirt and said: “Just seeing that t-shirt makes me laugh.”
And I thought to myself that just wearing it makes me smile.