Jacqui’s Placement in Montenegro: Reflections, Inspections and Changed Perceptions

02.04.2019

I couldn’t quite believe my luck when I was chosen for a placement in Montenegro’s very own national theatre. Coming from a background in music, I had never worked in a theatre and felt this was the perfect opportunity to expand my skills and get to see some fantastic theatre at the same time. I work in the Camerata in the Community team at Manchester Camerata, which uses music to improve people’s quality of life across the North West of England.

We collaborate with a variety of artists on our programme including theatre makers and playwrights, so although I had dipped my feet into the world of theatre it was a very different aspect. My role at Camerata includes working with the Concerts team to showcase new pieces created by people in the community on so I hoped to expand my production skills and learn a bit more about how larger organisations work. I wasn’t sure what to expect before I left but I quickly fell in love with the country, its beautiful mountains, sparkling blue seas, windy roads and, of course, the wonderful and kind people. I was constantly taken aback by how accommodating and hospitable everyone was and I felt welcomed right from the moment I arrived.

Coming from a busy and small workplace, working within the National Theatre was a huge contrast. In Montenegro, there is less rush and more socialising over coffee both in and out of the workplace. People take their time and there is far less stress in the atmosphere – in the big cities of the UK you’re surrounding by rushing people, heads in phones and coffees in hand but in Montenegro, it’s incredibly rare to see anyone rush and even more rare to see anyone drinking a coffee and walking. It’s apparent that coffee is an important part of their culture, and it is meant to be enjoyed and drank slowly. Learning how the large theatre worked internally, and at such a relaxed pace, was a really valuable experience for me. I developed my skills working within a larger company, and I have gained a broader understanding of the challenges in working within large businesses, such as communication within different departments and being able to put forward new ideas. The experience has given me more confidence in dealing with these situations, overcoming the obstacles and taking a lead when required.

Wanting to make the most of my time in Montenegro, and thanks to the British Council’s enthusiasm of my skill set, I was extremely lucky to spend my additional time meeting new people and creating contacts in Montenegro. From these meetings I’ve gained a better understanding of Montenegro’s current situation including the difference in funding, how different countries work culturally, how local and national organisations work with each other and with the government to obtain funding, and create programmes, budgets and aims within the organisation. Although the vast contrast surprised me, these meetings helped us to look at how Camerata could work and adapt within such a different context and enabled us to identify particular areas for development and potential partnerships.

One of the organisations I went to visit was Podgorica’s Day Care Centre for children and young people living with disabilities, one of 10 centres in Montenegro, all stated funded and newly established, which aim to integrate the young people into society and gain an education. This is especially important as there is not the same support like in the UK, and there is not the same widespread acceptance and understanding. As there are few choices for people with disabilities, most attend the Centre rather than school, and seldom socialise outside. Despite these aims, I found that there were concerns surrounding whether they make them less independent rather than more.

Lucy (Head of Camerata in the Community) and I were able to hold an informal music workshop there after a short performance from a professor and two music students from the Music Academy in Cetinje. This was a fantastic experience for me personally and provided a new platform in Montenegro. This was a first for everyone at the Day Care Centre and the musicians – they had never come together to create music in the moment with one another. The day care centre users responded so positively – their responses to the changes of moods in the music; the way they worked and created music with ourselves and each other and the calm and content atmosphere that was felt afterwards was astounding. Although our work uses music as a way to communicate, the connections felt even more powerful being unable to converse with the group in any other way.

These are only a few reflections of my time spent there, and I can honestly say it was a fascinating and incredible experience for me. Throughout the placement I built many personal relationships, began to understand some of the language, participated in various cultural activities and visited several cities and sites. I left with mixed emotions: I felt more confident in myself and positive about the future possibilities, but I couldn’t help but feel sad to leave all the friends that I made along the way and the beautiful country. However, I hope it won’t be for long, as I’ve already started to aim towards another trip to collaborate with the partners I met on this placement.

Jacqui Barnes, Camerata in the Community Assistant Music Producer

This placement was made possible due to the Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries Scheme.