Post image for Artist, Immigrant: Cosmin Chivu

(To learn more about Marcy Arlin’s Artist, Immigrant blog series, click here.)

I don’t remember when I first met Cosmin, but I have always admired his tenacity, good humor, intelligence and directing talent; he directed for Immigrants’ Theatre Project’s Czech Plays series way back when. He is a tremendous supporter of colleagues, students and excellence in theatre.

What do you love about theatre in the U.S. for yourself and in general?
 The ability of the arts, and theatre in particular, to constantly reinvent themselves. There is a lot of good work here that is very much alive, vibrant, immediate, and in perpetual transformation, especially when it comes to new plays, but also revivals. As a director living and working in the U.S. I am definitely part of this transformation, which is exciting on many levels. In the last decade we have witnessed a fundamental change in the way theaters and their creative teams operate; this change evolved organically as a response to important social issues that we are facing. There is a lot happening; theaters all over the country are constantly presenting work that challenges and engages, surprises and entertains.  Only in America, what could be considered a groundbreaking project today may not last for more than a few weeks or months. There is always an exciting new wave of work that comes in fast and moves the previous one out of date. It is fascinating.
What do you miss about working in your homeland?
Mostly that post-rehearsal ‘drink’ that I was always looking forward to having with my cast and creative team. At the end of the day we used to go out all together and chat for hours over a beer or a glass of wine about the artistic process, vision, character development, etc. I must say in Europe there is a benefit to the extensive rehearsal time in a state sponsored theater. We had time to try more things and figure out what works and what doesn’t. Also the face-to-face interaction outside of the rehearsal room was often the key to unlock a certain part of the creative process. The reality of a working artist in New York City has much to do with a tighter schedule.  Sometimes I feel that my actors are eaten into by the need to earn a living.  In the past few years I have had to learn how to give rehearsal notes via email or text message, notes which will most likely be read by the actors on their way to the next rehearsal or audition.
How have your combined, in your work, both country’s theatre training and culture?
I began working as an actor in Romania at the age of 17 when I was introduced to Stanislavski’s principles of acting. A few years later, shortly after the fall of communism, I took advantage of opportunities to travel to Western Europe and I became obsessed with Brecht, Pinter, and Matei Visniec, a highly acclaimed Romanian playwright who lives in Paris, also with the work of Peter Brook and Pina Bausch. We were a company of young, very poor actors that somehow managed to travel and perform in Austria, France, Germany, and on the streets of Liverpool and Prague. Some of the work we did was excellent and some was terrible. I have learned so much especially from the shows that weren’t successful, and of course, from interacting with hundreds of theater practitioners from all over the world.  After I moved to America in 2000, first at the Actors Studio, and then working with several well established artists and theatre companies, the vibrant inheritance of Anglo-American theatre provided me not only with a stronger creative vision but also with the understanding of how to talk the language the playwright speaks. At the Actors Studio Drama School, for three years I was mentored by Jack Gelber and Andreas Manolikakis. Once I became a lifetime member of the Actors Studio I had the chance to observe and work with fantastic people such as Arthur Penn, Lee Grant, Ellen Burstyn, Carlin Glynn and many others. And after two summers at the Lincoln Center Directors Lab and a summer at The Old Globe under the mentorship of Jack O’Brien I realized how little I knew about this business and that a much bigger effort was needed in order to have my American dream begin. But the multi-perspective views of the Eastern European theatrical traditions combined with the Method Acting developed by American Masters have served me well. I’ve learned from all my collaborators: many fantastic actors, designers, teachers, and students steeped in the traditions of American theatre, who have helped me to find and develop my own voice.
How do you see yourself/identify yourself as an artist in terms of being an immigrant? Does it matter to you?
When I go to Romania I’m being considered more American than Romanian. Here in NYC it’s the other way around. But I have never thought of myself as an immigrant. In fact when I first came to New York about thirteen years ago, I felt that I finally made it home. Somehow my creative energy was fully unleashed and I was thrilled that I could finally study and work in a free society. And that feeling has never changed. Of course the beginning was rough but after a few years this wonderful city and its people took me into their arms. I’ve made hundreds of friends and established wonderful creative relationships. I must confess that despite my Romanian accent I consider myself a full New Yorker now who has a global identity card in his front pocket.
How does it affect your getting work? (accent, ethnicity, etc.)
My first job in New York was hosting and producing a weekly TV program for Romanians living in the tri-state area.  It was convenient because it allowed me to get work done on my own schedule, usually at night (grad school schedule was quite demanding), and it felt easy because it was all in Romanian. I did the TV job for five years; I met many interesting people, it kept me creative and it helped me survive. But I struggled with the fact that it kept me too close to a socio-political reality that I was trying to escape from in the first place by leaving Romania.
Through my work in television, going to school, and the directing projects I took on here in New York, I began to realize that this is the place where authenticity, new ideas, clear vision and strategies, hard work and determination are celebrated. When I manage to pull myself together and meet all these qualities I get the ‘dream’ job. I used to apply to a lot of directing jobs posted online and a good amount of the shows I’ve done came from these ads, which means I had to interview for them. And I got many of them. I don’t think that my accent or ethnicity mattered at all. Currently I work with large numbers of American students, mostly actors. I coach a lot of them for auditions. Many of my former students have made it to Broadway. It is unlikely that my accent or ethnicity have ever been an impediment.
What are you doing now? Here and/or abroad?
I am based in New York; I work as a freelance director here and internationally. I just came back from Bangkok where I directed Femmes Fatale of Lanka by Bua Parida Manomaiphibul a modern adaptation of Ramakien (the Thai version of Ramayana), turned into a daring combination of Thai ritual and soap-opera. We had a lot of fun and it came out great. Soon I start rehearsals with Mink Stole and Penny Arcade on The Mutilated by Tennessee Williams, which will be presented at the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival in September and then will have a three week run in NYC. Generally, I spend eight or nine months in New York and the rest of the time working abroad. On the academic level I am currently the head of the International Performance Ensemble, a four year BA program in Acting and Directing that I developed, the newest addition to the Pace University Performing Arts. This is a one-of-a-kind program and trains students in the set-up of an international theater company that is touring nationally and internationally as part of exchange programs with universities, companies, and artists from all over the world. We develop and perform devised projects, under the mentorship of established American and international theater directors. For the past year I have been the host of the Masters Series at Pace Performing Arts, a monthly panel where students interact with well-established theater professionals. Some of my recent guests include Julie Taymor, Zoe Caldwell, and Nicky Silver.
What is your residency/citizenship/visa status? How does it affect your life as an artist?
This year I voted in the American presidential election for the first time. It felt good. But the journey was long and quite exhausting. There was a time when I could not leave the country because I would never be let back in. But now it’s all different; I try to use my new passport as often as I can.

Cosmin Chivu has directed over fifty professional and university productions in America, Austria, England, Germany, Greece, Italy, Romania, and Thailand. His latest project ‘The Mutilated’ by Tennessee Williams featuring Penny Arcade and Mink Stole, opens at the 2013 Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival. Chivu’s recent work includes ‘Beautiful Province’ by Clarence Coo (LCT3), winner of the 2012 Yale New Drama Series; ‘The Altruists’ by Nicky Silver; and a stage adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ ‘A Recluse and His Guest’ (Drama League’s New Directors New Works). He is a lifetime member of the Actors Studio, a fellow of the Jack O’Brien Lab at the Old Globe, and a member of the Lincoln Center Directors Lab. He is currently the director of Pace Performing Arts’ International Performance Ensemble where heteaches courses in Acting. In recent months he has taught Master Classes on Improvisation, Directing styles, and European Drama at the Tisch School at NYU, Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, the University of Hawaii, and T.O.C. Athens. He holds a Masters in Theatre Directing from the Actors Studio Drama School, New School University and a BA in Acting from the G. Enescu Art Academy, Romania.

Marcy Arlin is Artistic Director of the OBIE-winning Immigrants’ Theatre Project. Member: Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab, Theatre without Borders, League of Professional Theatre Women, No Passport, and Fulbright Scholar to Romania and the Czech Republic. She curates Eastern European Playwrights: Women Write the New. Her project East/West/East: Vietnam Immigrants Out of War, is a binational, Vietnamese/Czech/English theatre project based on interviews with American and Czech Vietnamese. She created Journey Theatre with survivors of war and torture. Directing venues: 59E59, QTIP, LaMama, MESTC, Vineyard, Oddfellows Playhouse, Artheater/Köln, Nat’l Theatre of Romania. Co-Editor Czech Plays: 7 New Works. Teaches theatre at CUNY, community-based theatre at Yale, Immigrant Theatre at University of Chicago (her alma mater) and Prague Quadrennial, Brown, and NYU.

  • rdm

    Great interview with a great director! Thanks for posting.

  • catalina

    congratulations… its a impresionant interview… and very interesting…