Only The Best About Romania

by TCG News

in National Conference

Post image for Only The Best About Romania

(This post is part of the 2014 TCG National Conference: Crossing Borders {Art | People} blog salon curated by Caridad Svich.)

(Photo: “The Saint from Saint George” with Sebastian Marina; photo by Viorel Iordan.)

Quite some years ago, I was staging in a small Romanian town a beautiful Swedish play about… well, death, love, fear of failure and all those generally human subjects that you would think that work anytime for anyone. And while I was really happy with the way my show was progressing, I could not escape the question – what am I telling to the local people of this town? How does my show relate to them, why should they come to see it? The more I thought about it, the less convinced I was that “generally human” subjects were a good enough answer. I was feeling guilty in a strange way. I wanted my audiences to feel loved, to feel important, to feel that my art was created for them, and responded to their own questions.

This is how I got the idea for the project Only The Best About Romania, a theatrical map consisting of a series of performances inspired and dedicated to their hosting towns. Playwright Peca Stefan (who wrote all the plays for this project) and I would travel to a small town in Romania, and spend between five and ten days there. We would use this time to interact with any person who would want to talk to us, from the mayor to the beggar on the corner, young and old, successful or not. Without using any recording method, we would ask them about their personal lives and about the town, in order to encourage them to talk freely, without the feeling that they were being interviewed. Also, we would walk a lot, searching to know every corner of the town, from the most popular pub, to the most avoided neighborhood. The idea was to get inspired by our potential spectators and to create for them a fictional product. We did not want to make documentary theatre, just to give our audiences the feeling that they are important, that their life is interesting enough for any artist to get inspired by it and that the reality they are living in matters to us.

After the research period and talking with about 100 people, our heads were dizzy and we would use that “dizziness’ as a base for the story that we were going to present. We never used a full story from one single person, but fragments, moments, lines, combined in our own vision. Of course, the result was always highly fictional yet had enough real elements for the audience members to recognize themselves in it.

Stefan would write the play and then I would stage it at the local theatre, using mainly the local hired actors. We have done four shows so far in this project: Completely Invented True Stories about Baia Mare (2008), 5 Miraculous Minutes in Piatra Neamţ (2009), Playful Târgovişte (2011)  and The Saint from Saint George  – which just had the opening this March. Each time we waited nervously for our spectators not knowing if we are going to get applause or rotten tomatoes. This happens with every show, I know, but somehow, with Only the Best About Romania it was different. People would come with different expectations. People would really take it personally. They would take offense or get excited. I remember that after the opening of the first show in Baia Mare,  the spectators refused to leave the theatre. And even though there was no “talk with the artists” scheduled, we stayed and talked to them for about two hours. They wanted to know how we knew about their past (apparently we hit that one really well) and why we were seeing their future like this (we had a musical number in the middle of the show situated in the year 4790 or something). They wanted to know why we chose them, and how are they different from the people living in other towns.  We didn’t have answers to most of their questions, but we were very happy that they were asking – that was the whole point.

The_Saint_from_Saint_George_with_Sebastian_marinaFatma_MohamedClaudia_ArdeleanElena_Popa
(Photo: “The Saint from Saint George” with: Sebastian Marina, Fatma Mohamed, Claudia Ardelean, Elena Popa; photo by Viorel Iordan.) 

No matter the town we were in, the people showed the same big interest, spiked by enthusiasm or controversy, from them following us in the streets to tell us how important it was to see themselves or their neighbors on the stage, or we would receive threatening messages. The more involved the people would get, the more driven we were in the next show to get even closer, even more personal. In the last performance, The Saint from Saint George, we had a character photographer, and we used real photos with real local people and their personal stories as his work. The current of energy when our character was showing each photo, during the performance was so strong, you could almost feel it stronger than the stage lights. The audience would gasp recognizing the local beggar they past by earlier that day. And they were understanding that he was not only a real beggar, but a person, with a story, beautiful enough to be presented on stage.

Now, together with my partner in PopUP Theatrics Tamilla Woodard,  I am making a similar project that takes the same archeological look at a community but it is blurring even more the line between fiction and reality.  It’s called Broken City and it takes places on the streets of New York.  An outside journey for only 9 spectators, an immersive site specific,  the project takes us into landmarks, buildings, iconic locations in different neighborhoods from the city to explore why and how these spaces are important to the communities in which they exist.  At this time, a trial version about Lower East Side will perform 16- 19 th July, during the undergroundzero festival. Spectators will (re)discover familiar places and faces in a different light, during their theatrical journey.  Again, it’s about wanting my audience to feel that my art was created just for them. I think actually now, everything I do has that at its core.

I’m thinking now, if this article is really about how theatre is influencing communities, or more about how about the local communities influenced our work. But maybe it doesn’t matter so much. Maybe as long as the two are so strongly linked together, there is hope for both, or for us all. Or at least, this is what I would love to believe.


ana1low

Ana Margineanu is a Romanian theatre director based in NYC, co-founder of PopUP Theatrics. Credits include: Long Distance Affair (Edinburgh, New York, Mexico, Buenos Aires) , Inside (Madrid, Bucharest), The Blind Trip (New York City), The Sunshine Play (Dublin /Bucharest). Her work has been presented internationally in New York, Edinburgh, Madrid, Mexico, Basel, Dublin, Düsseldorf, Graz, Prague, Saint Petersburg, Stuttgart and Vienna as well as the major cities of Romania.Her most recent show in New York, The WINDOW received seven nominations at the New York Innovative Theatre Awards in 2013. Ana also worked as an associated professor at the National University of Theatre and Film, Bucharest. She has lead workshops in Athens, Bucharest, Mexico City and New York . She is a founding member of DramAcum( directors collective that supports young Romanian playwrights) and an alumms of Lincoln Centers Directors Lab. Read More about Ana at www.anamargineanu.com and www.popuptheatrics.com