Biblical text is the perfection an actor can express on stage

He’s colossal when you see him on stage, among the children, he’s the Magician who charms the whole universe with only a word. He’s delicate and frail when he portrays Lear’s sad court jester… and then King Lear himself. He’s powerful and seductive in Petruchio, he’s Rica Venturiano and nothing more, he’s tormented by Raskolnikov, he’s the Man in Jov’s Experiment. A story with and about Marian Ralea.

How did your journey start, both in life and in theatre? I think it isn’t any different than wss for other actors.

I think it’s nothing any different from other actors. Maybe in our childhood,we’ve all pretended we were actors, we all liked the illusion of the curtain. I’ve always liked to act. And to imagine all the stories I knew or heard. That’s how it all started. It certainly was in the family, my older brother is a also and actor and he’s three years older than me. Maybe it’s a gift we’ve inherited from my mother… The rest is only about having faith in yourself, it implies a lot of hard work and that hunger to act, which I have tried to keep during the years.

What’s the first childhood memory in connection to the theatre?

I remember a play in kindergarten…Back then, all the scooters were made out of wood. I was riding it and I kept falling. I was the naughty child, I hurt my knees and conclusion were being drawn…The strange thing was that all through my childhood I had all kinds of accidents, either by scooter, by bike, skiing or skating accidents. It seems that the little talent I had on stage translated a bit in life, in accidents..Then, in tenth grade I was already performing at the Theatre in Brasov, I was a real phenomenon…

At one point you chose to do children’s theatre. You were dubbed the Magician. Is theatre magic? Is the actor a magician?

Yes, an actor can be a magician. The Magician is a whole other story. A happy-ending story. I remember I was at the National Television and I was doing The Liar, by Goldoni. I had some very good friend who were working at the children’s department, they had just moved there, just after the events that have marked and that are still marking our lives. The asked me to do this character, the magician, with this magic presentation. In those times children didn’t know stories. Or they only knew stories or poems about the politics of that age. With the help of the magic word, Abracadabra, we tried to “play stories” and to tell children as much as we could about the dreams and the word that makes it all possible. Of course it is magic. The actor is a magician in the sense that it discovers life’s magic and it portrays it on stage..

As for the children’s Magician… it’s not my fault that the little ones accepted me. I was adopted by them and I came at a time when they really needed this kind of stories’ magic. The magic of the stories they knew, half listened to, half understood. I believe it was an accident. A fortunate one, but an accident. And the fact that there is still an attraction towards the Magician, after all these years, had to do with the idea I had in my mind, a belief I had about children’s theatre, that the little one had to be in the center, that now they don’t have time to assist, but they want to participate. You can’t make a child sit on a little chair and listen to a story, you have to make him participate and initiate a role play with him, then the child would be captivated and he would easier understand the story and, maybe later, he would understand life…

How long is the road from the Magician to King Lear?

When I started Abracadabra in 1990, I had already performed in important plays by Caragiale, Moliere, Shakesperare. The children’s theatre was a continuation of my acting on stage. The audience is divided in different categories and even if, on the street I was seen as the Magician, people still came to the theatre to see a play with Marian Râlea. The distance between Abracadabra and King Lear is a distance – if actually there is one – which has to do with the faith of the people who have given me a role or another. But I don’t consider it a distance, only a stage and an accumulation between those two periods. A time in which all I have gained from working with children, their honesty, I tried to bring that on stage. The second part of King Lear has the innocence and the simplicity of working with children. I have never distanced myself from theatre, I couldn’t live without theatre. There is not a big difference between the Magician and King Lear, as there is no difference between acting with children or grown-ups. It’s a big game, which you take on and can’t do without.

You’re an acting professor…What do you tell the students about the theatre?

This is what I tell them… Theatre is so hard that it can become simple. The key is finding that simplicity, that gesture and that life expression, not theatrical, that gives you the confidence and with which you can act. And I also tell them an important thing. That I have understood in time. It’s not about the form as it is about the essence of theatre. If we accept that the essence of theatre is the word, then the word that we, actors, carry on stage, becomes very important and also very simple. And if we think that the most powerful example is “In the beginning was the Word, and the word was God”… than theatre is very well understood and perceived by those who are also beginning to go on stage. That’s what I tell them. Not the essential. Even I don’t know the essential or the important things. I don’t even know if I can teach them drama. I can reveal some techniques that they will later use on stage – rhythm, understanding, expression – but I cannot give them talent. And I tell them to play more…

Mihai Măniuţiu says about you that you are his charm actor…. I won’t ask you how much you see yourself in that position, but more, who you are for yourself.

I don’t know who I am for myself, but I know who I am for those around me. I had a great opportunity – because I am a fortunate actor – I don’t think I am more talented than other actors, but I have had the great chance to work with great actors and directors and in absolutely monumental projects. The directors had a lot of faith in me and there seems to be a much bigger connection between the director and the actor than we can express, an understanding of thought. Being an intuitive actor, I fell very well what the director wants, I am easy-going actor from this point of view. There were times in my life, stages when I have worked with Dragoş Galgoţiu, cu Alexandru Darie, Mihai Măniuţiu, Tompa Gabor, Andrei Şerban, with Silviu Purcărete I’ve worked since the university, with Cătălina Buzoianu, Ion Cojar…Stages which have left their mark on me. Each of the directors I have mention are great people from which you can only learn or give up. When you don’t participate in their great game, you don’t understand it, it’s easier to give up because you will self-destruct. But learning from each of them, learning together, growing together, I am not surprised now when I am being told about the roles on the phone, then we get together an we immediately start working and everything is done with a great joy. I’m not surprised that between Mihai Măniuţiu and I there are stories without words, we understand each other through just by looking at one another and it’s a wonderful thing, I’m not surprised that when Tompa Gabor called me to play Lear, I said “I’m too young and I don’t think I have the talent…” and he said “Yes, that’s true, we can talk about the talent – joking – but the age is just right…”. I’m not surprised that Silviu had confidence in me to play in Waiting for Godot replacing Virgil Fonda, God rest his soul!, I’m not surprised that Andrei Şerban says “You can play anyone in The Dove, but I really want you to play Sorin because I think that would be great.” I ask the director questions in my mind and he answers them in my mind…

Was there a role, more than others, that has been a discovery or an experience?

I have never asked for a role, and I never knew how to say No. I played everything I was offered. But a special experience was the biblical text. It’s not an usual one, it’s seeing a verse that contains all the Shakespeare in the world. It was a cornerstone. Both in Jove’s Experiment and in the The Ecclesiast, but also in The Gospel of John, which I have played in two different countries, in two different languages, French and Spanish, when I went on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella. The biblical text is the perfection an actor can deliver on stage and after you express these texts you discover that all the drama and the poetry ever written was based on that. For actors it’s a big cornerstone, not just because here the word has a different significance, but because we were taught to learn the lines very fast, to understand them fast, to tell them fast. A biblical text is very hard to learn, because each syllable has a significance that has to be expressed. Apparently you understand it, but you never understand its depth. I think that was the biggest challenge. We performed The Gospel of John and Acts of the Apostles in cathedrals and in spaces of heritage in France and Spain.

Have you ever felt it like something forbidden, “performing” the Gospel’s words on stage?

Theatre has been lost in the same way in which it had left the church. On the contrary, we performed in sacred places, we belonged to the space and it was a biblical text that we were experiencing as modern actors. All we did and all we tried to communicate had to do with the sacredness of the space and the theatre became sacred. When you act on stage, the idea in the biblical text has to be passed on and this idea helps you transform the stage is a sacred space, as it actually is, if we think about the clear symbolic reference of the signs in the black box. The cross, the circle, the central point, the spiral… That’s the stage. And the actor is a mortal that tries to carry the words. And if he goes far away if he is taken by the spiral, if not, he remains in the center of his own circle.

Is there something that bothers you about the Romanian contemporary theatre?

No. There have been different attempts we’ve also made, I remember performing in all kinds of spaces. But if I really have to perform in an unconventional environment, a bar, a cafe…it has to offer me the opportunity to create a cultural area. Or, if the space is not equipped to be a cultural world, than I have to go there with a very theatrical thing. It’s not enough performing a contemporary text at the level of life. I don’t believe in this theatrical form. This can be done and it becomes important when you take, let’s say, a Shakespeare monologue and you perform it in a simple and natural way. If I’m actually going in a place that is not meant for culture, where people sit at tables, consume something completely different than a cultural story, then I will have to go and tell them Dostoievski…And then it will become important. I believe, otherwise, in forms like Nichita Stănescu’s poetry in a bookstore, I believe in reciting poetry on a stall in the market, I believe… we can sell poetry. And then I’ll rent a stall, I climb on it an sell poetry. How many poetries? Five poetries, five lei…you give the receipt. But what I know well and what I’ve been learnt is that theatre is a performance. Any resemblance to reality is purely random in theatre. The actor, the director only stage life, they don’t perform it.

Do you have something you wish you had done?

No, I don’t. I have never fought for a moment to exist on stage more than I have, I have never wanted to play Hamlet, I have never wanted a part. All I regret and feel sorry about is that I haven’t thanked God for everything he has given me. I love the audience, I love the world….I think I have done what I was meant to do.

Translated by Andreea Velicu, MTTLC, 1st year

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