Ileana Olteanu:”The janitor from the Parliament earns more than we do”

She is an actress at the National Theater in Bucharest and she is part of Dan Puric’s drama company. She has performed on the greatest stages of the world, in plays directed by Dan Puric and she can be seen in eight plays at the National Theater in Bucharest. After graduating, she received a scholarship in New York, but she returned from the Actor’s Studio because the director Ion Cojar asked her to perform in “The Night Asylum”…she is Ileana Olteanu.

You’ re leaving for Frankfurt tomorrow to play the part of  Dulcineea in “Don Quijote”. How much do you resemble Dulcineea or how much does Dulcineea resemble you?

            Dulcineea is the ideal of femininity. Everyone needs to believe in something or in someone. Don Quijote chose Dulcineea. This makes him a wonderful person and makes the cause he is fighting for as wonderful as it is.

            Dulcineea embodies the dream, the love, the light, the ideal that Don Quijote is yearning for. It is a role that I can relate to and that has filled me with joy. For the past three years, the tickets at the National Theater have been all sold out for this play. People from the audience are very enthusiastic when they come to our dressing room, our worldwide tours have confirmed the value and the performance of this show and we are hoping that it will provide a different image of Romania for the audience at the National Opera in Frankfurt.

 Drawing a parallel between you and the character of Don Quijote, have you ever felt you were struggling in vain in the world of theater?

            Never! Things happened the way they were supposed to, peacefully, without any compromise. Since my first year in college, I have been performing in good plays, successful shows and so far, I am very satisfied with the eleven years I have spent at the National Theater. Sometimes, I think God was too good to me. I got a job at the theater when I was very young, I have always been cast without me asking for it, I have performed a lot. Right now, I am performing in 8 plays at The National Theatre in Bucharest (The Suicide, The Egotist, A Summer Night’s Dream, A Tempestuous Night, Sanziana si Pepelea, Don Quijote, The Idol and Ion Anapoda, Molto Gran Impresione) and a play by  Dan Puric’s independent company (Made in Romania) at  the Rapsodia Hall. Nothing got in my way so far and I hope things stay that way because I am not a warrior like Don Quijote.

Don Quijote has been staged worldwide. How did you perceive the theater and the audience all over the world and how did they perceive you?

            Don Quijote was staged in London, Paris, Madrid, Berlin, Bruxelles, Viena, Alcala de Henares etc, but I have also visited other countries as well, as a member of Dan Puric’ s  drama company, countries like China, Switzerland, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Albania, Greece, and all over the world the public was impressed by the quality, the performance and the message of our plays. They touch people’s heart without being an obstacle for the language and that mix of pantomime, step, martial arts, dance and high quality music is accessible and at the same time impressive. I did not see too many plays while I was on tours because there was never enough time but I saw “The Producers” staged  in London and the musicals on Broadway.

I was speechless! They were perfect, they sang and danced perfectly, technically they were perfect. In Poland, where we participated with our play “The Costumes” we saw “Othello” directed by Neckrosius and I was very impressed by him, as a director and by the actors as well. When I worked with Phillip Alexa in “The Suicide” I had that feeling also. That we were a company like Neckrosius’ or like Dodin’s.

In your opinion, what are the problems that theater is facing, nowadays?

            The problem is the salary that we receive. It’ s a mockery. I have fellow actors abroad that earn at least 1000 euro a month.

If you work at other theaters, you earn even more. In our country, people have no respect for the actors. The janitor from the Parliament earns more than we do. My work at the theater usually starts Tuesday and finishes on Sunday evening. I have performances every day, sometimes twice a day. It is a tremendous work, a physical and psychological effort that should be compensated. We do not have the weekends off because we have to perform. We only want to be respected and valued for our effort and the joy we bring people.

Looking back on it, can you remember the moment you knew you wanted to become an actress?

Why did you choose theatre?

            Fate brought me here! I wanted to become a lawyer. I graduated philology-history and I was supposed to go to Law School. But I had an old friend who was taking his admission at Drama School and he convinced me to give it a try. I got in; he didn’t….He lives in America now. I learned two poems, a story and a monologue, all in one night. That was it. No effort, nothing special.

I was supposed to sing and I told them that I couldn’t do it. There was a teacher who gave me a test to see if I had any talent as a singer, he realized I did and I got in. I studied ballet for eight years, traditional dances and society dances. I was a good dancer and that helped me a lot. Then I learned step and pantomime and now I mix classical theater with the nonverbal one. So, it would be fair to say that the theater chose me, and not the other way around.

Do you remember the moment of your debut on stage?

            My debut on stage was great. I studied to become an actress under the guidance of the great professor and director Ion Cojar. A man that changed my life and influenced it deeply. If nowadays, I am performing at the National Theater and if my debut on stage was a success, it is all thanks to him. I was in America, at the Actor’s Studio. I have been living there for three months and I was not planning to come back. After graduating from Drama School, I got a scholarship in New York. My mother called me and told me that Mister Cojar wanted me to perform in a play at the National Theater. He was directing “The Night Asylum” by Gorki and the cast was impressive: Radu Beligan, Marin Moraru, Gheorghe Dinică, Florina Cercel, Ovidiu Iuliu Moldovan, Draga Olteanu Matei, Costel Constantin, Mircea Rusu, Valentin Uritescu, Tania Popa… I was performing alongside great national artists and I was so nervous that I could’t really grasp the magnitude of it all. I played the role of Alioska, a little boy with an accordion. We constantly went off stage in great applause and I was trying to learn by observing the actors backstage.

I used to peek at the scenes between Gheorghe Dinica and Marin Moraru, between Florina Cercel and Mircea Rusu, at the monologues of Radu Beligan and Ovidiu Iuliu Moldovan…this was my debut on stage, an unforgettable moment.

You have played many roles since your debut on stage until now. You have also tried a different approach of expressing yourself, a mixture between drama and dance. Tell me how fond you are of this type of performance and how much you can relate to it.

            Sometimes, I enjoy more the nonverbal theater. I love this wonderful and promising combination of pantomime, dance, step, martial arts. I studied a lot during the last few years, I took classes of Chinese sword, step, who-sho, traditional dances, Romanian and Russian dances. I am constantly learning and it is a large area to learn from. I don’t have much free time but I am trying to squeeze it in. My schedule at the National Theater is very full but I am trying deal with it. Next, I intend to learn a dance with Chinese fans and thai-chi. “In the Den of the Lions”, “Made in Romania”, The 150″ and “The Costumes” are  just a few plays that are very dear to me and that I am always pleased to perform in.     

            There is a play at “The Verbal Theatre” that is very close to my heart, I have worked a lot for it and put a lot of soul into it. This play has brought me a lot of satisfaction and recognition not only from ordinary people but from the critics as well. I am talking about “The Suicide” by Nicolai Erdman where I play the role of Masa, Podsekalinkov’ s wife. Felix Alexa directed this play and I was very happy he insisted that I performed the comedy in a dramatic manner, thus my role got the dramatic side that I have in me,but that no director has ever tried to emphasize. He was the only one who had this courage and together we created something good.

Have you ever considered giving up theater?  Is there anything that could stop you from acting ?

            No, I love what I do and the passion with which I do it gives my life a meaning, it animates everything, it expands my horizon.

What does theatre  mean to you?

            Theater is like a lover to me…  I think about it every day.

What person or persons influenced your life…in the theatre and not only?

            My life was influenced by people like Dan Puric, Ion Cojar, Sandală Manu, Radu Beligan, Felix Alexa, my collegues at the university, the ones from the theatre and last but not least, my family.They come first, and what saddens me the most is that I don’t get to see them very often.This is the sacrifice that a person dedicated to his art and work has to do.

Tell me a story or tell me something that helped Ileana Olteanu become the person she is today.

            The story is simple! My mother! I wouldn’ t be the person I am today if it hadn’ t been for her! And for my father…and I thank them both!

Translated by Maria Andreea Vasile, MTTLC, 2nd year

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