INTERVIEW What it means to be an actor in 2022, not necessarily a star, after a lifetime on stage

Mircea Eliade said that “nothing remains of a people but culture”. In our country, culture is neither appreciated nor consumed. The cinema halls are full, the seats in the theatre halls not as full as they should be. We play on the computer, but reports on how much Romanians read are disappointing. We sit on Netflix, but only queue up in huge queues at museums on a night when admission is free. Otherwise, museums are empty… Being an actor in Romania today is not easy. The emotional and physical toll is enormous, the sacrifices great and, unfortunately, not appreciated for their true value. I grew up in the theatre, although I didn’t make a profession out of it. My mother instilled her passion for art and beauty in me from an early age, taking me with her to rehearsals, to performances, backstage, to see how actors prepare their roles, to study the whole creative process of a play, from costumes to directing and acting.

Nina Udrescu is one of the actresses of the Constanta State Theatre and was born, as if by predestination, on World Theatre Day, 27 March. She was born for the theatre and has been serving the Constantine stage for almost 40 years. She graduated in 1982 from the Theatre Institute in Targu Mures and in her long career has played many of the great roles an actress could wish for. She made her debut in Baia Mare and came to Constanta in 1985, her first role on the stage of Tomita being Silvia in D.R. Popescu’s These Sad Angels, directed by Dominic Dembinski. She was Nina Zarecinaia and Arkadina in Chekhov’s The Seagull, Zoe in A Lost Letter, Lena in Buchner’s Leonce and Lena, Lizzie in Sartre’s Whore with Respect, Lady Macbeth. She can still be applauded on the stage of the Constanta State Theatre for her roles in “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams, “Gin Rummy” by Donald Coburn, “Barefoot in the Park” by Neil Simon, “Eutopia” after Aristophanes.

It’s not the first time I’ve interviewed my mother, but every time I get more nervous than she does before she goes on stage. I talked to her about what it means to be an actor in Romania in 2022, about culture during the communist period, and about the future of art in our country.

Ozana: Where did the passion for acting come from? Tell me a little about your professional career.

Nina: The story of my passion for acting starts with a memory effort in me. I mean, I have to escape a little back to my childhood, when I was always on stage, from about the age of four, singing, dancing, reciting poetry.

Doing a drama school, at the time I tried, was hard. There were two big and wide theatre schools in Romania: I.L. Caragiale, Bucharest and the Theatre Academy in Targu Mures. Hundreds of applicants and very few places, so the competition was very high. Nevertheless, I managed to finish my four years of university in Târgu Mureș, the best years of my life.

Then followed the compulsory internship in Baia Mare, by government assignment, in a communist system. The professional stage offered me many privileges and enormous satisfactions, being one of the actors who played enormously, coming into contact with the greatest theatre directors of that period and not only. Among them I can mention Radu Niculescu, Dominic Dembinski, Andrei Mihalache, Cătălina Buzoianu, Alexa Visarion, Bobi Pricop. With them I worked on classical and contemporary drama, starting with ancient theatre, Shakespeare, Chekhov, Vampilov, Sartre, Caragiale and many others.

After the obligatory stint in Baia Mare, by competition, I arrived at the seaside. In Constanța I met a professional, exceptional team. I made my debut at the Drama Theatre of Constanta with “Acești îngeri triști”, directed by Dembinski, followed by “Nu sunt turnul Eiffel”, by Ecaterina Oproiu, directed by the same master. Then followed dozens of roles, without holidays, without vacations. I felt fulfilled, and the stage brought me not necessarily happiness, but moments of joy, considering that I also had the sea dear to my heart close by.

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Ozana: The 1980s were becoming increasingly difficult for culture in Romania because of censorship, ideological control. How did you perceive that period? What would be the differences between acting under communism and nowadays? Has theatre changed in recent years?

Nina: Of course the 80s were difficult for culture in Romania, in terms of censorship. We actors tried to fight this phenomenon as much as possible. After months of rehearsing on stage, in cold, dusty, tired conditions, before the premiere to the public, we would run into those people who were not theatre experts who would come in front of us and cut off almost all our work.

I would like to mention that whoever was very strong and assertive at that time, actors and directors, managed to get through those moments successfully. As in journalism, freedom of expression in theatre is very important. That’s why, nowadays, compared to what I experienced in the other system, it’s incomparable. I feel that nowadays, still being on stage, but also in private, I can express myself as I see fit.

Ozana: There are many schools nowadays from which artists and directors come out. What do you think are the chances of a young actor or director getting a job in a theatre institution?

Nina: Now, unlike when I was a student, there are theatre faculties pretty much everywhere in the country. Since employment is a problem after graduation, the chances are minimal. That’s probably why more and more independent theatres have also started to emerge that can either hang on in the system or disappear over time.

Ideally, more positions should be created, more hiring of young actors coming out of college. Otherwise, they have to retrain and stop pursuing their passion. Of course there are solutions, but there has to be a desire and an effort for these young people.

Ozana: How hard was it for actors in the pandemic? How did you adapt?

Honestly, I don’t want to remember that period, but if I have to, I do… For me, and not only for me as a human being, but also as an actor, it affected me, it disturbed me deeply. Everything stopped in its tracks – private life, the stage, the theatres closed. Maybe that’s where these feelings of powerlessness and distrust came from, and they overwhelmed us.

However, with the theatres closed, we had to start work at home… “home theatre”. It seems ironic to say you’re playing online, but that’s exactly what we did. During that ill-fated period, I remember you teaching me how to use Zoom and rehearse with my colleagues. I rehearsed then on a hybrid play, i.e. theatre and television, which recently won the UNITER 2022 award for best TELEPLAY show. Z DAY is the name and it is the show of the Constanta State Theatre. The script was written by Ionuț Sociu, directed by Bobi Pricop and set design by Oana Micu. When the restrictions relaxed, we also started working on the stage, with fears, with fears, with infected colleagues. The end, however, was satisfactory.

Ozana: The State Theatre of Constanta has been going through difficulties lately. Please tell me about its temporary closure and its “rebirth”.

Nina: After the pandemic period, which, as I said, was a difficult one, we still faced another difficult situation. The State Theatre in Constanta was undergoing renovations, and we had nowhere to perform. Unfortunately, for us as a team, all the cultural institutions in Constanta closed their doors to us when we asked for help. Except for the County Library and the Jean Constantin Multifunctional Centre, where we played a few shows.

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Subsequently, the director of the TSC, Erwin Șimșensohn, together with the theatre’s team of exceptional technicians, managed in record time to build a studio hall where we could continue our work until the renovation of the TSC was completed. Of course, in order to continue our work in a beneficial climate for both the actors and our audience, I believe that the city of Constanta needs a new and maybe even national theatre, because we deserve it.

Ozana: Where can the public see you and your colleagues this summer?

Nina: On July 7, the Summer Season of the Performing Arts 2022 (SEAS) begins, until August 31, where you will be able to see performances by TSC and other theatres from around the country. It is an event designed to offer the people of Constanta, as well as tourists who choose the Romanian coast during the summer, the chance to see a varied selection of theatre and music performances from stages all over the country. Performances will take place at the Soveja Summer Theatre and on the specially arranged stage in the Archaeological Park in the centre of the town.

Ozana: In terms of an actor’s remuneration, how do you manage in Romania in 2022 having this profession? Can you make a living from the salary “on the board” if you don’t work in the film industry?

Nina: You’re having a hard time financially as an actor in Romania these days. And the internal cost of an actor is also enormous. That’s how I’ve always felt and that’s how I feel now.

Ozana: What about retirement, after a lifetime on stage? Can it give you a peaceful old age?

Nina: Nu. Ideally, a retired actor should start seeing the world, because so far he hasn’t had the time. It seems that I can’t fulfill this dream with us, since I’m still on stage. I am the actor who has seen his country and other corners of the world through the fascinating tours I have had with the theatre. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have had a chance to travel. I came to the conclusion that I was doing much better financially before the events of 1989 than I am now. But as hope dies last, not being a pessimistic man, maybe, who knows… better times will come.

Ozana: What do you find most beautiful about being an actor?

Nina: I made it my goal from the very beginning not to forget why I got on stage. The stage is a magical space where I find myself, much more than in my personal life. The satisfaction of getting into the skin of so many characters, identifying with them, learning from them is unique. Also, the reviews from theatre critics, but also the relationship with the audience and the energy they give you during the performance and at the end, when they appreciate you with roars of applause, is what makes me happy, fulfils me and still makes me want to stay on stage after a lifetime of acting.

Ozana: What stage do you think culture is at in Romania at the moment and how do you see it in the future, in what direction is it going?

Nina: I’m sad about that. I mean the cultural life I found when I came to Constanta, compared to what is happening today: a city turned upside down, a cultural life almost non-existent, except for some people who really want to make art. I look forward to the future projects of the State Theatre of Constanta in which I will be involved with all my heart.

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