Wednesday, September 15, 2010
I Interview Playwrights Part 258: Saviana Stanescu
Hometown: Bucharest, Romania?
Hmm, Bucharest is actually my birth-town, I kinda hesitate to still consider it my hometown after almost 10 years of living in NYC… a hometown should be a town/city where you feel at home, where you pay rent to have a home :), where you struggle to pay that rent, and that’s New York for me now…
Plus, over there in Romania I spent my childhood raised by my grandparents in Curtea-de-Arges (Arges-Court, the first capital of Walachia), then my parents took me to Pitesti, a sort of Detroit of Romania known for the car industry, although they were making only one sort of cars with an ancient name: Dacia. I went to high-school there. During Ceausescu’s dictatorship of course. Then back to Bucharest for college, revolution, freedom, work, love, writing, fame :)
So I’m not sure which one is my hometown. I guess all of them. I’m a giant snail with her home on her back.
This one is clearer: New York, USA
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I am working on multiple “fronts” as always:
We are in final rehearsals with “Polanski Polanski” (performed by Grant Neale, directed by Tamilla Woodard) for a short run at HERE Arts Center, Sept 22-25.
I am doing some rewrites on ANTS, a new play that I developed at NYTW and will have a staged reading at EST, directed by Daniella Topol, as part of their Octoberfest, on Oct 9 at 7 pm and Oct 10 at 8.30 pm.
I am also re-looking at my plays “For a Barbarian Woman” and “Bechnya” as two directors expressed interest in them. They had developmental readings (Long Wharf Theatre, Lark, Women’s Project) but haven’t been produced yet.
And on top of everything, I am starting a new play at the Lark: “The Rehabilitation of Dracula” (working title) in which a character is challenging the well-spread iconic image of Dracula created by Bram Stoker with some “real” facts about the historical figure Vlad Tepes aka Vlad-the-Impaler, king of Walachia (he wasn’t even the king of Transylvania!), where I am actually from – see answer nr 1.
I kinda want to reclaim this character, Dracula, he has been over-exploited and over-commercialized, I feel the need to add my own fictionalization spiced up with the historical “truth”. Vlad-the-Impaler is still seen as a hero in present day Romania, most of the people are still proud of the way he led the country, with stamina and strength, fighting against the Ottomans and other super-powers, so it’s interesting for me to juxtapose a “patriotic” local image to the one created by the Western world. In a world full of constructed images, is there such thing as the “truth” about Dracula?
Q: Tell me about your playwriting workshops.
A: I’ve been teaching a lot lately. First of all, I’ve been teaching at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, in the Drama Department, as an adjunct instructor, for the last 7 years and I love it. I studied at NYU myself (MA in Performance Studies – Fulbright fellow, MFA in Dramatic Writing) and I enjoy the creative energy over there, at Tisch. That’s been my home here in the USA, I came to NYC in 2001, with a Fulbright grant, just a few weeks before 9/11. That traumatic moment made me a part of the NYC wounded fabric, I feel like we’ve been interconnected forever, like two old friends that shared difficult times.
Back in Romania, I was a respected journalist, published poet, award-winning playwright, y’know, sorta established, a big fish in a small vibrant pond. I had to start from the scratch over here, to prove myself again and again, and to do it with an accent… Dramatic living and dramatic writing. Good material for a playwright and a teacher :)
So in the last decade I’ve been teaching a bunch of playwriting workshops/courses here in the USA, but also in Mexico City, Stockholm/Sweden and Eastern Europe. This fall I am teaching at ESPA – Primary Stages and I am really excited to engage that wonderful community of artists.
Now a little self-praise paragraph: I’m a damn good teacher, I care about my students, I care about them learning something, being truthful to their voice, completing a draft of a play, having a product they’re proud of. I always try to organize a presentation of their work at the end of the course, it’s important for playwrights to see their texts presented with professional actors, in front of an audience. That’s the difference between literature and theatre, we as playwrights are part of a team that puts together a theatre show, a play can’t exist only in its literary form, without the actors, the director, the designers, the stage. Well, of course it can, but what’s the point? A play needs an audience, a playwright needs a team that showcases her/his play.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: Hmmm… my father, a former Balkan champion in high-jump, wanted me to be an athlete too, a champion, so I spent lots of years training in athletics, although my heart was in the arts. However, sports taught me something: to go on when you lose, to go on when you win, to engage in a fair competition, to rely on your team, basically to be a good… sport.
My values in theatre and life are similar. Paraphrasing one of my favorite playwrights, Samuel Beckett: I can’t go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Theatre that’s… theatrical.
I like bold, provocative, political, visceral, thought-provoking, risk-taking theatre that’s still dramatic and touching. I don’t care about post-dramatic theatre too much. Or any other post- post- post-… form of anything, I’d rather have AVANT(guarde:) )
On the other end of the spectrum:
I get bored by plays that are just TV dramas or sitcoms put on stage. Too conventional, too talk-talk-talk about relationships, too kitchen&sink… I am much more interested in vibrant theatrical plays about something bigger than the ordinary human commerce of emotions, plays that make larger/bolder comments on socio-political issues, existential turmoil, the irony of history, the global world and its flaws.
Yes, big words that might sound bombastic. But if theatre doesn’t fill them with meaning and depth, politics will never fail to fill them with rhetoric and demagogy…
Oh, and I didn’t mention that I like humor in a play. Dark humor generally. Humor makes bitter pills easier to be swallowed.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Well, Lillian Hellman said: “If I had to give young writers advice, I'd say don't listen to writers talk about writing.”
But the author of “Little Foxes” (I just saw it at NYTW, beautiful production, that’s why Lillian came to my mind) also said: “I am a moral writer, often too moral a writer, and I cannot avoid, it seems, the summing-up. I think that is only a mistake when it fails to achieve its purpose, and I would rather make the attempt and fail, than fail to make the attempt.”
I actually really like this piece of advice: make the attempt and fail, rather than fail to make the attempt.
To put it in a less wise “quote-able” form: write if you feel like writing, don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you shouldn’t. That you’ll make more money as a banker, lawyer, doctor, athlete or IT guy. Although… that’s true. You might not make any money, you might end up old, lonely, poor and bitter, crying at the “grave” of your creativity and “wasted” life. But, you know what, whatever the “results”, at least you tried. You created something. You added a little something to the virtual archive of this theatrical universe. And you were true to yourself. That’s the most important thing.
OMG, I sound so wise and boring. Delete the last paragraph. Wait! Don’t.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: Come to see “Polanski Polanski” at HERE, Sept 22-25! It’s wild and dark and intriguing and provocative. Well, it’s Polanski!
(more info on my website www.saviana.com in the COMING UP section)
The staged reading of ANTS at EST, Oct 9 and 10 ! Directed by Daniella Topol. Featuring: Polly Lee, Alexis McGuinness, Robert Montano.
Oh, and I have a little one-min play "Boy meets Girl. Or not.", directed by Scott Ebersold, in the New York One-Minute Play Festival in Astoria - a cool festival, curated by Dominic D'Andrea, involving lots of playwrights friends. Sept 25-26.