“Ohne SchauspielerInnen bin ich eine Null” / “Without my actors I am nothing”

Irina Wolf conducted the interview for Theatrescu.com, which was published on March 15, 2021. The text was originally written in German.
You prefer contemporary texts. Why is that?

Well, the short story is that I’m scared of the classics. They overwhelm me. The long story is that I enjoy the meetings with the contemporary play-writers because we share ideas and understand the world’s vibrations. We understand the present. I am a person of the present. Looking at the future, I have zero nostalgia, and I think things tend to repeat themselves. I wanted to create. I prefer to write plays with other authors than to rewrite something. I will soon come closer to the classics and rewrite texts because I like to dig for historical information to better understand the humans that were here before me, that were walking this ground before me. But for now, I treat the classics with respect, pleasure, and fear. Or maybe these are not the factors that will motivate me to start this work. I need friendship as well. At the same time, I was still thinking, couldn’t we bring a new era of “the classics”? A play-writer that would become canonical? Aren’t we all responsible about creating a specific context in order for the “classic” to be born, to take place, and flourish?

Why did you choose to work on performances running for over two years?

Accuracy helps me. My first project that took place for two years was “From prose to performance”, at my master’s. In these two years, I wrote plays about contemporary Romanian prose that resulted in three performances. I thought it was natural to think in terms of performance steps. That’s how I got used to doing it. That was also the master entry in Cluj. That’s how the “Collage” directing project started, so it was more of a desire for coherent digging and a desire to go through a road. “From prose to performance” is still an “open project”. It’s a work in progress. I could always come back to doing playwrights. It doesn’t have an end. “Collage” is a closed and finished project. It was a trilogy. I am no longer doing shows with in-in-in, but something from this road of colleges will stay with me.

How does it stay with you? / what specifically stays in with you?

Something essential stays: the fluid juxtaposition of plans. That’s also what fascinates me. The world seems to function on multiple levels and plans, feelings get mixed, nothing is fully said until the end or done with only one pure intention. Behind innocence is perversity, behind perversity is possibly a lack of trust, behind dignity is vanity, and so on.These are truisms. That’s how the world seems to me. But one of the many reasons I do this job is to bring all of these planes and paradoxes together, not to find the truth, but to create a multiple semantics of the world.

Picture from the (IN)CORRECT show, photographed by Doru Vătavului

After I wrote plays based on prose, I thought I should move on to writing plays based on poetry. That’s what I did for the show (IN) VISIBLE, my first performance from the trilogy I did. Because I prefer contemporary text and because my personal life sometimes directly affects the way I build my shows, I chose poetry mostly because, to be frank, at that time I was in love with a poet. Well, this poet never fell in love with me, which was fascinating but also painful and aching. At that time, I thought he had a vulnerability that could offer me safety, a safety that I’ve been searching for since I started writing the project for the Hungarian State Theater of Cluj. Everything was happening in my mind while I was lying in a hotel room in Timisoara, the same place I was about to ask Ada Lupu to build the (IN) CREDIBLE play that, long after, turned into a show. The “Collage” project was born with the help of (IN) VISIBLE, a show about vulnerability in 7 parts. Back then, on that night, the concept of visible and invisible things began to emerge, and it awoke something in me, like a dangerous animal, the interest and curiosity about what was truly hidden. What was beyond that? The three performances all tell us from their titles that “visible-invisible,” “credible-incredible,” and “correct-incorrect” have a double meaning, and I never wanted to provide an answer. Not that I am trying to be modest, but solely because I didn’t (no longer) have an answer.

Picture from the (IN)CORECT show, photographed by Bogdan Botaș

Do you write plays about your own life?

No, I don’t write about my personal life. I don’t want people to think that I do. The artistic plan sometimes intertwines with the personal one, which happens to many artists. That is not a new event. My life was always a peaceful one, I am a conventional woman, and sometimes I am a conservator. But my mind never is. I think that our minds are the only place of true freedom, and in my case, you can find a multitude of contradictory feelings and sensations that would then lead to projects and writing plays, building performances from them.

What inspires you? (besides sensations): like what music do you listen, what books do you read, what painters, what writers, what artistic currents inspire you - and why?

Paradoxes inspire me. A lot. The absurdity of reality inspires me. The pain, the struggle, the hidden places, the imaginary. I am an attentive watcher. I think that is my principal source of inspiration. Books or movies complete me; they help me become a better person, but they don’t “inspire me.” Life inspires me. The other fine arts give me courage to be inspired, if you must. I don’t listen to music, only occasionally. I tried, but I couldn’t. I prefer to have peace and quiet even when I go from Bucharest to Cluj for 7 hours. When I do listen to something, I prefer to listen to the piano non-stop. I could say I have a special relationship with the fine arts. They do inspire me. I take some of my themes from there; I get inspired by the images. Fine art is an endless source of work inspiration for me. Cubism, for example, an artistic current that I’m not very fond of, such as German expressionism, still very much influenced the way I think in terms of scenography, or how I built my scenes. I even tried in my rehearsals to take the cubism principles and transfer them into theater/shows. What, for example, does “multiple perspectives” mean? And this could also apply to playwrights, to the actor’s performance, to the public, and to the purpose of a scene. If a cubic painting represented the search for fine art at its finest, what would “pure theater” mean today? If reading a cubist work leads to the pleasure of deconstructing, maybe the art of directing could be a pleasure for the public beyond representation and beyond a story line?

Photo by David Hockney

Picture from the show (IN)CORrECT

I stayed in the lab with actors who work very well, with Emőke Pál, an Hungarian actress with whom I share a lot of values and we are very compatible working together, with Doru Taloş, Oana Mardare, and Alexandra Caras, actors with whom I have been collaborating and working for 7 years, 10 years in Alexandra’s case, with whom I went to college with. They are people that trust me. That’s what I need from actors. If I feel they lack trust, we won’t function well together. In Bucharest, I collaborated with George Albert Costea, with whom I co-created Open, a one-man show five or six years ago, and with whom I have an incredible intellectual and artistic chemistry, as well as trust. I would also add Denisa Nicolae, with whom I am trying to build a professional trust. She has the Vanner Collective company and has invited me to play a text, and in my small lab we shared ideas of how we could do so.

Shortly put, my lab had the purpose of looking for movement modules and finding visuals that would fit multiple stories. Starting from key phrases such as “multiple semantics,” “multiple perspective.” We wanted to work in contrast during the pandemic, so we tried to write plays based on Cubist principles. We even tried with Hamlet; we tried to apply the principles and it turned out really well. But we didn’t dig too deep. We tried. And it is extraordinary to do this, and Reactor is the perfect space for this.

How do you choose to represent/transcribe the “sensations/ideas” on stage?

Hopefully, the scenographer will forgive me, but the actor is a vital collaborator in creating something with the director and transcribing it together.And that is not because scenography is not important, but rather that it is quite dead. In the end, theater depends heavily on actors. Although the director’s universe, or let’s talk more specifically, my universe, is my starting point, and I am not the person who will open the door for debates and workplace feedback, I won’t ask how you want to do it, etc., and I truly believe in the art of directing, even though I have all these things in my mind, I have notebooks on directing, I have rules, research, theories, and without my actors, I am nothing. And the hardest job, at the end of the day, is to make actors like you. At least to maintain the friendly environment that I wish to have for a show.

Picture from the (IN)CORRECT show, photographed by Doru Vătavului

The year 2020 was an extremely difficult year for everyone else, but especially for the cultural scene. How do you think the pandemic crisis has affected the Romanian theater scene? How did it affect you? As an artist, how did it change you? How did it affect you as a human being?

It is still too early to speak about what has changed. We will see the effects much later on. The pandemic is still very much present. Maybe in three years, we will realize how all this affects our lives. For now, I think the preservation instinct is the strongest, and from this kind of instinct I extract my will to continue doing theater, to defend theater in its most classical form. It was hard to adapt to the online medium, but then we went along. We did/built (around) a performance based on the mask. It was called “Locked” by Maria Manolescu Borșa from Replika, it is a performance-movie we made in the pandemic and it was about theater.

What is the next project that you want to work on, or are you currently working on?

I am riding the waves of creation, currently working on a very difficult show. It’s called “Get out of the Sun” and it’s about the story of Reactor, who invited the director Alexandru Dabija to build this performance. For different reasons, Mr. Dabija never arrived at Reactor, and the play-writer Alexa Băcanu even included this failed meeting in the play. Behind this story, there are other levels. As I previously stated, juxtaposition is my guilty pleasure. But I am way too caught up in the creative process to further elaborate on it, so we will see the result in the upcoming summer.

(Irina Wolf in dialogue with Leta Popescu, 15 march 2021)