The great challenge is not to sell everything from inside ourselves

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Dear mister Valentin Nicolau, I have a proposal for you: let’s write a drama piece together. The protagonist is a man who graduated the Faculty of Geology, but quitted the profession. Why?

Initially, the choice for this school was a compromise, even if afterwards I got to love geophysics. My options didn’t come from desire. It was motivated by what we could do at that moment. Sometimes there are fortunate compromises. I chose the Faculty of Geology and Geography because I remembered the words of someone I had met while in high school. He had told me that geology meant learning bout fascinating things and the job itself had two advantages: no bosses and a lot of time to do what you please. Was there a better reason for someone who actually wanted something else?

Some of his university colleagues developed glamorous careers abroad, even in their profession. But others stayed in their country and took up different professions, just like him. How does or hero see the world he left, which is right now adrift?

I have colleagues with brilliant careers in the US, Canada or Australia. As for those who stayed, there are few who still work in geology or geophysics. Anyway, almost all of them made it professionally. It means the school was exceptional indeed. Not only did it prepare us for a job, but it also trained us to face great challenges and changes. The years after the 1989 Revolution were a time of professional reorientation and most radical changes of fate. I am one of those who escaped a certain existence and who has got into other and other stories that seem to be my life ever since. All the important moments in history generate such twists and changes of destiny. As for myself, it is not time yet to stop and look back or explain the past.

The main character in our play took up business. He established Nemira, a publishing house, which made itself well-known very fast, especially by editing SF and philosophy of real interest. Wasn’t it a hasty initiative?

Happening and the unpredictable are part of any story and sometimes they are the engine. The first years after 1989 gave birth to unique, incomparable situations and circumstances. All the “Americas” had to be discovered and all the stories about the beginning had to be experiences again. And everything was on the edge. Nemira has been and will be one of the greatest and most beautiful stories of those years, almost a fairytale. Sometimes I feel I am not the one this happened to. And in order to make sure I open those few recent books on the history of Romanian publishing house. And I read that it happened to me indeed.

Let’s return in time. We should motivate the hero’s option. Was he in love with books? Was he an entrepreneur waiting for an opportunity to express himself?

At that time, “entrepreneur” had a much narrower meaning. I was more of a survivor, one of the despaired ones, trying to earn a living and making all sorts of attempts and get all kinds of jobs. I think the first time I earned some money was when I wasn’t even 13. So I was a driller, a sailor, a painter, a docker, a tutor for maths and physics and I think I missed some occasional jobs. Nemira was something special, something one rarely goes through. It gave me the chance to turn passion into profession and to be extremely successful, financial success included. This is why, I am saying it again, Nemira is an exceptional story.

Let us insist on biography some more. What made our hero become a playwright? Until doing it, did he experience poetry and novel?

I don’t think I can give an answer to cover for the whole question that starts with “what made…” when it comes to a debut as a writer. Maybe only if we believe that every Romanian is born a poet, as many say and even believe. In such a case, things get simpler. As for myself, and I mean it, this is not the most relevant episode. Of course I wrote a few pages while a teenager and there followed more and more. But there were never written by someone feeling they would get published. Maybe this is a first clue. No matter what they were, my trials started when I was faced with a challenge and when this challenge came from my dispute with myself. As far as writing is concerned, as my release on the market is concerned, I was cautious. At that time I was at disadvantage because of being one of the best-known editors. And it is often said that good editors are great writer who failed. And in Romania there is the distrust that a simple, natural victory is impossible. Most Romanians can’t believe that someone can do several good jobs and be successful and they can’t forgive someone who succeeds. Because of this fear I wasted about two years subscribing my plays to playwriting competitions in about the whole country. I must admit I was the first to doubt myself, I needed a confirmation and recognition. And they followed and they validated me. M plays got selected for the UNITER awards two years in a row and I won the big playwriting prize awarded by the Romanian Ministry of Culture. Mr. Nicole Manolescu was president of the jury. At about the same time, in 1998, my first play was being staged in a theatre in a Romanian locality. So it was all about happenings and remarkable encounters. I can never forget Victor Parhon and Tudor Popescu, people who meant a lot to me at that time.

Our hero writes plays mirroring the Romanian society after 1989. They unveil bitterly the flaws of a badly cut transition from dictatorship to democracy. Like many authors, he fears provincialism and he transfers everything on a universal plan that has no longer got anything to do with a particular place. Is this a good thing?

I have been taking interest in this Romania, so juicy, so full of significances for a long time now. I don’t think it was the fear of provincialism that made me avoid the particular features of these years. I think it is rather the fact that, beyond daily props and expressions, there are historical invariants that haunt us. I think all the things we go through rebuild national mythologies. We remake archetypes and wonder at our own feelings, as if they were produced only by the contemporary times. Since we are talking about theatre, can those who saw ”A lost Letter”, the play by I.L. Caragiale, staged by director Alexandru Tocilescu, say that it was written a hundred years ago?

The protagonist of our performance is interested in the mechanisms of Power, as it is used at various levels. But is reflection what makes him wish to have power too? Does he become obsessed with victory?

Writers exorcise their obsessions in black pages. Sometimes discreetly, sometimes in nude. The mechanism of power have fascinated me. I hope that by writing I shall get rid of it, all the more that in the latest years I have peeped and not only in government treaties.

As far as the analysis of the human being is concerned, which important discoveries had he made?

Many a time the most important discovery is about something simple, but not at all common, about a revelation, sometimes felt before. There are no limits and certainties and it is stupid to try to understand everything.

And our hero wins once again. He is appointed in a superior position and he becomes a general president of the Public Television Network in Romania? Is this ascent plausible for our character?

As for theatre, what matters is that everything that happens on stage should be possible in real life too. If fiction acquires the force of reality and leaves reality behind by artistic means, the performance is convincing. And The audience will be influenced, as if going through a remarkable experience in his/ her life. As for the act about Nicolau, the president of the Public Television Network in Romania, there still is too much convention. The moves were predictable. Let’s see what comes next.

So his plays are staged in important theatres and in television production. Still he is restless. Is it the author’s prestige or his position’s prestige that such success comes from? How does he drive such questions away?

I feel no such restlessness. I have already told you about some of the trials I went through. The teleplay was broadcast three months after I got appointed and the work had started some six-seven months before. The first attempt to stage the play now in the repertoire of the Nottara Theatre in Bucharest took place three years before the premiere. But in those years there were four different managers to take over the theatre. The staging of the performance housed by the National Theatre took almost a year. Those who know how things work in theatre can tell that in my case too things progress slowly and hesitatingly.

He is still young, but he has got huge responsibilities. How does he deal with them? Is the play he has a part in written by us or by others?

I deal with responsibilities just like I dealt with things when framing paintings, when working on a ship or when wandering about remote places in search of “useful substances” where the others could see only landscapes. I am stubborn enough to try to accomplish things. And maybe because of my respect for the time spent to achieve things I can’t stand to see that I might have wasted it. I am afraid of living a cheap life. As for who is the author, whatever I answer, the question remains unanswered. Most of the time we write our actions and replies ourselves, but someone else dictates them. After we come aware of this, we can become mystics or turn to derision.

Can our hero make the Public Television Network independent and credible? Sometimes the news displeases the rulers more than the news on other channels, which may be more submissive for financial reasons? Is this about courage? r about preparation for a certain moment?

Credibility is the key word to any media institution. As for the Public Television, it still is difficult for it to rediscover this dimension. It has got a burdening history coming from the other world that of state-owned television, actually owned by the party and the ruler’s family. Then it reported on the 1989 Revolution live, an event between sublime and fishy. And there followed transition, when all the powers assaulted the institution, wishing to possess it and make it productive. Now it is struggling to achieve the identity of what it must be in truth, a public television service of the European kind. In the course of history, the Romanian Television has been the mirror of time. Sometimes I tend to believe that, if it changes, something will change indeed in Romanian society s well. In this system of fractals in which a part imitates the whole, change can be determined or at least confirmed by the images the Public Television chooses to display on the small screen.

Do the experiences he goes through mystify him by any chance?

Experiences falsify only if the character is able of it. The important fight is not against the other, it takes places inside us. The great challenge is not to sell everything from inside ourselves and be true to ourselves, belong to ourselves and not sell everything we have inside.

I admit I fail to guess he end. It may be brilliant success or disappointment? Which one do we choose?

In both cases the character’s story can be but a report told by others. As for success, it may be so disappointing! It depends where you look from, from the hall or from the stage.

Interview by George Arion, Flacăra

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