Lia BugnarFrom: Bucharest Born on: 4 January 1969 Occupation: Playwright and screenwriter, stage director and actress
It seems that I have experienced a rare moment in the history of the Green Hours jazz&theatre-café theater, when Lia Bugnar managed to stay (somewhat) quiet at the edge of a show she wrote, on one of the highchairs of the G.H. bar. From beginning till end, she stood in one place.
I know that because I arrived, quite close to 20:00 p.m., but far enough to get a “good” seat in the basement of the restaurant, to look at the performance Fata din curcubeu (Girl from the rainbow) slightly propped up with my back by the same G.H. bar. There was another option, but the opening I had to the stage, and especially to the actor, weighed harder than the possibility of putting my feet on the ground. It turned out to be a better choice than it first showed.
Moving discreetly and in the same time hurriedly, among the people already installed with partners, relatives, friends or strangers, Lia goes to the other side of the bar and turns her eyes to the back of the audience, looking somewhat over my shoulder. Even now I don’t know how far she stood, whether she was holding a glass of water in her hand, or if she frowned sometimes, focusing. I don’t know.
What was clear to me, but later, was my advantage, the fact that I received something in addition to all those who had bought a ticket on the evening of 1st of February at Ilona Brezoianu’s one-woman show. Beyond the story of the character and the emotions that come over you more like the ball over the sports ground’s gate, when you ask yourself from where the scenario will hit you, to what pillar of the gate to turn your attention, how high to jump or how to contortion your body to catch the messages that Ilona naturally built, beyond all of this, I heard the Bugnar director and spectator, manifesting. As I stood there, at a meter away from Lia, I felt like a visitor invited behind the scenes and sent to the public, called back and sent away again, until I learned the signals and how to move alone from a place to another, happy that I have this chance of peeking after the curtain.
“Decrease the lights, yes … and now redirect them to her face. Yes. […] Put the lights on the corridor. That’s right.”, she whispered to the person in charge of the technical side of the theater, then laughed loudly and clearly at a gesture or expression of the actress. You would say that there is no way to be surprised by the words written by you and played by others on stage, but in the case of Lia I can confirm that it is possible.
I don’t know what kind of spectator I was, but there were certain moments when I wanted to look back and see her facial reactions, to see how she, probably, rested her left hand on bar, allowing herself to be carried by her own stories, by her own fantasies.
I will come again, I promised then, to pay for my foolish desire to divide the attention between art and the one who thought it, if it can be thought and not just felt.
Then, we also agreed on this exchange, question-answer, below.
MS: The roles you play in the creative world are diverse. How does actor’s posture help you when you write and outline context, character, action and in the end a story, regardless the form in which it gets to the public?
I have no idea if the fact that I am also an actor helps me, but it certainly compels me to keep in mind that those words will come out of the mouth of a real person, one of my colleagues, so they have to have truthfulness potential, it compels me to keep in mind that the situations, the story, once putted on paper, must help an actor, not confuse him. I know from my own experiences that you have days when you are out of shape, days when things simply don’t come out, and then it is very important to have a good stage play, one that saves you. Actors come to me and they say: “I was a disaster today and I realized that words wrote by you are enough, I just have to say them and things happens.” And to get back to the question, yes, I write pronouncing loudly the words, I’m testing everything while I’m writing.
MS: Is it easier to make stories where “the words are enough” when the history of the character has its roots in reality? As it happens in the stage play “Această Sonia” (This Sonia) for example, where the actor’s past coincides with the character’s experience.
In “Această Sonia” the actor’s past coincides with the character just because Letizia Vlădescu (the actress) and Sonia (the character), both studied the violin and were very good at it. Otherwise, coincidences stops and pure fiction begins. Actually, I had a violinist role in another stage play of mine “Fir’ mituri” (Thread’myths Crumbs – a play on words title) which plays also the “Spanish Symphony” and in that cast (I think 10 years ago) no one could sing at any instrument. I would say that, rather, I take drops from everything that surrounds me and from them I make stories self-contained. It’s just as easy or hard and if the story has a core of truth and if it’s completely invented.
MS: Have you identified paradoxes in this universe of acting and writing due to the various hats you wear?
I think the paradox, when you go from one side of the stage to the other (let’s say that the stage director is in the audience and the actor on stage), at least in my case, is that I have a much clearer look when I sit in the auditorium and I look. I know very clear how to play, I can explain everything, I can perform if I go, spontaneously, on stage. When I’m the actress, things are not as clear, the angle narrows, and I need some outside advice. It’s paradoxical in a way, after all, there are situations I wrote, but that’s just what happens. The sharpest look I have outside the stage.
Photo: Adi Bulboacă
MS: For a character to be credible, I think, he needs many elements to keep him up in the spectator’s eyes. How should a theater character be or have in order to call him successful?
It doesn’t have to be schematic, it must exist before entering the scene, and it must exist even after it’s out. I don’t necessarily think in detail about the characters, I don’t make them “from my head” but rather “from inertia”. I throw them in the story and after that I kind of let them exist in their own way. I just follow them. So, in my case, the first appearance of the character is important, the first words he pronounces. After the first appearance and the first words I know exactly who he is and then I let him to unfold. After that, just like in life, at some point I let him to surprise me. Pleasant or unpleasant doesn’t matter, it’s important not to be predictable.
MS: How do you see the audience from the opposite side of the scene, from behind, when you watch a performance, for example, on the Green Hours bar seats? (a restaurant which have an improvised independent theater hall)
I don’t really sit in the chair, I am nervous. I stand and I manifest. I’m just like the professional drivers who sit on the right seat and press imaginary pedals while someone else is driving. The audience is seen as it is. Divers. You notice the spectator absorbed entirely by what is happening to him. You see the spectator with little power of concentration, the fast-food spectator, he doesn’t have time to go too deep, you have to give it as quick and varied, otherwise you will lose it. I have no sympathy for this kind of spectator. You identify the spectator who, instead of looking at the show, prefers filming snippets and posting on the internet what he shot. That’s my favorite. I am discreetly putting my hand on the camera of the phone and I am telling him that it is not allowed to do that, and then I have a malicious sense of satisfaction when I see his frustration that he has to look at the show, the only option he has. I see the spectator who compulsively scroll on his phone, without worrying that the actor sees the face lit by the screen and that it is very offensive for him. I see the spectator who is involved in the show as hard as the actor, he laugh and weep, the spectator who has reactions, who knows how to maintain silence when it is needed. There is a very precious silence in the theater, a silence in which people seem to forget to breathe. I am very aware of the spectators, practically, I almost see the show through their eyes.
MS: You make stories, cure for society. How does your story sound?
It’s not a story that deserves to be said. It is a usual one, nothing has ever been exceptional in my life. I didn’t even have a spectacularly unfortunate childhood, but commonplace unfortunate, like most of the kids in those blocks where we lived.
MS: “My father was almost always furious, and my mother was a terribly cheerful creature.” What do you think you inherited from each parent and how does this legacy help you in your nowadays activities?
I haven’t inherited enough to matter. I don’t have my father’s anger, nor the always half-full glass of my mother’s perspective. What I’m doing today is only the fact that after my mother made the first homework with me (probably in the second class), she refused to help me in the next one. She told me “you saw how it was done, now you do the same.” And that’s what I have been doing since then.
MS: Are there times when you feel the need to train with someone, to discuss, to ask for advice or simply to have an opinion about your work?
No, I don’t feel the need. I just write from inertia, very quickly, how it comes to me. After that, I feel the need to hear as quickly as possible the words said by the actors. As I don’t think there is “wrong” in art, I start from the idea that what I do is what I do and cannot be done by anyone. And it doesn’t make sense to ask someone, because it’s normal for that person to see things differently from me. It would be insulting to see them just like me, I don’t want any kind of uniform, no recipe.
MS: Your lucidity and frankness can sometimes be uncomfortable for an interlocutor. What are you trying to avoid being and acting in this way?
I’m not trying to avoid anything. I have just come to the conclusion that it is most convenient and efficient to tell the truth and behave accordingly. Lying requires effort, is a construction which involves maintenance. The truth, simply, is.
MS: What topic of “public interest” did you get involved with? Do you have a drive in “social fights”?
I have periods of time when I protest against the current situation in politics. And I have periods when I don’t have energy for that, when the outgoing seems useless to me. I always respect my social involvement metabolism, I don’t just force myself for being in trend. Otherwise, my social struggle is small but important. I help very talented people who aren’t where they should in the Romanian theater, who are put in dusty shelves and forgot there, I help them to go out, I help them to see the light. By the way, I bring good luck to actors.
MS: Yeah, good luck? Do you believe in luck?
Yes. I believe in luck. But, according to the anecdote, I also think it’s your job to buy the ticket if you’re hoping to win the lottery. I believe in lucky meetings, meetings that change your trajectory.
MS: In what else do you believe?
MS: When you say “Respect!”? For what? In what context? When does the appreciation string moves within you?
I respect people who are able to stick to a principle, even if it happens at some point that the principle is not on their side. I respect people who don’t change their opinions by the direction of the wind, which doesn’t change their scale of values, beliefs, according to the context. I respect people who have the courage to risk their situation, position, for the sake of truth and common sense.
Photo: Cătălina Flămînzeanu
Also then, in the evening of the Fata din curcubeu (which if you haven’t seen it, I recommend you to put on the list), my eyes moved in various directions. There are many things that you can identify through a short, but sharp, look.
As it happens to me to memorize whole scenes from good movies, fragments from the successful monologue of a theater actor, moves from a spectacular choreography seen even on YouTube, it happens to keep screenshots from the simple daily life. Simple, but not just simple. On this principle, the memory of a blonde-haired young woman caught up with me. She wore her hair in a negligent way, wearing a red silk dress on which surface large black flowers were lying. She stood at the theater, on a wooden, classic, old chair, with her back to the entrance. It was precious and I’m not saying it joking at all.
Although Lia Bugnar builds realities, using jokes and ironies, she knows how to dress them in tailor made dresses or costumes for each one. The people loves them, painful and brutal, as they sometimes are.