I have always wondered which is the right way to tell a story and if some stories are not to be told. I come from a tradition were I was taught that “There are things we never talk about”. And I didn’t ask “why”. Despite teaching me some of the most important lessons in life, my grandmother told me once: “never tell anything about yourself” and this was something I carried with me for many years like an old heavy baggage. Memories were stuck somewhere so deep, that at one point I completely forgot who I was. My identity was falling apart. I lost any sense of understanding why or how to do things. I was training to become a performing artist but I was not ready to share my identity, my thoughts or my emotions. I thought telling someone else’s story will fill the blanks of my own story. How wrong I was.
Then I left my country searching for a different experience. The exploration of memory and identity expended from looking at my own roots as an individual, to trying to understand my roots as a Romanian. If I would have stayed there, I might have never asked myself what being a Romanian means for me. But the strange feelings of alienation and isolation and in the same time of being “on top of the world”changed the scene for me. “Where are you from?” is the question on everybody’s lips, a form of established social convention you need to perform with the shop assistant, with a stranger on the buss, with the old man walking his dog in the park, with your neighbours, with the lady from the bank, with strangers in the pubs, with everyone. Does it counts? Apparently yes. It counts for what it tells about you. And the prejudices of being a person from a marginalized country, the social exclusion, the political rejection of my country, the demonized image from international press have affected the way I relate to all these issues in a way that I never thought it would be possible. It made me want to scream; It made me want to testify; it made me want to tell the story of my identity through all the voices I was hearing around me …so I could understand.
I looked all around me, at how the identity of the West was shaped by incredible stories and how nations are regarded as ‘imagined communities’’ with their wisely constructed stories, hidden histories being challenged, established cultures and more important with a patrimony of collective memories. Every successful community has a patrimony of narratives that confirms its existence, and furthermore, the identity. So I realised we Romanians also have some stories we need to remember, to commemorate and most important, to tell.
I become aware of the impact of performing your own story within a participatory theatre experience, first through the amazing work of Augusto Boal and his forum theatre also known as“Theatre of the Oppressed”, then through my own experience. I have seen people being transformed and happy to escape the burden of their untold stories. I learned that one’s true story might be more fantastic and unbelievable than any story I could ever imagine. The level of intimacy and yet of understanding the most fundamental meanings of life came from really listening people’s stories or seeing them performed by the former ‘owners ‘of the story. I say ‘former’ because once you tell a story, the story chases from being your story; it becomes the story of each listener and a collective patrimony.
Therefore I realized that as an artist, I am just a medium of one’s narrative. I can only design a situation in which a narrator can start telling his/her story and the narrative unfolds in front of us, as a living entity that is both singular and universal. The artistic product is not the story itself, nor the virtuosity of the narrator, but the process in which someone tells and someone listen, a testifier and a witness.
And this amazing process opens infinite channels of understanding identity by revealing memory, for me, for the narrator, for the audience. And moreover, it forms a successful community.
And this is the story of how “Open Arena” was born.