A prominent name in the repertoire of the „Radu Stanca” National Theatre of Sibiu (TNRS), Marius Turdeanu is the kind of actor who gladly undertakes a journey within himself. He meets his characters with vulnerability and understanding, then possesses them with force and abandonment. The result is a series of complex and courageous roles that stick in the audience’s memory through the charisma, humour and authenticity with which he manages to stage them. Since 2009, when he started working at the TNRS, he was nominated four times for the UNITER awards in the category best actor, for the roles in „Cioran’s Temptation”, directed by: Gavriil Pinte (role: Cioran, 2012); „The Master and Margaret”, by Mihail Bulgakov, directed by: Zoltán Balázs (role: The Master, 2014); „Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” (role: George, 2020) and „Three Sisters” (role: Vershinin, 2022), both directed by Andrei and Andreea Grosu.

It is not the first time that our editorial board is talking to Marius Turdeanu, but on the eve of FITS, we wanted to reconnect in order to find out how the actor from Sibiu copes with this difficult time, what roles he keeps close and how he is preparing for the festival.

A couple of years ago you were defining theatre as an „encounter” – with the public, with other artists, with fears and taboo topics, with oneself. How did this encounter with yourself play out on the anxiety-ridden stage of the pandemic and (I could not possibly fail to mention this) on the stage overshadowed by a war on our border? Are you experiencing various anxieties? Are you more submerged in theatre? Are you seeking to take refuge inside your family, inside those tranquilities, seedlings and wanderlust involving a tent and a sidecar?

Marius Turdeanu: We have been and unfortunately, we continue to be part of a most difficult context which influences all aspects of our lives. I hope that present history will take a merciful turn, it would be high time it did. There’s this saying… „after rain there is always sunshine” – if this is how the Universe works, then I believe it would be a wonderful opportunity for all of us to commence a new chapter.

I couldn’t say that I have various anxieties. Outrage, yes! And I lost some of my optimism. But enough remains for me to stubbornly believe that the world will soon be back on track. We are the only species on earth that needs beauty as much as it needs nourishment. Beauty creates balance, it is the most powerful weapon because it realigns priorities, needs and makes us conscious that this life is a miracle. I believe it is not accidental that this is the word defining this year’s edition of the Theatre Festival.

We are the only species on earth that needs beauty as much as it needs nourishment.

But I do believe that for the first time in my life I became more conscious that theatre is also an act of resistance. We have gone through these trying times well, or rather meaningfully. During a time when we could physically not do our work, we actually worked harder than ever. We were the first theatre in the country that managed to reinvent itself. The Digital Stage Platform – theatre’s movement towards the online medium– launched in July 2020, was beautiful, unique work, rewarded with the UNITER Special Award, and this is the merit of all departments of the theatre, but especially of Alexandru Condurache – the most important acquisition at the best possible time for the TNRS. I can safely say that during this time I found not only e refuge in theatre, but I also experienced the sense of a beautiful victory, the one of having brought people joy.

In what my private life is concerned, I hope we all will not bypass this important lesson. We are the generation that is running out of time. Time for ourselves, for friends, for small pleasures, and what is most tragic, for our own children. This is a thing that can be even more serious than the war on our border and which in the future might create an even greater lack of equilibrium in our society. There is no excuse for this, the ones following in our footsteps must have the chance of becoming complete individuals, at peace with themselves and the world. We already have enough examples of how serious the opposite can be – hatred, wars, armed attacks and so on.

“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, TNRS production, dir. Andrei & Andreea Grosu

You were saying that you would always return to George, the character you are playing in „Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”. The dramatist Edward Albee was referring to this play in the Paris Review claiming that it is in fact a manner of asking „who is afraid of living in the absence of false illusions”, so it is about being conscious and about unpleasant truths. What makes you feel so close to this role (which is a rather dark one)? What other roles are especially close to your heart and what makes them be this way?

Marius Turdeanu: Indeed, I feel very close to George, as I do to Edward Albee and I am quite afraid that I can actually not offer a satisfactory answer to this question. I try to express everything I have to say about my job on stage, before the spectators.

I love this role because it is a complex one, because in the case of Albee one can submerge oneself into his characters and reach the innermost corners of their being, and the most taboo questions – cynically, but also humorously. An intelligent type of humour which indeed strikes and hurts a lot. I also love it because Andrei and Andreea Grosu create the work environment as I had always envisaged it regarding this job. And I also love it because there are many similarities between me and him, George. In fact, this is what I am always in search of: for those people whose words I use to speak and whose thoughts I submerge myself in, to first of all mean something to me, to Marius.

Otherwise, it is very difficult, and I am afraid of lying. And thus, all my roles are special, because they help me to express something about myself. This is what I always aim to do and it is a wonderful gift to have the occasion of doing this. I know no other context I could do this in and that’s fine, it is liberating, it is luxurious.

How was it like impersonating Vershinin Alexandr Ignatievici from „Three Sisters”, another performance directed by Andrei and Andreea Grosu? In how far was Vershinin challenging?

Marius Turdeanu: If one year ago I had said that I loved the Russians, nobody would have batted an eye… hm. Yes! I love Russian theatre, I love Chekov. It is my third encounter with Chekov and it is equally joyful each time, all the more so as it is in the vision of Andrei and Andreea Grosu.

Vershinin it seems to me is living parallel lives, a beautiful mixture – this is what was challenging. He is alive, charming, instinctual, but that is just a form of escape from his personal life filled with misfortune and family responsibilities. He has moments of the utmost sincerity (and he jumps from one extreme to the other), he loves passionately, then he laments, he even becomes a parody. How can one not love him?

Having watched you in several TNRS performances, I noticed that the audience especially loves your sense of humour and authenticity. People are laughing hysterically at „Grumps”, for example, and they are also crying with emotion. What must an actor do in order not to lie on stage?

Marius Turdeanu: Thank you, I am happy to hear that. Half the answer would be the will and pleasure of being there. I feel I am being sincere when the situation is clear to me, when I do not have to think about the text I am speaking, but everything derives from the context, when I know what I want and why I am there. There are certain levels you learn about in university, but they should not remain mere theory just because they offer a feeling of safety. This can make the difference between „cute” and „superb”.

The other half of the answer is related to practicing, rehearsals, and why not, experience. Just like in sports – you watch and you are completely taken with X’s performance, but at the same time everything they do seems natural and simple. The natural and the simple are not only based on talent, but also on a lot of hard work.

One is also sincere when one has good partners, that you can trust upon looking into their eyes and who enable you to become that which you should be.

„On the Other Side of the World”, one of the performances you act in this year at the FITS, is a road-trip for spectators as well as actors. There you play Helios, a bohemian photographer who reaches some sort of balance and maturity after years of wandering through the world. This role made me think of your high school dreams (I know you wanted to travel the world and become an actor in America) and how it appears that actors live out many of their most impossible dreams on stage. How do you relate to the initiation journeys represented by your roles and how do you keep the balance when theatre threatens to rob you of too much of your life beyond the stage?

Portrait by Andrei Runcanu

Marius Turdeanu: Yes, as I have previously stated, it is a luxury to live out one’s unfulfilled dreams on stage. In „On the Other Side of the World”, Alexandra Badea is not only a director, but also a dramatist. The idea and the main narrative line are the result of her creation and personal experience. On the other hand, the rest of us contributed to the text by means of our world (experiences we’ve had, outrage, requited or unrequited love, etc.) and this is how the whole thing came together. Of course, I was happy to be given the occasion to be a part of what I could have maybe been in another lifetime. All the more so that both Alexandra and me, knew that kind of people who take from life everything other people dare not even dream of. Freedom, wonderful experiences, people you meet once and then carry in your heart forever.

I don’t know in how far I can agree to what you are saying, I have no idea if theatre is an initiation journey or not. I truly do not know… but it is something. It is a stage light with a broad spectre of human existence. It is an attempt at understanding people and not judging them. This is what it can be! If anything was „initiated” within me during these years it was the exercise of looking at the world, at people and at events from various perspectives. This is a huge win.

How do you function during the festival? Which is the thing you are most looking forward to during FITS?

Marius Turdeanu: I love festivals! I am happy every time we go perform somewhere else, I am happy when others come to us and we are their hosts. And, honestly, I am proud of the grandeur and fame of FITS. 10 days during which the entire city celebrates, and on the streets you can hear all of the world’ languages. It is an effervescence I look forward to each year.

The first thing I do after the official schedule has been announced, so before the beginning of the festival, is to set up a list of priorities. Events I do not allow myself to miss. It happens that they overlap with performances I am acting in or other commitments I have, but I do try to harvest as much as I can. Even now I have image sin my mind of actors, performances that I shall never forget. It is highly important to be able to relate to others’ work, and what is more, to know them, to exchange opinions and build friendships. In one word, encounters. I do not think that I could divide the festival into several parts and say that I like one more than the other. I see it as a whole, I am happy and grateful that it exists. May it be beautiful for all of us!

English translation: Ana-Blanca Ciocoi-Pop

*cover image: TNRS, the production “Three Sisters”