I lived in Germany for three years, and in the first few months I had a strong sense that I did not feel at home there. I could not find my place and I started to idealise a ‘home’. Romania, my home country, became more like a utopia.
At some point this feeling of not belonging started to stimulate me creatively. At the same time, the refugee crisis in Germany grew and I wondered how it must feel for them. I mean, it’s a choice for me to live in a foreign country, I chose to do that, but they’re being forced to flee their home and live in a foreign country.
This sparked the idea of doing a show based on the well-known Romanian novel Why The Child Is Cooking In The Polenta by Aglaja Veteranyi. The book depicts a family of circus artists fleeing Romania during the communist era to find a better life in the West. I had read the book before moving to Germany, but it was while I was living in a foreign country that the impulse to adapt the book became so strong. The words and feelings within the book resonated so strongly with me.
From the start I wanted to play it in 3 languages and I wanted to stage it in as many cities and countries as possible. Let it be a nomadic show, just like it depicts a nomadic family. But it just seemed like a dream, not necessarily something that would actually happen. Somehow I clung onto the idea though, and although it seemed unlikely to succeed, I was determined to try.
By the end of my second year in Germany, I decided to act more seriously on the idea. I did months of research where I met refugees, visited refugee social camps and read case studies. I was determined to explore the social context around the themes of the novel, which fed into the creative process for the play. I was this girl, with no relationships and no experience, but who was totally determined to this show.
I travelled to Munich 4 or 5 times to meet with a representative from Kulturreferat Munich who offered to fund the show at the Balkan Days festival. I asked Dana Paraschiv, who I had worked with in Bucharest previously, to direct the show as I knew she would be a perfect fit for the text. Neither of us earned any money when we first created the show but we were both so in love with this play that we were determined to make it.
This has been a huge learning experience for me as an actress, playing it in different spaces in front of different audiences, in three languages. The show has now played in Munich, Zurich, Passau, Bucharest, Brăila, Tulcea, Constanta, Stockholm, New York and London. The venues we have performed in have varied from small cafes to bigger theatres; we have played it in front of 2 people to 120 people. There were times when I thought of giving up but the feedback I have received from the show has been amazing and that has pushed me to continue.
I am thankful to be bringing the show to London for the second time with the help of the Romanian Cultural Institute, Arts Council England and the Gate Theatre who are hosting the play. Who would have thought so many cities would see this show that was born in my lonely room in Passau, Germany with only 3000 Euros. And my challenge now – to see how many more cities I can take it to and how far it can go.
Written by Edith Alibec
Why The Child Is Cooking In The Polenta will run at the Gate Theatre from 1 – 4 May