Interview with playwright Ana-Maria Bamberger, Art Act Magazine

Ciprian Marinescu, Art Act Magazine, 2010

There are nearly 20 years since Ana-Maria Bamberger left Romania, pursuing a career in medical sciences to discover herself as a playwright along the way. Actress Olga Tudor interpreted the main parts in several of her plays. “November”, “Fish and Peas”, “The Portrait of Donna T.”, “Three O’ Clock”, “Belvedere”, are few of the plays written by Ana-Maria Bamberger.

Q: Liana Ceterchi has staged several plays you wrote, “The Portrait of Donna T.”, “Three O’ Clock”, “Fish and Peas”. How did this collaboration begin?

AMB: When she staged “The Portrait of Donna T.” It was Mrs. Olga Tudorache's idea, who had worked with Liana Ceterchi on another performance. Then, knowing the text for “Fish and Peas”, she wanted to stage it, and proposed a collaboration with the Theatre “Al. Davila” in Pitesti; later, another collaboration with the National Theatre “Radu Stanca” Sibiu, for “Three O' Clock”.

Q: Since Liana Ceterchi staged several of your text, how much do you talk to her about your plays while writing them?

AMB: I don't actually talk to anyone about my plays while writing them.

Q: How much does Liana Ceterchi talk to you while staging one of yours plays?

AMB: The performance is primarily the work of the director, not the author's. I find it interesting to see the director's approach of a certain text, so I usually avoid interfering with it. I think it was only with “Three O’ Clock” that I told her that I would like a staging out of the realistic scope, in a bizarre-grotesque note, to suggest visually as well the hell in which the characters were, and we actually had something like that in Sibiu. But I usually see performances at the premiere or later.

Q: “Belvedere” was staged so far in Hamburg and Arad (the Romanian version just premiered the other day, at Clasic Theatre). How did you experience, by comparison, the approach of the same text by two different directors - Hartmut Uhlemann and Liana Ceterchi?

AMB: From my perspective, the Hamburg staging, directed by Hartmut Uhlemann, is closer to how I see this text, both in pace and accents, managing an excellent balance between comedy and the more philosophical core of the play. The main character is playful, sarcastic and vulnerable at the same time, leading the viewer with great easiness and confidence, through his fantasy’s game. It has a more playful appearance, as characters appear and disappear under the platforms of the completely white scenery, suggesting the sheets of paper that the play is written on. Liana Ceterchi's staging is done in a completely different key, focusing on other issues. With her, the main character conveys a deep sadness, is disquieting, tormented, much closer to the idea of madness which, in the German staging, remains only a possibility, a suggestion. The rhythm is much slower, weightier. The scenery which I liked a lot was designed by Onisim Colta and is dark, with translucent panels and mirrors doubling the characters to excellent successful visual outcome. A pleasant surprise was the doctor character, constructed in an interesting note of bizarre and grotesque. Therefore, the two stagings could not have been more different than that.

Q: Your profession is rooted in medicine. How do you switch to drama, how and when do you write?

AMB: Aside from the fact that it takes away nearly all my time, medicine has proven to be an advantage for my work as a playwright. There are well-known examples showing that it can lead to surprisingly well matched combinations. Chekhov and Bulgakov, two writers whom I admire enormously, were both trained doctors. Medicine, which places you in direct contact with people for whom you are responsible and whom you are trying to understand and help, teaches you a lot about deep human nature, sometimes in extreme circumstances. Medicine requires you to cultivate your understanding, empathy, a sense of observation for nuances, small changes that can mean a lot. All these are extremely useful for a playwright. I do not know how I “switch”, it is not programmed, I do not think of it consciously. I have an idea for a play and at some point I sit down and write it. It is not an actual “switch”. I don't abandon the patient so I can write two lines; I write at home in the evening. I try to use the time that I have, when I have it, as effectively as I can.

Q: “Belvedere” is, in its subject, evidence to the fact that the trained profession (medicine) and the vocational profession (drama) inspire each other. How do you experience the mutual influence of the two fields in your texts?

AMB: Not only in “Belvedere”, but other texts too feature doctors, or people and situations from this profession. In “Fish and Peas”, the daughter, Marina, is a physician and has problems at the hospital. The son of the actress in “Portrait of Donna T.” is a physician and painter Marius David had given up medicine for painting. In the monodrama “10 Questions”, the character is an anatomopathologist going through an extreme situation and changing his life completely, and “Blind Date” is a sci-fi comedy that includes elements like new advances in medicine, even a laboratory of reproductive medicine, things that I would have not been able to describe, of course, unless I had not worked in the field. Many have told me that this is one of the aspects that they find very interesting and appealing in my plays. I like using such topics and find them interesting and rich for drama.

However, for a long time, before I started actually writing and working in theatre, I was feeling somehow uncomfortable; I felt that I needed something essential. I saw my colleagues at the hospital and I was thinking that I'm not quite like them, that I see things differently, from another perspective - a perspective that I needed. Because of it, in spite of everything I achieved in medicine and research, there was always regret as well, a recurrent sorrow for not having worked in theatre. But after I started to actually work in theatre, and especially since this activity has become a second reality, the sorrow turned into gratitude, joy, perhaps even more than if I had done it first or exclusively. My work in medicine, both in research and with patients, benefited a lot, I believe, from this inner well being. Now I am grateful for having two such different fields of activity, it is always exciting. I'm amused with what Chekhov said once: Medicine is my lawful wife, literature - my mistress. When one of them gets on my nerves, I spend my night with the other. It's probably not very nice of me, but at least I'm never bored. This is pretty much how things are.

Q: You live in Hamburg. Why did you leave the country?

AMB: I left the country in 1991, after graduating from medical school, to earn a doctorate degree in Germany, with a scholarship. I then completed a two-year postdoctoral internship in the United States, on a Fogarty fellowship. Meanwhile I got married, and as my husband is from Germany, after the United States internship, we returned to Germany together, where we were offered the management position in a research laboratory in a renowned institute in Hamburg. Ever since we've been living and working there. But I have often returned to Romania, especially since I started working in theatre. I work with several theatres in Bucharest and in the country and I am trying to see as many performances as I can every time I come, which gives me the feeling of certain continuity, of a perpetual return.

Q: What are the advantages and disadvantages of living (geographically) outside the Romanian theatre space?

AMB: One of the advantages is certainly the opportunity to have known closely a different theatre system too, the German one, to have seen how they work in a context different from ours. At the same time, I had the chance to have a German publisher for my plays, for them to be staged in Germany, which gave them international acknowledgement. The main disadvantage is that I don't find myself often enough in contexts where I can meet people with whom I would like to collaborate. The time I can spend in Romania is very limited, and so are the events I can attend.

Q: Which theatre landscape - of the Romanian and German ones- is closer to your soul?

AMB: The Romanian one. It was more difficult to me to become close to the German one, but now that it happened, I am very grateful for the opportunities it offered to me and it still offers, both in inspiration and methods of work, as well as in perception. Initially, in Romania, my plays have been perceived almost exclusively through the parts created by Olga Tudorache, which was an enormous opportunity – but, at the same time, it represented the main angle and perspective for perception. In Germany, the performances have been received from the beginning with a very high interest for the text, which was a great advantage for me as a playwright.

Q: What plays are you working on right now and what future theatre projects are you involved in?

AMB: The most recent project is in England, where I'm collaborating with an excellent team on a play that I have just finished, a monodrama called “10 Questions”. The world premiere will take place in May 2011 in Brighton. In this project, I am involved for the first time in the very exciting capacity as a producer. In Romania, I will work with director Dan Tudor; we hope to stage soon “Belvedere” in Bucharest as well. Meanwhile, I'm finishing my two new texts, “10 Questions” and “Blind Date” in Romanian as well. I am also delighted with the offer from the Theatre in Giurgiu to stage there “Taxi Blues”, which was awarded in a contest organized by the institution, “Drama in two.” In Germany, I will continue the excellent collaboration with Kontraste Theatre in Hamburg, where they will be staging “Blind Date”, during the 2011/2012 season. Also, we will tour the performance “Belvedere” in Germany (the Hamburg staging) at the Vagantenbühne in Berlin in September / October 2011, and a new staging of the same play, in the “Antonia” version, with a female lead in the 2011 / 2012 season.