Filip and I was sitting opposite each other, each eating a lasagna, as we were talking about working in the universities, the differences between Romania and Norway, what kind of students we had, storytelling etc. I loved the expression Filip just had said: “I am training activists”. Of course, that is exactly what we should do through our education in performing arts. We know that the society, the world, the humanity need our students, there is a call for us, and we should train our students to respond to that call. How can you become an artist, a storyteller, an actor unless you have a need to express something on behalf of the humanity or the like.
The British storyteller Ben Haggarty said something similar in his lecture from the seminar on the day before.
Now let me tell you the reason for why I was in Romania. I was there on behalf of FEST. As you might know, “the federation for European storytellers” (FEST) received creative Europe grant to the project called “FESTNET”. A part of that project is called professionalism of storytellers, meaning – how to educate the storyteller for/of the future. For months we, a group of storytellers, have been looking into that theme, in the project called Strand 3. FESTNET has giving support to different projects in Europe and one of them was happening in Romania.
So, I went to Cluj in Romania to observe the end of a workshop with Ben Haggarty and to attend the seminar that concluded the workshop.
Since 2013, every generation of students of Filip Odangiu at the acting study has had a storytelling course. The course is in the first year, second semester of the actor training. It was started after a meeting with Ben Haggarty and some research made by Filip.
In our talk, Filip told me that storytelling is still very new in Romania. We were talking about storytelling as a public form of artistic expression. There are some few professional storytellers, maybe one or two. The start of the storytelling course influences the professional life outside the studies, where a group of actors run by Filip will go on with storytelling. Filip’s research proof that it is needed, but for the moment, everything is at the beginning. There is a resistance because storytelling is seen as a domestic thing where stories are passed on from grandparents to the generations below. For instance, in schools, educators will think they are themselves storytellers. This is the first obstacle to encounter. They have to demonstrate the professional storyteller. Personal relations will play a good role here, to create an arena for storytelling.
In my visit, I also saw the students perform. In the performances, there was a huge variety in material (folktales, wondertales, and Bible stories) and styles. The students were showing a capacity of being present and showed courage in their telling. Some were on stage as a group and some was performing solo. All had an ownership in their stories and were able to share the story with the listeners.
Filip tells me that the objectives of the storytelling course are split into two directions: on the performative and the composite side. The aim is to teach the students the basic rules of dramatic composition. Like how to read between the lines in a text, how to look for dramatic events and how to turn it into possibles signs on the stage. The performative objects have to do with discovering that the word has a materiality. Sound can be loaded with emotions. Then they go deeper into an understanding of the significant. They learn how to project the word together with character. Projections is another thing Filip aim to learn them.
Another purpose, which they strive for, is to teach the students to organize and present their solo performance on stage. This they turn back to in the third year. Now they learn the basic like how to organize the material for a solo performance and how to actually do it. The real test is in the third year, when they graduate. Then they will have a one-man show.
Filip is the main teacher for a class for three years, this has its advantages and disadvantages. One disadvantage is that being daily with them for three year you sometimes miss some of their artistically personalities. You can miss some of their potential. Through the workshop with Haggarty, Filip discovered some new things he had not seen before. Some students hadreally taken profit of this workshop, like one of the students who found a new artistically voice through the telling of a story. Filip could not recognize his voice when hearing him telling. Another aspect was that the student could lift his eyes from the ground to face the public.
The workshop with Haggarty also made a platform for those are afraid of being alone on the stage. It happens through the idea that the words can be born in the mouth and in the moment. This is a shift of the culture for the actor where the idea is that everything is based on a written or learned by heart text. The traditional mantra is: ”learn your text by heart, and then you will be free to continue working.” Haggarty came and said: ”No, you do not have to have a text, you do not have to have a text at all.” Then they gradually got confidence in that it can happen in real time. Of course, the students know how to improvise, but it is not based on orality, but on their skills in bodily expressions. Haggarty helped them to overcome the fear of being on stage and speaking with their own words. Which is a very interesting split from seeing acting in a traditional way.
Another thing Haggarty brought is the way they understand emotions. He brought in the concept of Rasa. Before they understood it as a feeling the actor must express on stage, but it is rather about the emotional feedback you aim to obtain from the spectator.
The seminar I attended, was an open seminar, the audience where students, staff and people from the outside. During the seminar, the students addressed themes like discovering their own voice, the understanding of the oral word as something that is happening in the moment and the discovery of their own folklore.
I experienced it is a start of something within storytelling in Romania. And I left the interesting place with a strong feeling that I one day would return.