|06:39 pm - Roma playwright beats odds with one-woman show|
When she was a teenager, Alina Serban, a Roma, never told classmates that she lived in a shack and never imagined she would one day study in New York, perform Shakespeare or showcase her own play.
In her young eyes, even university studies seemed far out of reach.
"Why am I lying to myself? Go to university? This is nonsense!" she cries out in her one-woman show that has people talking even before it premieres Wednesday in one of Bucharest's big jazz and theatre clubs, the Green Hours.
"The dirt in this courtyard has been devouring me for six years, how can I even dream of leaving this place?
"I will marry, have a lot of children and let my husband beat me until all my dreams fall out of my head," she says in the play.
But 23-year-old Serban beat the odds -- and wants to spread the message.
Her play, entitled "I, undersigned Alina Serban, declare," tells her story, that of a determined girl who fought deprivation and serious discrimination against a minority still degraded in everyday Romanian expressions.
"'Don't do like the Gypsies do', 'If you don't behave, I'll give you to the Gypsies': every time I heard such phrases in the street, I would bite my tongue and think: 'I don't care'," Serban recalled.
A big part of her battle was embracing her Roma identity.
"I had to hear non-Roma tell me being Roma is cool to accept who I am," she confessed.
Romania is home to Europe's biggest Roma minority. Officially, they number 530,000 but pressure groups put the figure as high as 2.5 million, saying most do not declare themselves, fearing discrimination. Many live in dire poverty, some without official IDs. Less than one percent of Roma make it beyond secondary school.
For Serban, a turning point came at 17 when her mother was jailed and she asked to be placed in foster care to avoid a new eviction. "I will take life in my own hands and I will win," she vowed.
Five years later, she had not only graduated from Bucharest's National University of Theatre and Cinematography but had also spent a semester studying at New York University's renowned Tisch School of the Arts.
Last summer, she performed in "Pericles, Prince of Tyre" at a Shakespeare Festival in Gdansk, Poland, under British-based director Philip Parr.
But her dream come true is her play, a mix of humour and gravity that caught the attention of two directors on Romania's national theatre circuit, David Schwartz and Alice Marinescu, who helped her stage the work.
"This is a very nice success story in a society that usually doesn't make things easy for Roma," said Luca Niculescu, a journalist for Romanian radio and public television.
On stage, Serban, dressed in black in a recent pre-premiere, talks through her life as photos and diary excerpts flash onto the background and music based on childhood sounds hint at passing years. She listens to Michael Jackson, collects pictures of her favorite stars and falls in love. An otherwise "very normal life", Schwartz said.
"But discrimination against Roma is widespread in Romania and I hope Romanians will understand through the play how it feels when they use such derogatory phrases," he added.
"If I am where I am today, it's because a lot of people, Roma and non-Roma Romanians gave me a hand," Serban said.
She already hopes to bring her show elsewhere in Europe.
"What I would like to tell people is: 'go, look behind the wall and try to understand and know people there before you start to judge them'".