Welcome to the July/August issue of Croats in London. This month: Interview with Mirjana Rendulic
Interview conducted by Brian Gallagher
Mirjana Rendulic is a Croatian actor and playwright who is bringing her acclaimed one woman play, ‘Broken Promise Land’, from Ireland to the Etcetera Theatre in London as part of the Camden Fringe Festival. The play runs from 22-24 August. It tackles the world of lap dancers. We caught up with Mirjana to find out more.
Tells us a bit about your background. How did you come to live and work in Ireland?
I always wanted to live in an English speaking country. I watched a lot of American television in Yugoslavia in the 80’s. My best friend and I wrote stories in English when we were eight and sometimes pretended we are the characters from television, such as Cagney and Lacey from the 1980’s TV series. I went to London for a year in 1998 as au pair and did First Certificate in English, then back in Croatia the Second certificate in English, then in the early 2000s I met two Irish students travelling around Croatia and they told me if I ever come to Ireland I should come visit them and that’s what happened in 2003.
I started an English course then in Dublin and did International English Language Test System (IELTS) at University College, Dublin with a hope to get into the prestigious Trinity College to study drama. Unfortunately, as I went on holidays a few days before of my IELTS exam, my flight was delayed and I missed the exam. The same year I looked for other courses, and then enrolled into Theatre Studies at Colaiste Dhulaigh College of Further Education, Dublin. I studied there for three years and received FETAC and Higher National Diploma in Theatre Studies and Media Production. Afterwards I trained for year in Drama Facilitation with National Association for Youth Drama and spent another year working there as a mentor to facilitation trainees.
Afterwards I worked as a freelance facilitator in youth theatres, schools and youth groups. I even did a project with immigrants in association with Abbey Theatre, Ireland. That was amazing! While I was building my facilitation portfolio I suddenly started getting roles in film and theatre so I thought to pursue acting a bit more. I lived in Ireland for over 10 years, it became my home, I made life long friendships and became a bit of a Dub myself.
Why did you decide to write and perform this play, which draws much upon your own experience?
I have always been a bit of a writer and being a frustrated actor I wanted to write a show for myself to act in as I felt there are not many roles for immigrants in Ireland yet. I had this particular story and I was shy to tell people about it but my friends who knew it used to say’ You have to write this down!’ and so I did. Then I met a wonderful Irish American director Aoife Spillane Hinks based in Ireland who liked the story and worked with me on the development and suddenly it became a different story that I initially wanted to tell, it became so much more substantial and purposeful. I have learned a lot as a theatre maker by making this play.
How was the play received, both on stage and on radio in Ireland?
I never thought that this would lead to so many newspaper reviews, numerous interviews, a tour around Ireland and even a national radio production of the play. What’s more, the play even won a silver award in direction at New York Festivals 2014. Amazing!
I primarily wanted to showcase myself as an actor. Then I realized that this play describes a certain time in Ireland in 2003, during the Celtic Tiger boom, when many immigrants came into the country so my account of events somehow became historical. No-one has written about dancers yet and no-one has described the variety of experiences dancers have. Describing a young woman in a lap dancing industry often tends to get a victimised approach, in this story it is more about growing up and becoming a woman, as well as describing the job itself and the routines. I compared it to the construction worker immigrant jobs as I felt the intention behind can be quite similar.
I was even asked to be interviewed in ‘The Morning Show’ at the national RTE television but it was too overwhelming at the time and I wanted the focus to be on me as an artist, rather than my personal life, so I didn’t do it.
What kind of reaction have you got to your work back in Croatia?
My friends love it. My family care than I am well and healthy, they know I am doing a play but not exactly what it is about. It feels strange to tell them it is based on real people and in what context. I have contacted one of the festivals in my home city Zagreb, hoping to maybe bring the show over but I haven’t heard back. I was delighted to see that my show was mentioned in the Croatian Times.
I did all my training and work in Ireland so I don’t have artistic links in Croatia except to a wonderful lady that runs Zagreb Youth Theatre, Ines Skuflic but that is a youth theatre context.
How did the forthcoming performance in London come about?
I recently appeared in BBC 4 TV drama ‘Amber’ so I got an agent in London. I decided to move over and look into acting auditions. I don’t like waiting for work so I want to do my own projects when I can. I wanted to bring the play abroad and when I found out that the Camden Fringe Festival is on I submitted the show.
I am writing a new piece set in London; it would be lovely to make new work relationships for my next show.
This is one woman play performed by yourself – that must present quite a challenge?
It is an hour long monologue so it is challenging to speak that long. On the other hand I can create a dynamic I want as I don’t depend on anyone else. Doing a one person show can give you a great boost of confidence as it is all on you, if it goes well of course! It can be scary too! Once you get into it, it’s great fun!
What do you hope audiences will take away from your play?
I’d like audiences who might have or don’t have any perception about lap dancing industry to see what made one young woman to do it. It is not about glamorising it but telling it as it is, from her perspective. It also gives a bit of an insight into the Croatian people’s attitude’s after the war as well as how the young woman Tea deals with meeting new cultures, facing danger and learning about life. She embarks on a journey in Croatia, to Italy, Japan and finally Ireland.
What kind of challenges have you found in language meanings between Croatian and other languages in your work?
It can be difficult to translate certain phrases and keep the true meaning, I find improvising in Croatian difficult as an actor as I don’t use it as often any more. When I started writing scripts in English I was often too literal but being in Ireland, where people have such a wonderful metaphorical way of expressing themselves, I’ve started expressing myself both verbally and in writing a bit less directly. I find that English in Ireland can be so picturesque, one word can mean so many things.
Tell us about your other work as an actor. You have been a vampire film that is due to come out?
I have done different projects in theatre, film and TV. A feature film ‘The Ecstasy of Isobel Mann’ in which I am playing a 1000 year old vampire is coming out this year as well as ‘The Last Show’ feature film, filmed in May. In the second one, for the first time ever I got to play a character that was not described as foreign or an immigrant which I loved. I think it is about time that immigrants play characters rather than just immigrants.
What are your future plans?
I have drafts for three more one woman shows at very early stages. I hope to do them one by one, with a hope that at some point I secure some funding too. It is so nice to be creating something.
I would love to be in a good TV series again. It has been my dream since I was a child!
Full details on the play, and how to purchase tickets can be seen by clicking here.
Broken Promise Land’ One Woman Show
Etcetera Theatre; London; 22nd -24th August @3.30 pm