Courageous Citizens: Adriana Radu
In the interview series with Courageous Citizen grantees here is the story of Adriana Radu, who, being a social media influencer, decided to produce a theatre play on her own and other Romanian feminists’ experiences: Portrait of the artist as a young influencer, which premieres February 29 in Bucarest.
What is your idea about? And how did it come forth from your existing Sex vs. The Stork practice which you run since 2013 already…
In 2013, I founded Sex vs The Stork which has since become Romania’s most popular video platform for feminist analysis on culture, sexuality education and reproductive health. It is aimed at teens and young adults. I published over 100 videos that, collectively, have garnered over 10 million views. The platform’s youtube channel is soon going to hit 100 000 subscribers. I ran this channel next to my studies. I have a bachelor degree in literature, and a master degree in Public Health. My master thesis, a cost analysis looking at the economic consequences of sexuality education in Romania, is available online as an animation.
In 2018, I co-wrote and toured my first theater play, Protected/Unprotected, in 6 cities across Romania. For this I interned with theater directors Susanne Kennedy at the Volksbühne, Berlin and Yael Ronnen at Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin and was a 2019 Heidelberger Stückemarkt scholar.
Of course, this list of achievements took a high personal toll. At the end of 2017, I was completely burnt out. On top of my Public Health studies in Berlin, I was continuously producing youtube videos and holding down different jobs to support myself. On top of that, perhaps the most difficult thing was the onslaught of pleas for help from my ever-growing online following telling me their innermost secrets and fears on the topics of sexuality. There was a tipping point when someone wrote to me to say he thought he was a pedophile, while also writing to other SEX vs THE STORK followers in search of a support system. I cracked down and felt I either offer some support to this guy and not protect my other followers, or protect the other followers by blocking him from my page and he then goes ahead and rapes a child.
Luckily, I had the insight to see that I just needed to get off internet and that I had taken waaay too much responsibility on. In the summer of 2018, I cut my internet at home and sold my smartphone, which is still how I operate now. From this year and a half without internet, this play was born – PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG INFLUENCER.
Did your participation in the incubator workshop help you sharpen your idea?
Really I went to the workshop in Zagreb completely burnt out and wasted. And came back with a plan in 3 steps:
1. Having no internet is a good thing. Keep at it. Self-care comes first.
2. I want to start up a partnership with Save the Children Romania for them to answer the online counseling request coming from my platform. This happened so the immense pressure I had for 5 years is gone! Now a Save the Children psychiatrist handles all the Sex vs. The Stork incoming requests.
3. Write a play about my struggles with social media and stage it so that I can spend rehearsal time offline in the theatre with other online famous women in Romania whom I admired from afar. I really think theatre is one of the only offline safe spaces and I wanted to offer it to other women artists and online creators. On stage we have: Ilinca Manolache, actress, won the UNITER prize for Best Actress in a Supporting Role in 2016; Corina Sucarov, musician and model, singer in her own musical project, +SHE+; and Oana Maria Zaharia, musican and model, singer in the band Poetrip.
What do they contribute to the show?
Corina and Oana Maria have had the chance to learn the ins and outs of social media turbo dynamics in various ways. Corina was a finalist in a superpopular Romanian TV reality show called Bravo, Ai Stil and had her Instagram page explode in a matter of months, with an onslaught of love/hate coming towards her as the competition neared its end. (Since she has loads of style, Corina also does costumes for our theater show.) Oana Maria has for years posed nude for photographers, while also being a damn good poet. This makes a niche of the Romanian internet go crazy with lust and (self)hate. Ilinca was there to remind us all this isn’t normal.
I really needed these cool women around me to think about what is happening to us online. There aren’t a lot of spaces to do this. Since I have experience in theater, I know theater could be such a space. We can’t leave it to giant commercial platforms as youtube or instagram to come and save us. They just allow artists and creators to burn out and cope on their own – with no salary.
The play you are producing is premiering in the National Dance Center in Bucharest, how did you convince such a place to host you? And what do you want to achieve with the piece?
They knew Sex vs. The Stork. So I am very proud that I got a foot in the door there on my own. I also don’t take their trust for granted and we have been working really hard on the play.
What difficulties did you encounter in realising this project, and you overcome those?
I tried two times to get extra funding for the project from the Romanian state but failed to secure it. I basically had two budgets: a fair one if we got the extra funding, and a basic one with only your funding. I was fully transparent about the budget with the whole team. When the extra funding did not come in, I was overwhelmed by the fact that they still wanted to work on the project. Of course, this is not to say, artists can work for less money so don’t bother paying them. I think the topic was very important to the core team and our enthusiasm spilled onto other people. We all mobilised resources beyond the funding we got.
Can you describe a successful moment? What did it teach you for later steps in your project?
I did a lot on this project: from securing funding, to discussing budgets, to securing the team, buying cables, arranging for technical stuff, communications (so producing and PR), to writing the play, to directing. I consider it a success to have gone through all these steps (and all the mini-steps they imply) to understand through experience what each of these jobs actually implies. On a next project, I will know what to delegate. Writing / directing / producing are very separate moods and now I am brave enough to focus more on the art than on the organising, while also having the confidence to give the organising to someone else because I have organised enough things, including budgets, to know when someone is fucking it up.
What was the biggest surprise you did encounter in the project?
I feel very privileged to learn more about the personal lives of women artists in Romania that I admired from afar, learn more about their craft and teach them about what I learned by getting off the internet. My biggest surprise and non-surprise is that we are human and extraordinary at the same time.
How do you see the future of Sex vs. The Stork, and how does this performance fit in?
After seven years, Sex vs. The Stork is getting to its 100.000 followers mark, and it is also for the first time becoming a financially stable thing. In the last year, I have been getting more and more people involved to help me with it. Because I need help to help others. As Sex vs. The Stork stabilizes more and I focus just on making videos, I want to prioritize my private life, my body and making art. Working on PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST AS A YOUNG INFLUENCER allowed me to see how important writing and directing and being creative and just being is to me.