University of South Carolina

On stage with theatre professor Nic Ularu

By Frenche Brewer,, 803-777-3691

Nic Ularu, a set designer, director and professor, recently received the Grand Prix Award for Best Production at the International Theatre Festival in Serbia. He most recently designed the set for the USC stage production of "King Lear," William Shakespeare's famous story about the corruptive nature of power and a broken man’s agonizing struggle for redemption.

The plan: Ularu was born in Bucharest, Romania. He built a successful career in his native land as head of scenography at the National Theatre of Bucharest and served for four years as a board member of The European League of the Institutes of the Arts (ELIA) in Amsterdam. 

His original plan was to be a painter until he discovered that he could do it all -- paint, lighting, set and costume design, and create a global vision for theatre.

“I wanted to be a visual artist not necessarily a painter, but when I was 18 years old and assisted to a theater rehearsal, I decided to become a theater artist who can use visual skills for the stage.

“I was lucky to study and to work in the field I wanted to be," he said.

Ularu got a scenography degree from the University of Arts in Bucharest in 1980. In 1993-1994 he took special studies in directing at the University of Amsterdam Institute of Theatre Studies.

Crossing the border:  Ularu arrived in the U.S in 1997 and toured with a show at a festival in Massachusetts when he applied for a job at Smith College.

"It was an open position of scene design professor. I applied and I got it, but I never had the intention to remain in the States. I just wanted to see what's happen in the theater education and in the U.S. theater.”

Ularu arrived at USC 12 years ago. He teaches students in set design. His objective is to help students develop a broader skill set so that they will be more marketable.

His first time: Ularu describes theater as a complex art that creates a new interpretation and vision about the text, and says each production presents a different and exciting challenge. He says he remembers that feeling from the first time he stepped on the stage.

“I’d been a student in the graduate school, and it was so hard and difficult, exciting and challenging at the same time. It took me a lot of energy and time to realize what a directorial concept was and how all my elements can be not decorations but functionally involved in the dramatic action of the play.

“Visuals are very important. One can do theater with a bare stage and with a black costume or naked people, but the visual in theater adds more to the emotion of the show — it’s a very important component of the performance.”

The big lie: Ularu says convincing the audience to suspend belief about what it's seeing onstage is the basis of theatrical convention. He says when the spectator enters the theater, he is pays to be lied to about what happens on stage and to believe it is real. It’s Ularu's job as director and set designer, along with the actors, to give the audience what it paid for, and to drag them in the story.

In his upcoming project, directing a contemporary version of "King Lear," Ularu says Shakespeare always presents the greatest challenges.

“'King Lear' is the metaphor of pretending to be loved, refusing to see the true love, and imparting everything with people who don’t deserve it. It’s challenging because the text has some historical significance, but it can be overcome.”

The envelope, please: Ularu’s vision, talent and artistic philosophies have won him industry acclaim from abroad and in the U.S. 

“I don't like the word ‘industry’ when it is referring to theater and film, as I don't like the ‘entertainment industry,’ because I think the film and theater are arts, even if they produce money. And the arts don't necessarily have to entertain the people, but make them to think and to become better," he says. 

Posted: 04/23/13 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 04/23/13 @ 2:26 PM | Permalink