Nerina & Vasi
Nerina & Vasi

The End is a Real Beginning: a Letter for Tandem

Tandem Europe participant Vasilena Radeva has written us a poignant letter to share her experience of being part of the second round of the programme, which ended recently (a third round is on its way!). Read her personal reflections on a busy year of being in Tandem, with all its ups and downs.

My dearest Tandem,

I know you are not a person – you’re a programme – but I want to write to you nonetheless, I want to write to this invisible creation that the Tandem team and the Tandem participants built together. I want to write to you.

So, my dearest Tandem, more than a year ago you entered my life. I have been dreaming about you, have been struggling with how you fit in my life, and I’ve had moments of trouble with our relationship. That being said, above all else, we have great memories together, and we need each other, for the lessons we taught each other help us to continue to grow.

But, this story starts at the beginning, not at the end. Let’s look back to when a friend of mine told me about you, and I read about your mission and activities. I didn’t know it was possible to do serious work while having a lot of fun and making new friends. In our crazy first days of fast and slow dating, I felt so pushed to find a partner and so not ready to be in this competitive game of entering your family, that I almost gave up on you, thinking that you’re a bit too “Western European” for me and my small theatre company. So at the time, observing how most of your other guests were doing great with your rules of “be attractive; know what you want; choose a partner; (and most important) be chosen” I had some kind of existential crisis because I wasn’t ready to open my local intimate world to you. But then you surprised with your understanding of the way I felt, and you even took care of my feelings, preparing “the cloud – a safe place for confused and unhappy guests”. And there I saw that I was not alone. I found my Tandem Partner in the cloud, and together we brought our common idea to light, in front of your piercing look. And you gave us your trust and belief and committed to support our project and accept us into your family. So, before our first meeting in Sofia in November 2017, I didn’t realise that you are such a great matchmaker.

Vitosha mountain, Sofia. Photo by Nathan Cooper
Vitosha mountain, Sofia. Photo by Nathan Cooper

Did I ever say thank you for that? Probably not, because at that time I was too proud of the way I managed to attract you. Like a small talented kid, being praised by her new teacher.

Then you met me again in Portugal (well, technically you met Nathan, the other “me”) and gently kicked us off into a year-long journey full of ups and downs, crossroads – in a total harmony with our project You Can’t Walk Straight on a Crooked Road. With our Italian partners, we planned our project a bit too ambitiously; trying to make a positive impact on Roma communities in Bulgaria and Roma immigrants in Italy, all while doing research, gathering stories and shaping them into a dramaturgy for a future performance. (Who isn’t inspired to change the world, to impress you and your family, dear Tandem?) But we failed very early with our attempts to work with Roma organisations. And we had to reconsider our project, and in the process found a better understanding of your generous viewpoint that work within your family is not just about “community” but also about personal growth.

So we decided to focus our project on an interdisciplinary skill-exchange among the small circles of our two companies. Our partners, Echis, who do great work in the field of documentary radio would teach us how to do better research when approaching a specific group of people – and we, from Panic Button Theatre, wanted to give them know-how about shaping collected materials into dramaturgy, based on our experience with devised performances.

Oh, Tandem! Nowadays, it turns out that one year is a lot of time in our modern world, especially for freelancers. The whole year I felt like I was leading parallel lives in multiple families (in a nest with small kids and in the darkness of a theatre); I felt like I wasn’t giving enough of myself to this programme, and I struggled with this. I constantly asked myself why I wasn’t getting more out of this programme. I felt like you gave me more then I have given you, but I’m sure that’s the way you work. And anyway, I found that even though I didn’t realise it, I was taking bits and pieces from unexpected places. I’ve grown so accustomed to working toward a product, that the free form you gave us for exploration was confusing, and yet to my pleasant surprise, rewarding. The less I fought to find meaning, the more meaning I found.

The end of our period together was the best for me because finally there weren’t any expectations causing tension between us and our partners, we opened our mind again to reflect on all the wonderful meetings, ideas, methodologies and new family members you brought to us. And I realised that the end is actually a real beginning. Our being together won’t be quite as intense anymore but will be deeper and more mature. There is a great shift in my company, from a participant in your one-year-long-programme into a member of your big family; working for our common cause of social innovation and consciously growing with small steps.

I’m so happy that I already have an idea for a next project together called ‘Room N8’, but I will write more about it in my next letter.

Take care, keep giving, and keep inspiring, because you do it very well!

Yours Vasilena
Sofia, 28 November 2018