An interview with Prodromos Tsinikoris
- Author: Poulou Angeliki
- Published on: 10/03/2017
A discussion with Prodromos Tsinikoris, director and co-director of the National Theatre’s Experimental Stage, on the goals and the program of the Experimental Stage, as well as the modern Greek theatre and the documentary theatre. His knowledge on what is happening in the theatre world in Greece and in Europe is unique, and so is his ability to have each of his argument connecting with and taking the stage as a point of reference, while a constant movement from the practical to the theoretical discussion with texts and references is taking place. Born and raised in his age, he looks at it, thinks about it, listens to it and especially in the theatre world, on which he does not narcissistically or arrogantly impose his own gaze, but rather carefully observes it, studies it and fuels it.
This year, like last year, the Experimental Stage welcomes and presents the work of other European countries as well. Does the opposite happen as well? Is extroversion a necessary quality?
Our goal is not to be extroverted just for the sake of it. It is the profound desire of the artist to communicate his work to as many people as possible.
One of our performances from last year, The Sweet Tyranny of Oedipus, directed by Maria Protopapa, was presented in a European festival (Fast Forward Festival) for new directors in Germany. Moreover, as of this year, the Experimental Stage is a member of the union (Undernational Affairs) which consists of six theatres, hosted by Berlin’s Maxim Gorki, which, together with the Volksbühne, was voted best German-speaking theatre last year. As part of this collaboration, the Experimental Stage took part with playwright Gerasimos Bekas and director Enke Fezolari, who worked on two short plays which were presented there.
Collaborations are something you need to put an effort into, they are something difficult. For many years, the Greek theatre had been stuck in an introversion slump, and then came the crisis. This changed with the actions of the Onassis Cultural Centre and with the possibilities that Giorgos Loukos gave-created, mostly for new artists. Blitz’s Late Night is probably the most well-traveled Greek play of all times, as they managed to present the very interesting theme of the end of Europe. And this is still following them, they played in London right before Brexit.
I believe that the Greek theatre was never as international as it is today, and this does not have anything to do with the Greek crisis; no serious curator wants to be in charge of a “zoo”. It was the circumstance, the outbreak of the crisis – I don’t like this word, it is now a permanent situation, there are people born in it, children who have always lived under a memorandum, we should find a different word. Suddenly and at the same time, there has been a generation that committed a “patricide”, decided to symbolically kill its fathers-directors and decided, having already seen some productions, to curve its own course in the Greek art scene. This circumstance, in combination with the interest on “what’s happening in Greece now that you are going through all this” has made the Greek theatre more international.
Does modern Greek theatre leave an imprint? Does it speak to its age?
There is no such thing as a single identity, something which I don’t think is bad. There is a wide variety of stage productions, of directorial views. Even if a systematic cultural policy was to be formed, there would always be people who would say “let’s do something else”. The polymorphy of the Greek theatre is a positive element. What I mean is that my generation is willing to collaborate and this is good. Now that there is no public funding, there is no big pie to share. I am glad when the Vasistas Theatre Group travel abroad. And then I see Antonis Antonopoulos, a Vasistas actor, working with Karatzas. It’s nice. That would happen earlier on as well, but not as intensely.
It is evident that the artists who travel abroad are in a conversation with their age. You do not, for example, come across a production of Chekhov which you cannot understand why it is being staged at that time. There are 100 reasons why the Cherry Orchard or the Seagull can and should be staged today. And this should be made clear in a production too. If I do not see this reason in a performance and it is not made clear for me, I can not understand it. Three years ago, I went to see Nurkan Erpulat’s production of the Cherry Orchard, at the Gorki Theatre. It was the theatre’s first production after the Turkish Shermin Langhoff became its director. The playwright had written a very strong phrase for Lopakhin, “I did not buy an orchard, I bought a country”. He was portrayed by an actor who was fluent in German, but was a second or third generation immigrant. The Turkish man who was in the kitchen doing the “dirty work” is now buying a house with an orchard. We can understand this analogy very clearly. So, to get back to the question, I believe that artists who have a more widespread presence abroad, have it exactly because they are in a constant conversation not only with what is happening in Greece, but in the whole of Europe and the whole world. For example, the end of ideology, the end of Europe, the refugee crisis, the rise of the radical right, so, consequently, yes, in this level of the problematic areas you can find that imprint. Which is not, however, an imprint of form.
And in this context, what kind of role is the Experimental Stage aiming for? What are its priorities?
We had priorities last year and we have priorities now as well. Last year, we wanted to support artists from whom we had only seen a small amount of work, but who are interesting, who have a special perspective on things. Like, for example, Georgia Mavragani, whose presence was evident from the beginning, but after her production of First-hand: A Performance on Tobacco Workers in Agrinio and on Bios center, and after the Youth Theatre Festival in Onassis Cultural Center, she is beginning to form an identity of her own. If I see one of her productions, I can understand it is hers. This is not something usual in the world of the Greek theatre, being able to understand whose production it was. And it went well. Or Gianos Perlegkas’ production, whose passion for Bernhard you just cannot ignore. Our role in the Experimental Stage is to support exactly that, the passion, the unique perspective and we truly believed that good productions would come out of that.
This year, we are following last year’s pattern, with directors who have taken part in more than one projects, and with Lena Kitsopoulou in the end of the season, who having crossed a long circle from M.A.I.R.O.U.L.A up until today, we want her to return to the National Theatre. We are very interested in having female perspectives on the plays and so we have Sophia Marathaki or Katerina Giannopoulou. We are also presenting the EUROPOLY: Performances Exploring Europe in Times of Transformation festival, which, through three productions (from Germany, Portugal and Greece) focuses on the major problems of today’s Europe.
When we presented our program last Fall, I stated that, after last year’s festival on the Civil War, we were flirting with the idea of doing a festival on the 50 years anniversary from the Greek Junta. An idea which we later abandoned, too fast, may I say, as it was a bit predictable. Having the Junta as a theme, we were in danger of repeating forms from the Civil War festival, for example testimonies of our parents, portraying our grandparents, it would look too similar. And so, in a bit of a hurry, we worked on a different major theme, which is equally interesting and deeply political and this is the theme of love. And this is how this year’s festival The Seven-Year Itch: Love in the Time of Memoranda came to be. But we did not pick this theme because it is more entertaining. It is not a festival of emotion, we see it as a political one: the way we communicate with each other, in the age of memorandums and in the age of the social media, has radically changed. And in this way of communicating we have incorporated almost neo-liberal practices, something we do not really realize. The way I see it, the way we communicate, how we choose, abandon and change our partners, is completely materialistic, and this relates to the social media as well. Zizek, for instance, claims that we are not willing to risk for love anymore. And this is reflected on the effort it takes us to present ourselves on Facebook in the best possible way to get more likes. We live in a time where we do not experience “falling in love” or “being in love”, instead we drink non-alcoholic beer. We are returning to a pre-romantic time, notes Zizek, where it was the matchmaker’s job to find the best husband for you, but now this role has been taken on by Tinder, which tells you who you match with. What does this mean? That you have many common interests? But isn’t love supposed to be unreasonable? With Tinder, you have people in front of you, with a past and a present, with history, and you simply swipe left or right to accept or reject them, something which resembles shopping, where you can just say “I don’t like these pants”. And this says a lot about our ways, it prepares us on how love could be in the future and it is scary. And this is the reason why we liked the idea of basing the festival on this theme.
Should an experimental stage’s top priority be experimentation and research?
To answer this question, I should first define the word “experiment”. You may see a really good traditional performance, maybe a Krystian Lupa directed production and say, “wow what a play”. And you may see a truly awful experimental one. Or vice versa.
For me, there is no such thing as a distinction among experimental, academic, or traditional theatre. Only between good and bad theatre.
I go to all kinds of productions not just documentary-theatre.
What we can discuss is whether people are willing to experiment on the text they are working on. And this may be where experimentation lies, not in repeating and regurgitating old recipes. This is what experimentation is for me. Taking previous productions, biographies, theoretical texts on the play into consideration and presenting my own version of the play. And this is something every director should do, not only the experimental ones.
Does experimental theatre automatically mean innovative as well? What is innovation in art today?
The last big art trend of the end of the 20th century is the documentary theatre, which was based on a big tradition, and which was made mainstream by Rimini Protokoll. 20 years have passed since the end of the 20th century, which means it was not just a passing trend. I believe that innovators are people who take risks, directors who do not rely on forms and recipes they have already tried, but constantly try to reinvent themselves and at the same time, constantly question themselves. An innovative performance was, for instance, Aris Retsos’ To Tavli (Backgammon). I think it is something he had not done before, and I have not seen it performed this way before. He took a risk. Seeing a director repeating things, well ok it may be an awesome production, but it will not be innovative. What Blitz are doing is something innovative, none of their productions resemble their previous ones.
The documentary theatre is very intertwined with real life, it brings amateurs-citizens on the stage. Where does the thin line that protects them from exposure lies? That protects them from being seen as an object of exploitation from the director, that renders them not only a source of inspiration but the object of art itself?
Until we started working together, Anestis directed classic plays, Koltes, Seven Against Thebes, or modern Greek texts of Sakis Serefas or Manolis Tsipou. And up until 2010 – when I started working with the Rimini Protokoll- I was working as an actor, but then we found each other and decided that what we were missing was a closer contact with what was really happening in the world – because when you are in the world of the theatre, usually your life only revolves around it. But you are basically called to portray the world on a stage, something very difficult if you don’t know the world. Especially now, when most people don’t have a personal life, a job, a stage and so on.
For us, this was something important, meeting people we would not normally meet. And this started with Rimini Protokoll. We would go to Ilioupoli and Kamatero and visit houses. Everyone has a story that most definitely has a place on stage. In the block we are now, there are surely more life stories than the one that can be found on Chekhov.
A usual critical comment on the documentary theatre focuses on the issue of reality. People say, “I know reality, I want to see something different on stage”. The thing is you don’t know it. You know your reality, other people know theirs, and this can create a commonly accepted reality, a mainstream narrative. What reality are we talking about, when we live in a post truth/fake news age? What interests Anestis and myself is different narratives. What I call “alter narratives”.
In Germany, we did Telemachos with Greek immigrants on stage, we were interested in presenting a different version of Greece and of Greek immigrants than the one that Germany has become used to during the previous years, as a result of Spiegel or Bild articles. We gave the Greek crisis a face.
A face like the one the immigrant cleaners acquire, along with a voice and a medium for expressing it in Clean City. Up until 1990, Greece was not a country that received immigrants, it was a country that exported people. The only people that used to come here until 1990 were tourists with a camera at hand. The people that have been coming here since 1990 are, in a way, still living in a parallel universe, that of the Greek society. And you find yourself wondering: “where are these people?” Why aren’t they on tv? Why aren’t they politicians? Why don’t you see them anywhere?
Why does an Albanian singer have to hide her origin?
There are reasons for that.
So, when we did Clean City, we could not give these monologues to actors as this would undermine what we have been doing all these years.
Now, regarding the issue of exposure, an actor can also be exposed by a director who is terrible at his job. The actor is exposed professionally. So, the degree of exposure also depends on who you are working with and how. We made sure that no one spoke anything they did not want to say themselves. Moreover, if we say that these people get exposed, it’s like saying that they don’t know what they are doing on stage. That is like saying that you are smarter. They are protected well enough, they do not need a protector, they are not stupid, they are not victims, they are aware of what they are doing on stage and why they are there.
For the play with the homeless people, In the Middle of the Street, I did a lot of thinking on how the play would be brought to life and on how I would discuss payment with the people involved. I did not tell them until I had explained the whole play, the whole project to them. And before I even tell them, they told me themselves they wanted to do it and their reasons why. Then I mentioned money, and most of them did not want any. These people who go on stage, or are willing to meet you on a taxi or in a church, are fully aware of what they are doing.
Finally, for In the Middle of the Street, I wanted to skip the stage-audience relationship, people on stage and people in the audience hidden in the safety of the darkness. I wanted to do it differently, I wanted to have one-on-one meetings. You hear their story and then you converse with them. You say something, I say something. The question of who gets exposed in this situation can only be settled by the two people present, no one else.
That way, we avoided making a show out of it, it is only a meeting of two people. It is only the two of us. You hear my story, and then I ask you about yourself. “Say, did you lose your house? Do you know someone who did? How are you? Are you happy?”
In the end, it was their gaze, the gaze of the homeless people that I saw on myself. My gaze, the gaze of the spectator was not the dominant one, set on them, the “zoo” may have been myself.
Translated by Nikos Stamatoulakis