MARIA PAPALEXI'S THEATRE,
Maria Papalexi is a dramaturg with experience in speech therapy and dramatic play and, since 2008, she has been involved in this unique form of theatre for children and young adults. With her distinctive personal writing style, Papalexi makes her own mark in this area as a form of "education", skillfully avoiding being didactic and activating the imagination of the children-spectators, while at the same time she evokes their participation.
In her work – which so far consists of six plays – one can detect common features regarding the themes, the narrative structures of the texts, the stylistic quests and the performing techniques. Her main source of inspiration is the vast reservoir of our tradition in all its manifestations – poems, fairytales, folk tales and songs, legends, folk happenings, game-songs –, enriched with elements from the ancient Greek myths, the realm of fantasy and the magical world of dreams. The use of animation techniques taken from the Shadow Theatre and the Puppet Theatre, the interaction between actors and audience, the theatre’s synergy with other arts and the integration of the transcendental and the bizarre in reality, they all trigger the action in her plays and stimulate the imagination of young and older spectators. A more detailed analysis of the plays can lead to their categorization in terms of their reception, with the recipient determined based on the content, style and manner of the plays’ composition. With this in mind and taking under consideration her own view, Papalexi’s plays address both an adult and teenage audience, as well as younger and older children.
Her first play, I Would Like to Meet You (2008) – subtitled “a theatrical story for three actors and a variety of songs” – falls into the category of theatre for adults and teenagers. In this play we can locate the main features of her writing, which she develops and evolves in her next plays. The journey motif, one of the dominant elements of fairy tales, folk narrative and theater for children is prevalent in the play. Constantis’ journey – the protagonist of the play and a direct reference to the folk "The Dead Brother’s Song" – is twofold: from death to life and the memories that surface. The play is about the trek of a musician who wanders the world to forget the loss of his wife. The diversity of the songs (laments, refugees’ amanes, resurrection carols, wedding, table and island songs from every corner of Greece and Asia Minor) is one of the dominant aesthetic elements of the play. The melodies and songs are employed in the dramatic function to assign a rich rhythmic variety and become part of the action, commenting on Constantis’ gradual transition from the underworld to life; driven by memory and stopping at important milestones of his life. Each phase of the reverse path-journey ends with music or a “key” song that “unlocks” the next memory, creating a recurrent pattern that leads the hero deeper and deeper in submersion, until his return to the womb. A variety of traditional happenings concerning the rites of marriage, christening and various festivals are incorporated in the play and the spectators are invited to participate, this way strengthening the live communication. The text is elaborately structured, providing the director with many options, while the intense use of music and songs give the performance the form of a musical play.
Her fourth play, Draw It (2012) – subtitled "a short theatrical act" – is a play for teenage audiences. It is the only one not yet staged, and the lack of songs differentiates it from the rest. In this play, Papalexi handles the journey motif as the characters’ passage from adolescence to maturity, and converses with originality and inventiveness with the art of painting. A huge invisible painting is the canvas, the magical space for a walkthrough/ journey into the past and the future. The magic element, a feature of fairytales, emerges through painting and excites the viewers’ imagination. The protagonists firstly appear at a young age (a boy and a girl) and, through a series of interventions where they constantly change the painting – the landscape of their lives –, not always for the better, at the end of the play they appear grown-up; a man and a woman. The multi-functionality of the stage area gives a number of possibilities for directorial solutions, imaginative kinesiology and the actors’ performance.
Papalexi’s second play, Golden Loom and Ivory Scallop (2010), falls into the category of children’s theatre, as do her fifth and the sixth plays: With a Grain of Wheat (2013) and Dawn (2013). The first one, Golden Loom and Ivory Scallop, is presented in the form of a monologue and is filled with live music. Rinio, the storyteller-narrator, puts her baby to sleep "weaving" a lullaby-tale enriched with elements from ancient myths, folk tales, songs, lullabies and game-songs. The narrator-Rinio also partakes as a character inside and out of the dramatic narration, recounting her life and "weaving” – along with her wefts and with great imagination – a fairytale, using the cliché phrase that signifies their beginning: "Once upon a time…". There are two basic patterns: the journey and the songs. The journey motif – Rinio’s life path (birth, marriage, the big city, the homecoming and subsequent return to the big city, the birth of her daughter) propel the development of the plot and mark her own path to maturity. The songs function as the joints of the play’s structure, aiding in the transition from one scene to another and Rinio’s commentary as a dramatic person. The storyteller’s aim is to familiarize children with the art of the loom – one forgotten today – showing and explaining the loom’s tools to them; this way, she links the timeless past with the present, in "a musical fairytale made of thread". At the end, the storyteller invites the children in an introductory workshop regarding the art of loom; a pleasant happening rather than a boring form of “teaching”, a delightful and creative interaction between the actors and the children.
In With a Grain of Wheat, the source of inspiration is the myth of Demeter and Persephone that gives her the opportunity to introduce the four seasons, the cultivation of crops and the magical transformation of the seed until its harvest as fruitage. The journey motif returns enriched and re-marked: as a journey into myths and a suggestion for children to get acquainted and communicate with mythology; as Demeter’s wandering in search of Persephone; as a travel in time which results in the maturity of every life form on Earth; finally, as a journey to introduce the children that live in modern cities to the rural labor, the kneading of bread, the custom of the wedding bun and the interpretation of words used in everyday rural life. Anthi, the storyteller, actively participates in the dramatic narration, sometimes conversing with the musician, others assuming the persona of the goddess Demeter or lending her voice to the doll Iris that she herself moves; at some point, employing the “theatre within theatre” technique, she takes a sheet of dough and creates, in front of the children, a rudimentary shadow theatre to narrate the story of a miraculous wheat seed. The musical patterns, songs, stories and games gradually form the parallel path to the development-maturation of both the small plant and the storyteller; At the beginning of the play, Anthi appears as a 12-year-old girl, then a 25-year-old woman and finally, at the end, when the dough is ready to become bread, an old woman of about 65. In a "feast" of songs and activities, the narrator and the musician invite children to participate as witnesses of a vibrant ritual.
In Dawn, the theme of the play is drawn from the fables of Aesop, and regards the dreamy wandering of a small squirrel and his adventures in the dark forest. The fairytale element of the journey traverses the adventurous dream – the squirrel’s wandering throughout the night and until dawn. All the characters are animals of the forest which, with playful speech and improvised humorous songs, lighten the dream’s dark feel and "talk" to the children about the dangers of the "unknown" and about faith, love, hope, friendship and solidarity, with no intention to teach but exuding an optimistic message.
Papalexi’s third play, Rose Bud (2011) addresses preschoolers. The play is, to a large extent, written in verse; it is a long “poem” with varying rhymes, "a fairytale-like song" whose stanzas constitute the interactive parts of the play. The text is – in terms of morphology – structured with elements taken from children's songs and songs that accompany children's games, while rhythms of artistic and folk children's poetry are also used. The narrator-storyteller is entrusted with multiple activities, which he has to masterfully "orchestrate" as a gifted magician-raconteur. An actress-narrator partakes in and out of the dramatic narrative, performing a variety of roles (small rose, mouse, nightingale etc.) and using puppetry, interaction and the animation of both children and adults in roles. The rhythm and the playfulness of speech fascinate the young viewers, initiating them – with no didacticism – into the miracle of the fertilization of flowers, the protection of the environment and the love for nature. The children’s participation in a variety of interesting activities stimulates and entertains them. The work is endowed with a unique style that reinforces the actors’ communication with the small spectators and, in the meantime, allows a plurality of directorial and interpretive approaches.
Through the development of a constructive dialogue with our tradition and modern dialectics, Maria Papalexi evokes a festive feeling in children and invites them to be part of "a hive where educational honey is produced”.
[Translation: Elena Delliou]