Where does Greek Theatre Stand?,
- Irene Mountraki, Dramaturg - Theatre critic
Where does Greek Theatre Stand?
Reflections on the occasion of the event "An Evening Dedicated to the Modern Greek Play", organized by Sokolis Publications.
[Translation: Elena Delliou]
In an attempt to support and promote modern dramaturgy, in 2005 Sokolis Publications launched a series of books on theatre; a venture that owes a lot to the enthusiasm and support of the dramaturg and director Christos Karchadakis, who we unfortunately lost too soon. Today the series counts 80 titles, 65 of which are Modern Greek plays.
During the 2014-2015 theatrical season, Sokolis Publications, led by Athena Sokolis, published the plays of five creators, preceding or following their onstage productions. The plays are: Anthony and Constantine Koufalis’ Forgive Me, performed at the National Theatre; Nina Rapi’s Wild Beats and Chrysa Spilioti’s Doors, presented at the Greek Play Season Festival, successfully organized by playwright Lia Vitali in the theatre Aggelon Vima; Chrysa Spilioti’s Your True Story? staged at the Michalis Cacoyiannis Foundation; and Tsimaras Tzanatos’ Miss Misery, presented in Sissy Papathanasiou’s famous “Readings”, hosted in 2014 at the Art Theatre-Carolos Koun.
The work of these five major playwrights is also presented at the Greek Play Project.
The GPP is the result of our belief that the Modern Greek play must have a strong voice. One could – very reasonably – wonder: Doesn’t the large number of performances indicate the flourishing of Modern Greek dramaturgy? Isn’t its voice heard? Unfortunately, the answer is no; it is not heard enough. And, of course, quantity in itself is not enough either.
During the previous decade there was indeed a big upsurge, when new attempts were made in playwriting by a large number of people. In conjunction with the trend of the “devised theatre”, this gave voice to many young artists that were trying to find their way; at the same time, however, it caused a creative mess where good and not-so-good voices intertwined. Constantine Gakis and Vasilis Mavrogeorgiou’s Cockroach is an excellent example of this fresh writing and imaginative effusion, but there also emerged many ‘little cockroaches’ that infested the Greek Theatre. Of course, some took a step further, creating their own rules and discovering their own unique style. This, however, is not enough; to have a substantial boom there has to be systematic cultivation.
Unfortunately, one of the darkest spots in our current reality is the lack of proper educational structures, particularly as far as theater is concerned; there is no interest, no organized studies or tests. To become a writer, it is not enough to only have a number of interesting ideas and a poetic disposition, and a paper or a computer in front of you. There is a limit to the importance of self-instruction, improvisation, and creative interest; eventually, writing becomes an artistic and laborious process that requires a lot of work and practice, and constant development.
The economic and institutional crisis in Greece has made the situation even more difficult; few are the theaters that dare produce a modern Greek work, much less if the playwright is also new to the profession. Producing a play that is tested for the first time on stage is a big risk, and for a country that hasn’t moved away from her love and admiration for the imported and whose finances are limited, the risk increases even more. It is one thing for a play to come to us with the air of London or New York, and another to come with a familiar Greek breeze. In order to be able to cope financially, even the most adventurous producers are forced to put restrictions – for example, in the number of people on stage –, inevitably bridling the playwright’s creative process.
Another issue to be discussed is the international promotion of the Greek play, as one of the main obstacles to be overcome is the linguistic isolation. The language, however, is not the main problem; the most serious problems are the lack of any organized policy for the promotion of contemporary dramaturgy, the absence of coordinated actions and initiatives, and the non-existence of programs for translations. Any possibility for “access” to Modern Greek dramaturgy relies solely on private initiative and each author’s personal actions.
In any case, I am not advocating that every Greek play that is written is good, but I do know that many plays are not inferior to foreign ones that, however, can have better luck at Greek stages, firstly because they are not Greek and we are not so strict with them, and secondly because there are people and institutions that deal systematically with their promotion.
An attempt to map Modern Greek dramaturgy reveals a very interesting landscape that highlights different and diverse trends, conventional and unconventional styles, new efforts, realistic texts, abstract and poetic attempts; in short, a theatre that is alive and in step with its time, conversing with its past and facing the future. The result is a diverse and enchanting landscape, a strongly-articulated speech, and a writing style that often transcends the local, in order to reach – like every major art – the universal.
The message for Greek dramaturgy is and should be optimistic. The Greek play is here, and it is good and worthy of our attention and care.
I strongly believe that, in order to make our voice heard, cooperation is of paramount importance. We have to find ways to join our voices, increase our influence and coordinate our actions, and stop pinning our hopes on a deus ex machina. I believe that this period of crisis, when the eyes of the world are upon us, presents us with the unique opportunity to stop constantly complaining and start talking the language of culture.
This essay was based on Irene Mountraki’s speech, delivered during the event organized by Sokolis Publications on 5/28/2015, at the Polis Art Café in the Book Arcade.
The opening speeches were delivered by playwright Vassilis Katsikonouris and dramaturg Irene Mountraki.
The books were introduced by: Konstantina Ziropoulou (Philologist, Doctor of Theatre Studies and Instructor at HOU), George Sampatakakis (Assistant Professor of Theatre Studies at the University of Patras), Katerina Theodoratou (Dramaturg – Translator), and Sissy Papathanasiou (Theatre Historian).
In alphabetical order, the actors who participated in the event were: Eugenia Apostolou, Christine Chila-Fameli, Myria Dimitropoulou, Gerasimos Gennatas, Chrisa Kapsouli, Manos Karatzoyannis, Athina Maximou, , Theodora Papaioannou, Yannis Paplomatas, Augustine Remoundos, Antonis Taktikos, Tsimaras Tzanatos, Spyros Varelis, Argiris Xafis, and Michaela Zousti,.
Irina Dimaki played the cello.
The GPP was the media sponsor of the event.