XENIA KALOGEROPOULOU'S THEATRE,
- Maria Karananou, Dramaturg
Rebuilding the world from scratch and in the air
Through her initiatives and incessant action in the field of children’s theatre during the last four decades, Xenia Kalogeropoulou has changed a lot in the way we perceive children’s theatre. Being herself a theatre manager, actress, translator and writer of children’s plays, Kalogeropoulou revived this sensitive and rather neglected –until recently – in Greece theatre genre. The respect with which she treats the young spectators, her instinct and aesthetics, her experience and close connection to theatre, along with her eagerness to experiment and see well-known stories through a fresh angle, have rendered her a unique writer of children’s theatre.
Source of inspiration and reference for her plays are – almost always – stories that are already known: fables and fairytales, folk tales, legends, or even existing plays. In Odyssevach – her first play and a milestone in modern Greek children’s dramaturgy – she combines the story of Captain Sinbad from One Thousand and One Nights with that of Odysseus; in the The King Stag she draws on Carlo Gozzi’s play Il Re Cervo, in Eliza on the story The beautiful young woman from the West, and in The Noah Family on the well-known religious story of Noah’s Ark. Fairytales are also an inexhaustible and favorite source of inspiration; The Son of the Slave, Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty is awake, Paramithissimo and GRIMM & GRIMM are all based on known tales.
Kalogeropoulou’s plays, however, are far from simple transfers of familiar stories or tales on stage; she uses different versions, blending elements from different stories and enriching them with her rich and colorful imagination. Despite the fact that she retains the basic structure of the stories, she allows us to see the story afresh. Rejecting any attempt of didacticism or moralization, she treats the young spectator as an equal; as an individual concerned about his relation to the world, his surroundings and other people. Her themes – although already told through old stories – are timeless: the unwavering faith in people, the commitment to goals and values, love, the confrontation of human weaknesses and the emphasis on human virtues. Respecting the children’s psyche, she grapples with difficult issues and does not ignore death or loss, but gives children the tools to deal with different aspects of life.
The structure of her plays follows the basic structure of fairytales: the hero – who faces a problem – embarks on a difficult journey full of obstacles and adventures; along the way he confronts enemies and meets people that offer him their help, eventually returning home victorious and triumphant but also changed from his experiences. Odyssevach will never be the same after discovering what Cyclolotomermaicircilarizad really means; Beauty in Beauty and the Beast realizes what is really important in love, and the gullible Deramo in The King Stag wins back anything he had lost while pursuing his beloved one. Nevertheless, her plays transcend the two-dimensional narration of fairytales; conflicts and twists are cleverly structured, the plot is full of intrigues that keep the interest undiminished, while the dramatic situations succeed one another in a way that favors theatricality and avoids stagnation. Her heroes are those of the fairytales and have brilliant qualities – courage, loyalty and intelligence – but also a profound human dimension of passions, desires and weaknesses.
Love and good prevail in her plays, but the usual happy ending of fairytales does not necessarily take place. It is the heroes’ route that is rewarded and their journey that matters; a happy ending is of less importance. Eliza, Odyssevach, Deramo, and the little Slave are all vindicated for intently following a course to meet their targets.
The main theme that permeates Kalogeropoulou’s plays and one of the most compelling features of her playwrighting is precisely the heroes’ persistence in their goals.
By presenting her heroes as worthy behavioral models, the playwright leads the child to identify with them, follow theirs steps in an almost experiential way, draw strength from their determination to fight for their dreams, and be relieved from their vindication.
The fairytale motifs are apparent in all her plays: anthropomorphism (animals that talk, like the parrot in The King Stag or the bird in Eliza); quests (Cornelius in the Beauty and the Beast, Eliza who charters the ship to find her beloved one, the protagonist of The Son of the Slave who seeks the World’s Beauty and, above all, Odyssevach who searches his Cyclolotomermaicircilarizad); monsters (for example, the dragon in The Son of the Slave); magical elements (the walking dresses, the key that takes Cornelius and Anna to the castle of the Beast, the statue that laughs when it hears lies in The King Stag); wordplays (creation of new words and even a whole ‘gibberish’ language in Eliza); transformations (the beast that becomes a beautiful young man in Beauty, Deramo who turns into a deer and an old man, and Tartalia that takes Deramo’s place in The King Stag); recognitions (Eliza, but also ‘old’ Deramo in The King Stag); and, of course, the final triumph of good over evil.
Apart from being masterful recreations of fairytales and stories, however, Kalogeropoulou’s plays are exquisite examples of dramatic economy; most of them written in collaboration with the director Thomas Moschopoulos, they display a unique theatrical rhythm. These are plays not only written for the stage, but on the stage: the texts are worked over and again during rehearsals; elements from the actors’ improvisations are incorporated into the scripts, and these are continuously recreated before taking their final form. Kalogeropoulou’s mode of creation radically differs from that of the playwright that usually hands in a ready text and has no connection with the play’s production. Nonetheless, these plays are not simply performative texts, whose ‘raison d’être’ is exhausted in one single performance; after the first performances they continue their course as autonomous and stand-alone dramatic texts, “meet” other actors and directors, and remain open to multiple interpretations on stage.
Beyond the components concerning the content, the linguistic codes developed in her plays also have a key role in Kalogeropoulou’s dramaturgy: as a means of generating action, the dialogues are lively, characterized by orality and fast pace, as well as linguistic and literary integrity. The heroes’ thoughts and feelings are conveyed through sweeping humor. Her speech flows naturally; it is simple and familiar, comprehensible and to the point, and captivating at the same time. It is appropriate for children, but not childish. The coinages, the newly-compound words and jargon in her texts imaginatively renew the onstage speech, without exceeding the limits or creating conceptual problems to the children.
In its entirety, Kalogeropoulou’s dramaturgy meets those unique theatrical, literary and educational criteria, whose coexistence renders a theatrical text an experience, and thus a point of reference for the young spectators. Her plays offer aesthetic and linguistic cultivation to the children, and captivate as reading texts, while they remain texts that are meant to be performed. Fascinating combinations of levity and ferocity, Kalogeropoulou’s plays challenge the traditional means of expression, appealing to both logic and fantasy. Moreover, they shed light to the life mysteries in such a unique way, that the world appears to be built from scratch, inviting young and older spectators to rediscover it.
[Translation: Anastasia Mandeki] [Translation edited by Elena Delliou]
 Stamatis Fasoulis, “Small instrument for young children’s theatre”. Theatre for Children 2. Greek Theatre Centre for Children and Youth. Athens: 2002, 22.