Which plays are performed in Athens this year? How did the pandemic and the socio-political situation affect the choice of plays? For the first time, ACT II attempts to create a statistical representation of the repertoire of plays that are performed in Athens and a classification of the chaotic Athenian theatrical landscape.
We documented 288 performances, premieres, and reruns, which have either already been performed since October or have been announced to be performed by May 2022, without taking into account possible postponements and cancellations of performances due to the pandemic.
About our methodology: We focused only on performances in Athens, which are oriented primarily towards adults, and only on domestic productions, i.e. excluding foreign performances that are presented only for a few days. Additionally, we did not include summer productions and tours in the research, as these form a separate chapter. We focused on performances that use speech, meaning that we excluded mainly musical performances, but also dance performances and stand-up comedies, as the concept of repertory theatre does not apply to them. Lastly, we focused only on the data that we could draw from the choice of the play itself, along with the information we took from the Press Releases, and on the conclusions that we came to based on this data without, of course, being able to watch 288 performances.
Before we move on to the results and their analysis, let us first point out the following: Such a research is by nature obliged to contain and take into account things that seem similar at first glance but are fundamentally different. That is: not all performances are equal and the same, although they are treated as equal for the sake of our research. They differ radically in terms of budget, production conditions, working conditions, promotion capability, the capacity of the theatre in which they take place, their targeting group, their impact. These differences are often reflected in the selection of the repertory as well, a fact that will concern us more in the evaluation of our findings.
So, let’s see which plays are performed in Athens this year. First, let’s see which writers have more than one play performed during this theatrical season. First on our list is Shakespeare, with 8 (!) performances. Coming up are Lena Kitsopoulou and Dario Fo with 4 performances. Up close, we have Tennessee Williams, Harold Pinter, and Federico Garcίa Lorca with 3. There are also 15 writes with 2 performances in this year’s repertoire: Aeschylus, Euripides, Anton Chekhov, Ivan Turgenev, Nikolai Gogol, Molière, Oscar Wilde, Sakis Serefas, Giannis Ritsos, Grigorios Xenopoulos, Iakovos Kambanellis, Roberto Bolaño, Lars Norén, Edward Albee, Frank Capra.
There are also 3 plays, which are presented more than once in the same season, including abstract approaches or adaptations of these works. These are Prometheus by Aeschylus (2 performances), The House of Bernarda Alba by Lorca (2 performances), and Shakespeare’s Macbeth, which is performed 4 (!) times this year.
Our next topic, which arises glibly from the above list of names: The gender of the author1Clarification: in cases where the play is attributed to a group of people, if at least 50% of the group is constituted by women, it has been classified as written by a woman..
54 out of the 288 works are written by women. Percentage: 19%, less than 1 in 5. The majority of them, 33 in total, concerns works written by Greek women after 2000.
Let us move on to the raw material of the works, focusing on those that are not primary material, but are based on previous works. We have 27 works/performances that draw their material from prose (novels/short stories etc.) or poetry and 8 works/performances based on a film or series. There are also 15 more performances, which state that they are an adaptation of previous works or a composition of different texts, theatrical or not. In other words, a total of 50 works is neither a presentation of an older work, nor a new work, but an elaboration of other material, whether theatrical, literary, or cinematic.
Next, let’s take a look at the age of the works that are performed. For the adaptations/compositions, the date of writing was considered as the one when the adaptation was written and not the one when the original work was written. The following results are obtained: 227 out of the 288 works, i.e. 79%, can be considered modern, as they have been written after the year 1945.
Now, let’s move on to the origin of the works, the country where they were written. Firstly, let’s see how many of the works that are performed in Athens this year are Greek.
We see that almost half of the works, 48% as a matter of fact, are Greek2For the purposes of the research the new adaptations of older works were considered as written by their domestic contributors.. 5 of them are ancient tragedies.
As for the rest, they come from the following countries, depending on the origin of the author:
32 works come from England, 32 from the USA, 21 from France, 14 from Russia, 9 from Spain, 7 from Italy, 5 from Ireland, 5 from Germany, 4 from Chile, 3 from Sweden, 2 from Scotland, 2 from Norway, 2 from Albania, 2 from Argentina and 2 from Austria. Denmark, Belarus, Serbia, Australia, India, South Africa, and Canada are also represented by one work each.
Considering the foreign language works we observe that a quarter of these, 39 in total, come to us from Great Britain and Ireland, while only 9, that is 6%, come from countries outside Europe and North America. 6 of these originate from South America, one from Asia, one from Africa, and one from Oceania.
Finally, the classification of works according to the language in which they were written is also interesting. We notice that 50% of the foreign language works are written in English, followed by French, Spanish and Russian.
- With less than 20% of the plays being written by women, theatrical text, unfortunately, remains a male-dominated territory. There is probably a tendency to increase this percentage, since the representation of women in contemporary works, and especially in contemporary Greek works, is clearly higher. Nevertheless, this is a worrying fact, although kind of expected, since it is a given that in a patriarchal society the majority of works are produced by men, moreover, there are very few women writers included in the canon of the classical repertoire.
- The classical repertoire is still here, offering troupes of all kinds a widely recognizable raw material and a safe choice. Shakespeare, Spanish Renaissance, French comedies, ancient Greek tragedies, Russian 19th century abound in this year’s repertoire. At first reading, it seems that the choice of play has not been particularly affected by the pandemic and the social situation of the last two years.
- Foreign language works are dominated geographically by Europe and North America and linguistically by English-language works. This fact is very interesting, as it both reveals the degree of access of Greek theatre artists to different language areas and partly demonstrates the style of works they seek. Geographically we see that there is one work from Asia, one from Africa, and one from Oceania, all three written in English and therefore quite easily accessible. Apart from Albania and Serbia, the lack of works originating from countries neighbouring Greece is also evident. For example, we did not record any work from Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, the Republic of North Macedonia, Croatia, or Slovenia, and also no work from the Middle East. As far as English-language works are concerned, there are two more dominant categories in addition to the classics (Shakespeare, Pinter, Williams, Albee, etc.): comedies or farces and chamber plays. The choice of the foreign language repertoire seems for the most part rather limited, trapped in the usual standards, i.e., works and authors that have great recognition and that we see every year, with only a few choices that can cause a surprise.
- The turn to the Greek repertoire seems to be a remarkable trend, with a plethora of contemporary or even new works. This phenomenon can be analysed in different ways.
Firstly, it could be seen as an attempt to renew the repertoire of theatres and move away from the omnipotence of the classic works of long-dead authors, as an attempt to modernize the thematics and respond to crucial and topical issues through modern dramaturgy. Indeed, we observe many directors choosing contemporary Greek works, as well as directors or actors or groups, who write new works, either original ones or works drawing their material from landmarks of Greek and world literature and filmography, wanting to articulate with these works a modern theatrical discourse, often diving into unfamiliar aspects of recent history and difficult subjects. Among these, there are some modern Greek works that have been performed in the past (works by Kitsopoulou, Serefas, Tsiros et.al.) and tend to be considered classics in the future, but they remain relatively few, showing the difficulties of our contemporary writers to establish themselves.
There is also a share of some new ‘nostalgic’ Greek works, that is, works looking to previous moments of modern Greek history in a beautiful, non-critical, nostalgic way, sometimes accompanied by songs of the time and often inspired by anniversaries of Greek history. We also notice many performances based on biographies of famous artists or politicians, both Greek and foreign. This phenomenon is much more intense in productions of bigger budget and capacity, in productions that urgently aim for greater audience attendance as well, as it seems that such choices have a strong impact.
Clearly, this is a trend that was largely created in the era of memoranda, the time when the bidding to support the domestic economy was strong, the time when multinational supermarket chains sealed each of their products and each of their TV commercials with a Greek flag, afraid not to be left behind in the informal competition of Greekness. It was, of course, simultaneously, the time when a patriotic and nationalist discourse invaded public discourse, the time when the Golden Dawn entered the Parliament. Supermarkets and theatres may not have had any nationalistic characteristics in their intention, but they detected a tendency of Greekness in public speech and hurried to reproduce it, for fear that if they do not, if they do not comply with the rules of the game, the market will eliminate them.
In theatre, this tendency of Greekness was expressed with the sudden turn to theatrical adaptations of comedy films of the ‘good old’ Greek cinema and with the nostalgic dusting of relatively forgotten Greek theatrical works of the 19th or early 20th century and concerned both state and private stages, both big and small theatres. Even nowadays, this phenomenon remains very strong in the theatrical repertoire, reinforced, in fact, by the cultural policy of the current government, which tries to instrumentalize modern culture, turning it towards serving a patriotic agenda3See the program ‘All of Greece, one Culture’, which this year will be monothematic and will fund exclusively performances related to the Asia Minor Catastrophe..
Of course, not all performances referring to national anniversaries have patriotic characteristics (actually, some try to overturn established patriotic narratives), nor does the phenomenon alone explain the plethora of new works, as there are other factors that play an important role as well. Nevertheless, we believe that ‘Greekness’ is a trend that has been strongly influencing the choice of plays for years.
INSTEAD OF AN EPILOGUE
We hope that this research may trigger an honest discussion about the theatre repertoire. We hope that there will be similar research on theatre in other cities as well and new proposals for the analysis of the repertoire, as the choice of the raw material of a performance is of great importance, especially in text-centred theatre, which prevails. Of course, it does not necessarily determine the aesthetics of each performance or its position towards things, since the theatre as a performative event takes place only on stage. However, it is directly related to how the society in which we live is represented on the stage and how the theatre participates in public discourse. It is a political act.
** All the research elements have been taken in good faith by Press Releases and reflect the best possible image that the author could have of them at the given moment. Neither the author nor the magazine bears any responsibility for possible mistakes or omissions.