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Directing the national fantasy

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There is a photo of the exiles in the camps of Makronissos building a model of the Parthenon. In Makronisos, a state-organized programme of ‘reform’ and ‘national reintegration’ of left-wing prisoners was implemented, within which the use of classical antiquities played a key role, from the construction of corresponding figures to the observation of the temple of Poseidon in Sounio, which was visible from the island.  This function did not concern only the prisoners but also the rest of the population of Greece who had their eyes set on Makronisos.1Giannis Chamilakis, The nation, and its ruins.

I juxtapose this photo with last year’s snapshot from the performance of Aeschylus’ The Persians at the Athens Epidaurus Festival, where the show’s director and former artistic director of the National Theatre of Greece kisses a replica of the Parthenon under the eyes of the Prime Minister, the Minister of Culture and the President of the Republic. I also juxtapose it with the decision to replace the Experimental Stage of the National Theatre of Greece with the ‘Research Stage’, which would have the sole objective of studying and presenting ancient Greek texts and the goal, as the former artistic director said, to utilize ‘the hitherto unused funds of tourist interest, through the provision of an entertainment-educational service that can operate both independently and in addition to the usual cultural activities of tourism’.2https://www.liberal.gr/apopsi/ena-ereunitiko-oneiro-tou-dimitri-lignadi-ulopoieitai/349116

As we are in the bicentennial anniversary of the Revolution of 1821, we can observe retrospectively the production and reproduction of the national narrative in a sensory way on behalf of the National Theatre and the Athens Epidaurus Festival. Going beyond the above-mentioned examples, we could turn our eyes to a timeless effort to intertwine the performing events with the national fantasy, the mythologies that follow the national narrative since the founding of the Greek state, as well as with tourism. What happens, though, when the theatrical process is instrumentalized by trapping the viewer’s experience in what Dimitris Plantzos calls ‘recent future’? I.e. in a stage creation of a moment of ‘historical self-confidence and conscious culmination, in which the future already seems experienced’.3Dimitris Plantzos, The recent futureAlso, what does it mean for this to be included in an economy of attention aiming to catch tourists’ eyes?

The birth of the Epidaurus Festival and the restoration work of the ancient theatre were an integral part of a political decision to turn the ‘cultural reserve’ into a tourist fund, as part of the Marshall Plan, and the National Theatre carrying a fictional Greek tradition in the performance of Ancient Drama was the exclusive owner of the theatre for the first twenty years.

The birth of the Epidaurus Festival and the restoration work of the ancient theatre were an integral part of a political decision to turn the ‘cultural reserve’ into a tourist fund, as part of the Marshall Plan, and the National Theatre carrying a fictional Greek tradition in the performance of Ancient Drama was the exclusive owner of the theatre for the first twenty years. The ancient ruins’ investment with an executive force, when it comes in contact with the ancient drama and the ‘exclusive right’ of the Greek directors in it, invents a certification of the continuity of modern Greece with its ancient ancestors and glorious past. Along with this effort of national self-affirmation, and through it, we could also discern a nod to the ‘outside’, to Europe that ‘looks’ at us, while giving our credentials that we are worthy successors of this tradition and will have a corresponding future. The performative event, as it is offered, in an experiential and aesthetic way, to such aspirations of the ruling power and the respective governments, ends up becoming a spectacle for touristic consumption and turns both the theatrical institutions involved and the stage itself into a kind of museum.

Starting from this, we can ask ourselves what is a theatrical performance if it provides only a ‘presence’, if it traps the viewer’s gaze in one single visibility which is actually appreciated by the authorities? ‘It is better to do nothing’, writes Alain Badiou in his 15th view on contemporary art, ‘than to contribute to the creation of regulatory ways that give visibility to what the EMPIRE already recognizes as existing’.4Badiou, Alain, ‘Thèses Sur l’art Contemporain’, Performance Research, 9.4.

The ruins of antiquity, be they ancient theatres or ancient texts, and even more so the ruins of the present, also have the potential to be used by the performative event in a way that causes a rupture in the concept of ‘continuity’. To act more as traces that submit a borderline space between presence and absence than as a compact presence. In this context, the invisible can gain visibility, it can claim the attention that it does not receive within our contemporary views.

Could we ever see in the ancient theatre of Epidaurus a theatrical discourse being articulated that would bring to the surface a fresh view of the space itself, that would turn it from a monument of glorious antiquity to a monument of modernity, the ruins of which would allow us to see the relationship of nationalism, crypto-colonialism, and tourism from a distance?5G. Chamilakis refers to the emergence of similarities between nationalism and tourism as they both promote a framework of social life where spectacle and supervision are combined.

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