A discussion with three members of the Hellenic Association of Theatre and Performing Arts Critics: Louiza Arkoumanea (LiFO), Giorgos Voudiklaris (Artivist, Efsyn), and Tonia Karaoglou (Athinorama)
Giorgos Voudiklaris: Today, I suggest we start with this (he plays ‘Sta Pervolia’ by Grigoris Bithikotsis with lyrics and music by Mikis Theodorakis on his cell phone.1https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPbCpOhi6MI&ab_channel=nakisoda16 After it ends:) For me, this is the most beautiful song by Theodorakis.
Prodromos Tsinikoris: I will keep it as an introduction to the text if you want.
Giorgos: When Jean-Jacques Annaud adapted Duras’s The Lover into a film, she was furious. She bawled him out really badly -she was right, but that’s a different discussion. So when Annaud began the adaptation of The Name of the Rose, and because a burnt child dreads the fire, he went to Umberto Eco and told him: ‘Because I don’t want to go through the same, what can and what can I not do?’ And Eco answered: ‘You can do whatever you like except going to the bookstores’ windows and peeing on my books’. The same applies to this interview. Do whatever you want.
Prodromos: That’s only your opinion though.
Giorgos: I cannot speak on behalf of my distinguished colleagues of course.
Louiza Arkoumanea: Yes, for us the part about ‘taking action’ in bookstores is maybe a little more complicated.
Prodromos: Well. What you wrote Tonia2https://www.athinorama.gr/theatre/article/oi_ellinikes_parastaseis_tou_festibal_athinon_enas_apologismos-2551156.html?fbclid=IwAR0EceZifLK5yEjvoM9BPXl9sQSHuZ and Louisa3https://www.lifo.gr/culture/theatro/syghysi-kai-dihasmos-stin-kardia-ton-foinisson became for me the occasion for today’s meeting and I would like to start by asking: Who, would you say, do you address mostly when writing reviews?
Prodromos: This is like a couple saying that they love each other the same, but we all know that someone always loves the other more.
Tonia Karaoglou: Where you write determines your writing at some level but not your judgment: I think writing for a theatre magazine is different from writing for a city guide. I, who write for such a guide, keep in mind the readers who are also not homogeneous, the spectators who want to be informed about the performance they are going to see. In fact, I think that for most people, criticism is intertwined with whether it is a suggestion for watching -or not- a performance. Beyond that, getting a criticism to converse on an ideological or artistic level with the artist is something I have in mind and would like to happen. Even in the negative reviews, the critic, I think, writes hoping that this (negative) judgment will be passed with the intention of developing the theatrical art and not just as an evaluation of a performance: ‘good, not good’.
Giorgos: What Tonia says is very true. Although personally, I write in the same way, no matter where I write. It may sound pessimistic, but I think everything we write, no matter who it is addressed to, is now a storm in a cup of coffee. Any of us who believes that ‘criticism destroys or creates success’ as it used to do is erroneously mistaken and fortunately this is no longer the case. We all saw what happened to those authorities and how things ended.
Prodromos: I don’t know, tell me.
Giorgos: Not many years ago, there were people whose views buried a performance or turned it into a huge success and who operated in very specific ways. Now all this has been forgotten. They belong to the past until the name ‘Costas Georgousopoulos’ comes up. The audience and the critic see exactly the same performance. The spectator will say ‘I liked it / I did not like it’, the critic must say what the artist wanted to do and whether or not they succeeded in this effort and why. This will help the spectator realize why they liked or disliked what they saw and the artist, well they won’t be helped, because I don’t think we ever tell them something they don’t already know, but perhaps will confirm some suspicions about their work. If we achieve this, we have succeeded. Otherwise, who are we writing about? Either I write a review, or an interview, or do a translation, or anything else, I do it for a specific person that has a name and an address. I always write about a person. Period.
Louiza: I write for anyone who can spare 15 minutes to read me. In this barrage of texts, reviews, and opinion articles, I believe that those who invest a little time into reading a detailed review should feel a genuine interest, a strong desire to delve into the performance they have seen or intend to see. And they turn to me because they are concerned about fruitful dialogue, regardless of whether they agree or disagree with my positions.
Prodromos: Have you ever had the experience of a rich acceptance of the negative criticism you wrote on behalf of the artist? Was there, as Giorgos mentioned before, ‘confirmation of some suspicions’ instead of a typical reaction ‘oh well, she doesn’t like me, she has always been a sour person’ etc?
Tonia: I’ve spoken to a director once, not because he read my review and reached out to me immediately, but because I interviewed him after a while and he told me that he would like to comment on this review, which was, in fact, about a performance which was already over. I appreciated this conversation because I found myself in front of an artist who was in the mood to open a fruitful dialogue on the occasion of the review, which was not a positive one, and not to protest or to ‘haul me up’. Then, I also realized something that I’ve always believed, on a theoretical level, that critics are also judged by their writing. Personally, I liked this interaction, but it is utopian to think that it can always happen, that every director, every actor will enter into a dialogue with the critic.
Prodromos: I think that whether one wants to enter into a dialogue with a critic or not also depends on the quality of the criticism. For my performance, (Somewhere) Beyond the Cherry Trees, at the Athens Festival I got a bad review from a critic who left in the middle of the performance and did not mention it in the review.
Louiza: No, no, this shouldn’t happen!
Tonia: This goes beyond ethics.
Louiza: People have lost their jobs because of this.
Prodromos: Exactly. If I make a fuss about it, this person might lose their job, in the midst of a pandemic. I could say that personally I can handle negative criticism, but if such behaviours become the norm in the future, serious issues will certainly arise. This should stop at some point. There are codes of conduct in this work and that is why I referred to the quality of criticism.
Giorgos: In the past, there have been reviews for which I have received few likes and many phone calls.
Louiza: To congratulate you.
Giorgos: Especially when the person accepting the review has some power.
Prodromos: If this person is an artistic director, let’s say.
Giorgos: We should also say that the critic who left your performance also left Frank Castorf’s The Gambler. This puts you in a very good place.
Prodromos: I will call Frank to ask him out.
Giorgos: For me, one of the biggest compliments I have received is when somebody tells me ‘Yes, you pointed out the issues and probably you are right. You gave us a bad review but you respected us. You did not humiliate us, you did not vilify us. You just pointed out some mistakes in our work’. However, if you feel that the artist is trying to deceive the audience, you have to state it -even in a rough way. In any other case, I think that a bad review does not equal vilification for the artists. And I will bring a very timely example. I will not watch the Man of God film, I am not paid that well. But vilifying such a remarkable actor as Aris Servetalis is a big deal. To say that I saw him play Orestes and saw a very good actor whose voice is not helping him perform in a tragedy in an open space is a non-flattering review for a performance, but with respect for this person.
Louiza: Indirectly, however, it is also an incentive for him to work on his voice, you tell him something that might help him.
Giorgos: Such a good actor can do whatever he wants and towards any direction. I have no reason to vilify him.
Louiza: It’s just that most artists in Greece are narcissistically vulnerable. They find it difficult to accept criticism. No one wants to hear about their mistakes, weaknesses, failures. They have worked hard and they want to hear people say ‘well done, you were perfect, you are the next big name in theatre’. Maybe, when time passes and the first wave of emotional frustration and charge subside, and if the creator is honest with themselves -as Giorgos said ‘the artist already knows’-, maybe they will understand why Tonia, Giorgos, Louiza wrote what they wrote, and maybe they will realize that the intention was not bad, but these critics saw something that they, for whatever reason, could not see at that time. We are human beings, I mean, it happens to all of us, not just to artists, no matter what we do in our lives.
Prodromos: I’ve been there too, Lοuiza, I’ll take you back to May 2012 when you wrote about me: ‘…in the end, all this sloshing around leaves no specific impression to the spectator, a feeling of a reason for this project. In these challenging times we live (and will live) in, one should think before beginning to talk, once again, about anything and everything. Even if they have the noblest of intentions…’4https://www.tovima.gr/2012/05/06/culture/tha-epnige-ti-skini-me-dakrya/ At least my intentions were good… I kept this review.
Tonia: On the fridge!
Prodromos: We laugh about it now, but at the time I was quite worried. For me, the performance was about a person, a theatre technician and curtain manager, who finds the strength, through art, not to commit suicide. So it put me in a process of thinking ‘Okay since I’m interested in these issues, maybe in the future I will be able to highlight them more successfully’ and maybe, with your criticism, you pitched in -others will blame you for this- in creating this ‘leftist monster’ who deals only with social issues. (Laughs.) I remember sitting on my couch in Petralona and the moment I laid my eyes on it… I don’t know if anyone has told you how criticism affects the body, suddenly your blood freezes, because you are exposed in public, without even knowing what the other person is going to write about you, but you keep reading and the pulses go up, and when you realize that this will be a bad review you cannot breathe, the situation gets worse. It was really hard to reach the end, so sometimes -and I speak about myself when I say this because I don’t want to talk about others- a bad review may also be perceived as an indirect form of violence. As delayed booing. It is violent when somebody stops the action on stage to boo, I had this experience in Epidaurus with Dimiter Gotscheff’s Persians. So have you thought that what you are writing can be psychologically and physically violent?
Tonia: Negative criticism should definitely be separated from bad, vicious criticism. For example, as Giorgos mentioned earlier, writing that an actor could be replaced by a ficus may be a joke but, in my opinion, it is an example of bad criticism, and not because it is negative criticism.
Louiza: I think that if there is malice in your writing, the reader will abandon you.
Tonia: I think the reader enjoys such comments sometimes.
Louiza: And yet, if there is systematic malice you are going to pay for it at some point.
Tonia: As for failure, artists should -of course, I say this knowing that I am not an artist- take it for granted and love the fact that it might happen. If we disconnect it from the financial part, from the fear of failure as a factor the artist’s immediate survival depends on, when someone enters the theatre either as a director or as an actor they should be ready to accept that not everything will succeed; this, I think, is liberating. Is it possible for all projects to be good? Which director, even if world-renowned, has succeeded in this? It is superhuman to believe that we will never fail.
Louiza: I see a difference between the years of my youth and today. I mean, when I started writing I was more absolute, aggressive, and raw. Growing up, I think more about the other, the recipient of the criticism, and how to say some things a little softer, which I may not have done before. Of course, this has to do with the emotional maturity of every person, whatever profession they practice. On the other hand, let me say this: if I value a person and this person fails in some of their endeavours, I will speak accordingly, precisely because I value them. But if one proceeds to a performance of provocative ease and absence of reflection and thought, then I will express myself more strongly.
Giorgos: Informed, experienced, and capricious spectators: this is who we are. Beyond that, in the same way that we sometimes express our enthusiasm for what we have seen, other times what we see exerts a kind of violence on us.
Informed, experienced, and capricious spectators: this is who we are. Beyond that, in the same way that we sometimes express our enthusiasm for what we have seen, other times what we see exerts a kind of violence on us.
Prodromos: Here I feel obliged as an artist to say that I never suffered from watching thousands of performances in my life, as much as I did from criticism.
Tonia: Well that’s because it’s about your own work. It was criticism of your own work and it sure did hurt you.
Prodromos: Giorgos may get bored during a performance, deadly bored, may not sit comfortably but, really now, can bland or bad art hurt as much as a negative review?
Giorgos: No. However, something offensively bad or something ideologically dangerous can. There, you will be subjected to violence and, there, the reaction will be violent. For me, there is no safer phrase than ‘judge not, lest ye be judged’. We all judge and we are all judged, and some of us get paid to do it -though it does not always happen. But it is just a job. Beyond that, whatever prestige what we write has or does not have is something we conquer over time. As a politician put it, ‘Who said that?’, ‘Such and such did’, ‘It means nothing then’.
Prodromos: You said ideologically dangerous. When you see a performance, are your judging criteria ideological or mainly aesthetic ones?
Tonia: If it promotes fascism, it is difficult to say good things about it.
Giorgos: We have not seen fascism on the Greek stage yet, but who knows. Leni Riefenstahl was a great director. What do you think? Is she a bad director because she promotes fascism?
Louiza: Ezra Pound, Heidegger…
Tonia: I discussed something similar with a colleague recently, who, on the occasion of a play about Queen Amalia, pointed out to me the danger of the Greek theatre becoming a ‘washing machine’ of past institutions and ideologies. Is it possible, he asked me, to create a play in order to ‘wash away’ the misery of this or that monarch? This could be an ideological issue, whether it makes sense to make theatre with such a theme in the year 2021.
Prodromos: Yes, but as Nikiforos Papandreou used to say ‘The performance legislates’.
Tonia: Exactly. After all, as you know best, if you do a play about Xiros5Translator’s note: Savvas Xiros is a Greek terrorist and member of the 17 November Revolutionary Organization. He was arrested on the 29th of June 2002 at the port of Piraeus after a bomb exploded in his hands. He was put on trial in 2003 and sentenced to life. or Hitler, it does not mean that you embrace their ideologies. If someone buys Mein Kampf, it does not necessarily follow they are a Nazi. So, obviously, it’s all about what someone wants to say with a performance.
Giorgos: A performance, regardless of its ideological content, is a good or bad performance. I will bring an example which is hot and painful for some here in this room. There was a performance that was cancelled by The National Theatre, purely on ideological grounds.
Tonia: It wasn’t the critics that caused this.
Giorgos: The following questions arise. A.) Was it an ideologically problematic performance? For some of us not at all. For some others, who did not even see it, very much. Do I agree with the performance Ideologically? I found it very interesting. B) Did I think it was a good performance? I found it dramatically problematic because it tried to unite…
Prodromos: You’re putting me in a difficult position with this.
Giorgos: I have already written what I am saying now. Pigi [Dimitrakopoulou] is a person who told me ‘you were right in what you said, but you respected us’. Probably if she had twice the time she could have put the individual components together. I had the feeling that the performance did not manage to do that. And also if every partly unsuccessful performance folded before it was due to fold, we would have changed profession, because we would have nothing to say – only a few performances would be on for a long time. Complicated. I have seen performances in the Greek theatre in recent years which were ideologically very problematic: in the era of the Golden Dawn or even the serious Golden Dawn, we have to be careful before we speak about certain things. Although they may have been said in a very good way in theatrical terms. It is a time when the patriarchy of our society is blatant and manifests itself in crimes and I have become a little more sensitive when a performance brings out, for example, toxic masculinity.
Prodromos: We are experiencing a conservatism of society, in Larissa, for example, where they are trying to oust a huge puppet right now.6Τranslator’s note: Prodromos is mentioning reactions to the recent path of the puppet Amal throughout Greece. More: https://www.keeptalkinggreece.com/2021/09/01/amal-doll-larissa-xenophobic-protest/ But the hell of conservatism is not just the others. It can also include artists who find there a stepping stone to present ideas that are at best problematic, but also critics who have no problem praising them.
Giorgos: That is 100% valid.
Louiza: What you are saying is definitely true and concerning your question about ideology and aesthetics, we should add that aesthetics is political. In theatre, politics is presented through aesthetics in a more indirect way. No one will go on stage with… a banner, but when a completely closed system is created on stage, which blocks all flow, when it has been directed in patriarchal thinking, when it reproduces the dominant discourse… it is all political. The way you put on a play, from the way you rehearse -if you are going to adopt a democratic process- to your end result -if it is a suffocating, leveling thing, full of stereotypes-, is also a political issue. It’s just that, unfortunately, not all spectators see it. They are not so skilled or sensitive to the interpretations of the form.
Prodromos: It also may not manifest itself in the end result.
The way you put on a play, from the way you rehearse -if you are going to adopt a democratic process- to your end result -if it is a suffocating, leveling thing, full of stereotypes-, is also a political issue.
Louiza: It does, Prodromos. To the trained eye, it does. To the person who is a little more aware, I think it does. Most people, however, go to the theatre to be reassured (or to be ‘relieved’, it is the same). They go to get confirmation of their way of life from the artists: this is politics.
Giorgos: Often it’s also the opposite. We watch a ‘revolutionary’ spectacle, we have our revolution by watching a 90-minute show and, after we have done our duty, we drink our drinks and say how awesome we are and that’s the end of the story.
Louiza: Excuse me but many artists and actors do the same.
Giorgos: Thank you!
Tonia: At some point, we have to talk about this, it is not possible to talk, from any position, about the Greek theatre, either as critics or as directors or actors, without referring to the crisis that has affected it in many ways in the last 10 years. It is not possible, for example, that the debate on Greek theatre does not take into account the abolition of grants as they were in force. It is something that drastically changed theatre. Of course, we can not use it as an alibi and become softer in our judgment, but it is a matter of fact that many of the directorial choices are no longer a matter of vision, but a matter of necessity: from the choice of repertoire to the stage solutions. The fact that the Greek theatre in recent years has become postdramatic, with 2 actors playing 5 roles, is not always a style, it is a product of necessity. Theatre has changed and I do not think we will be able to return to performances like the ones of Lefteris Vogiatzis, e.g. we must all adapt and see whatever new will be born in the current conditions.
Giorgos: This is something that has always existed in Art. Need gives birth to solutions and movements and aesthetics and much more.
Tonia: I think that in the given condition of the 21st century, the economic need leads to ever more ‘safe spectacles’.
Louiza: It is the producers that are mainly led by it and the artists necessarily follow.
Giorgos: Grotowski said about the notion of Poor Theater that ‘we have no money, but at least we have time’. Now we have reached the time when we have neither money nor time, because every two months we present a new product.
Tonia: We still don’t even know how theatres will work in the winter, still lists of what we will see in the winter have already been released; we are counting hundreds of performances again.
Giorgos: The mincemeat is cut in the presence of the customer.
Tonia: This is a result of the crisis. Insecurity ‘not to be unemployed’.
Giorgos: It’s true, as is what Prodromos said about the conservatism of society, which cannot but find its reflection on the stage.
Giorgos: There is a generational issue for me: when I see a more conservative result from a director of a certain age I say ‘OK’. When I see younger directors, 30 years old, whose theatre refers to the ’50s, I freak out.
Louiza: This, too, is political.
Giorgos: And this doesn’t apply to everyone, because you see old directors who have nothing to prove work with freedom and originality and they have a fluidity in their performance that makes you say ‘wow, how nice’.
At some point, we have to talk about this, it is not possible to talk, from any position, about the Greek theatre, either as critics or as directors or actors, without referring to the crisis that has affected it in many ways in the last 10 years.
Prodromos: I will go back a bit and talk about the expectations that existed before the summer: ‘Now the whole theatrical landscape will change, now the artists have had time to think and work on their ideas’…
Tonia: And will come back with a yearning…
Prodromos: To improve and improve the performances they will make…
Louiza: And rediscover theatre!
Prodromos: As if it were a given; ‘It cannot be done otherwise, we tell you, that’s how it is’.
Giorgos: It’s this expression we have: ‘You know how to dream big, but it looks like you have forgotten’.
Prodromos: Now that summer is over, you hear voices say: ‘Surprisingly artists didn’t really make it. What is wrong?’ They expected artists to come down from the mountain like Moses did with the commandments shouting ‘Guys I have found all the solutions’, as if the artist could work alone during quarantine at home like, say, a cook trying new recipes. And I find it a little unfair. Rehearsing in the middle of a pandemic, with masks, with distances on stage, with a curfew, without knowing what tomorrow brings, whether you will get stuck or not, whether you will stop rehearsing or not, cannot be a creative process. It cannot be.
Louiza: It certainly wasn’t a creative condition. Judging by the performances I saw in the summer, I think one of the reasons was people got rusty -how couldn’t they?
Giorgos: I’m afraid Michel Houellebecq was right: ‘After the pandemic, things will be the same and a little worse’. Is it because we are rusty? Maybe. Is it because fear creates conservatism? Could be. Maybe we should give some time to see in which direction the post-Covid theatre will go. It sounds big, but anyway.
Tonia: Personally speaking, I had not so much the expectation, but the hope and wish for the Greek theatre to come out more creative from its fallow. It may be okay if it did not succeed, but my concern is that while the creators have things to say, they are still looking for the way.
Prodromos: ‘The message tends to become more important than the way it appears onstage’.
Tonia: It is perhaps a trap the artists have set for themselves. They feel they have to take a stand on everything that happens. And, of course, Modern Greek theatre must raise such issues: the renegotiation of 1821, the ecological issues, all these are very important, but I think that many artists are trapped in this need. Maybe they should remember how they wanted to do theatre in their 20s. It is also an issue that has to do with the crisis, that is why I insist on talking about the crisis, the performances that we all want can not happen in two months. We cannot speak without taking into account the circumstances.
Giorgos: For me there is a rule. I cannot compare what a group of more or less young people did without any budget, in a small space, with unpaid rehearsals, with earnings based on a percentage of the tickets, to something directed by an acclaimed director in a state theatre or large institution with backing and endless means. In the first case, I will not say that you will be more lenient, but you will judge with these measures and in the second case you will judge with other measures. I do not think that the basement of BIOS and the Central Stage of the National Theatre are two things that can be compared. We also touched on the issue of the theme. In a private discussion, someone said to Odysseus Elytis: ‘You know, I have very nice ideas to write poetry, but when I try to do so, they do not come to me’. And Elytis replied: ‘Look, poems are not written with ideas, they are written with words’. Maybe the subject matter that some aspire to develop is very grandiose, but no one forced them to do it: ‘You will talk about it’. One can talk about radishes, about anything, and in the end, it can be shocking if they have dealt with it honestly, directly, and with knowledge. There are works by Herbert Achternbusch that speak exclusively about his family environment. Okay, a very traumatic family environment, but as someone wiser than me said ‘all families are traumatic’. The straightforwardness and sharpness with which he speaks on this issue are such that concern everyone. You may well be talking about something that concerns everyone and the result might concern no-one. As simple as that.
Prodromos: Should we take a cigarette break and then talk about Epidaurus?
Giorgos: Yes, because there you do not have the alibi of the small budget.
Prodromos: Louiza, you wrote: ‘Perhaps it is time to ask ourselves, after so many disappointing attempts that were hosted this year in Epidaurus, what is the reason for this obvious helplessness of Greek directors towards ancient drama. The phenomenon (with a few exceptions) has now reached alarming proportions and it is certainly not only the artists’ fault for the impasse. However, this is the subject of another article, which will follow in due course …’ . The performances I remember from Epidaurus are mainly the ones that were booed: Langhoff’s Bacchae, Gochev’s Persians -bit self-referential, because I played in it- and Vasiliev’s Medea. Within 10 years we had three booed productions with very bad reviews. And then, one could say that most of the performances that followed went for a safer approach, what Frank Castorf has called ‘vegan’ performances. They are not unhealthy, no one is upset, no one interferes. They will not hurt you: hurt in the sense that they will trouble you.
Louiza: Shake you.
Prodromos: And I wanted to ask you if you have the feeling that criticism also plays a role, creating, intentionally or not, obstacles in the progress of this theatrical genre in Greece. Some reviews condemn several attempts, ‘This is very experimental, it does not fit the space, the text and the discourse of the ancient poet were not heard’. Parenthesis, when I read this line ‘the text was not heard’ I go crazy, I think ‘guys, we did not come to the theatre just to hear the text, we are not in a church, we came to see a modern interpretation of the text or the myth’.
Giorgos: Not even that. There is an amazing invention called the bookstore. I go there and get the text, I read it by myself and listen to it.
Prodromos: So when you read such reviews you can say as an artist ‘I am not interested in Epidaurus at all, because there I have to satisfy a small town with 8,000 spectators, who are completely different from each other. Each of them have their own artistic criteria and carry their own story about what Epidaurus is and what we should see there’.
Tonia: Epidaurus in particular is a place where many different expectations are gathered. As a place that hosts almost exclusively works of ancient drama, for us critics, for the artists, and for a part of the audience, it is a place where we wait to see what the ‘evolution’ of the directorial interpretation of the genre is. Epidaurus, however, is also a place of a wide popular character, the thousands of spectators who flock are not necessarily interested in the directorial interpretation of the works, but in their contact with the texts themselves. Of course, a performance shouldn’t just aim to have the text hear but, on the other hand, any attempt at interpretation does not necessarily contribute to the discussion of ancient drama and its modern interpretation. And here I believe that the critic comes to play an important role between the audience and the performance, as with their updated look -updated not only in terms of the texts but also in terms of the art of directing- they can educate the spectators, and ‘transform’ them from passive receivers of a performance to active participants.
Louiza: However, this is not a reason for someone not to go, because ‘each of the spectators carry their own story about what Epidaurus is’…
Giorgos: I will give two reasons for anyone to go: If they have something to say…
Prodromos: But no one will tell you that they have nothing to say.
Giorgos: And if they have something to say in this particular space. Because we have almost forgotten this. Ostermeier is about to do a chamber project in Epidaurus.
Prodromos: Ostermeier said that ‘If twenty-five centuries ago the ancient Greeks knew that we still perform their works today and not write new ones, they would laugh at us’.
Giorgos: He did not just say that. He said, ‘All these years, couldn’t we have written better works?’ and there I spontaneously asked him if the work he was intending to put on this weekend is better than Oedipus Rex.
Prodromos: If any domestic director had said that, they would have been…
Giorgos: Ridiculed. The point, however, is not that he dared say anything since he is a foreigner. The point is to judge what he said. If what he understood is that these works are obsolete because they have Gods, kings, and fate in them, then he understood nothing.
Louiza: I’m sorry, but I agree with Giorgos. He obviously wanted to justify his own adaptation, but he did not even have to justify it.
G.Β .: If the criterion is how many years ago a work was written, we have also abolished the concept of the classic. With your permission, I scorn Ostermeier for having said that.
Prodromos: We should not sit next to each other during the performance!
Louiza: I was not at the press conference, can you please tell me what he said?
Prodromos: He said that ‘The fact that two and a half thousand years later we still perform these works and have not written better ones to perform is something that would make them feel pity for us, repeating classic works is a sign of a culture that is faltering. (…) So, since the sky is empty and there is no kingdom, there are no Laius’s today, even Elizabeth of England does not rule, she is a puppet, how to speak of modern society through a work with gods, an oracle, a Sphinx that sets an enigma, and a palace with a dead king? It has nothing to do with our reality’.7https://www.lifo.gr/culture/theatro/o-oyranos-einai-adeios-den-yparhoyn-theoi-pia I understand that, I can even say that I agree… And I wonder if a domestic director could have the courage or audacity to say it. Thomas is a passer-by, he will come, he will leave, he may never come back, he will go to other festivals around the world… But an artist who works in this country, where everyone gets to know everything about everyone, is careful how they express themselves because they want to work again. I go back to the question about the conservative reviews that have held back this ‘sacred’ thing we call Epidaurus. I understand your position, Louiza ‘why can’t artists… ?’, but…
Louiza: I say they do not dare, I do not say that they can’t. Of course, in the end, maybe they also can’t…
Τ. K.: There is no easy answer, neither a one-dimensional one. Let us not forget that Epidaurus was informally defined as a ‘sacred place’, which doesn’t leave space for much more, and this was fuelled by critics of the past, who strengthened the audience’s longing to see a spectacle that would confirm, not overturn, their apperceptions, and will not disturb their concept, their need for solidarity and collectivity. Epidaurus has for many years been mainly a national rather than a cultural landmark. The boos in performances that were considered to offend have been there for decades. However, we must recognize that the Greek audience has changed in recent years and is much more open to experimentation (both literally and metaphorically), even if there are still protests here and there. I think that especially thanks to Giorgos Loukos,8Translator’s note: Giorgos Loukos was the artistic director of Athens and Epidaurus Festival for ten straight years (2005-2015). He brought a new era for the Festival turning it into the massive theatrical event that it is today. a new generation of spectators was trained.
Prodromos: In 2012, at the invitation of Loukos, Anestis [Azas] and I performed a play at the Small Theater of Epidaurus on the theme of the Festival itself. And we invited Nikos Karathanos, because he had been booed three times…
Giorgos: In which performances?
Prodromos: Langhoff’s, Gochev’s, and Vasiliev’s.
Giorgos: Was he part of all three! Let’s invite him home on New Year’s Eve to bring us luck.
Prodromos: During the performance he would say: ‘All these were violent. I do not know if you have ever been hit. The next day someone tries to greet you and you pull back. And you are afraid. Fear is not a good thing for humans. You should not be afraid of anything or anyone. Because all the performances were made out of love’. In this context, how can anyone see this space as a liberated and liberating one?
Louiza: You raised the issue of the framework, Prodromos, which is very important: If you do not feel as an artist that this is what a space and an institution expects from you -an act of mutual liberation, that is-, if you do not feel safe, that ‘here I am invited to try and be tried out, even if it means that I will be booed’, then it is natural to be afraid. But if the framework protects you, you will move forward, you will dare.
Giorgos: Langhoff’s Bacchae was one of the performances I liked the most, out of the ones I have seen in Epidaurus. And the late Minas Hatzisavvas used to tell me ‘it is the most important performance I have done in my life’. And indeed, they were hit by a super-conservative flank of ‘watchmen’, who view themselves as something like the ‘Epidaurus police’. On the other hand -and I am not talking about Epidaurus, I am talking in general- is it completely unfair to boo any performance?
Prodromos: At the end or during the performance?
Giorgos: During the performance, yes, it is a problem. At the end, I think it is perfectly legitimate.
Louiza: And is it also a coincidence that these performances went down in history? You can look at it from an opposite point of view. You say ‘they are afraid, they will be booed’, but, years later, people remember these performances and they are the ones who will win a place in the books for the ancient drama.
Giorgos: You can also consider it praiseworthy.
Louiza: Exactly. When Georgousopoulos used to insult you, it was a recognition, wasn’t it?
Giorgos: To return to the much-loved Castorf: if the vegan performances are forgotten after a few weeks, then the answer is ‘Fuck vegan, go cannibal’.
They go out to the balcony again for a cigarette…