Poetry’s theatrical aspects

Poems are small theatrical works» says Stathis Livathinos, artistic director at the National Theater’s Second Experimental Stage (Peiramatiki Skini), which has put together an ambitious production that conveys 20th-century Greece through the work of poets both known and unknown. Theatergoers get the chance to assess the results from January 24, when performances of the still untitled production begin at the venue’s new and intimate second stage. It will be launched with this production. Livathinos said the second stage’s capacity will be limited to between 30 and 40 seats «for performances that require a different level of concentration.» The theater’s 17-member cast, which is currently performing an extremely successful version of Shakespeare’s comedy «Love’s Labor’s Lost,» spent a lengthy period of time preparing for the upcoming production. «They all brought along the poets and poems that moved them most. We considered about 2,000 poems while searching and testing,» Livathinos said. «The first thing we noticed, in practice not theory, was how great our poetry and poets were. And also how much betrayal there would be, because it’s impossible to fit all the desired elements into a single production. We’ve chosen about 30 poems,» he added. Poets whose work has been culled for the production include renowned literary figures such as Cavafy, Seferis, Elytis, Ritsos and Karyotakis, respected younger poets such as Ganas, Dimoula, and Eleftheriou, as well as more obscure writers. Livathinos noted that history was a fundamental criterion in the selection process. «It occupied us greatly. Through poetry, we wanted to look across the pavement’s other side, to history,» he noted. «We began working toward a ‘century’s panorama’ – a concept that also functions as a tribute to director Fotos Lambrinos, who had made an exceptional documentary series under this title and who, incidentally, also worked closely with us on the project. We soon realized that poetry expresses many things at once, and imposing limits would impoverish both history and poetry. So, there’s clear reference to the 20th century in the production; not just history in the narrower sense, but also the history of emotions, relationships, words…» While working on the production, a process that entailed elaborate research into the period’s poetry, as well as examination of numerous old photographs brought in by the cast’s members, Livathinos said interesting conclusions were reached regarding the relationship between history and poetry. «We reached an odd, I’d say, conclusion: Poetry can exist without history, but history cannot exist without poetry,» he said. «That’s because history is reflected through poetry in a particular way. It may be complex, but it is far more substantial for a deeper understanding of history,» he added. Livathinos and his team were guided in their ambitious task by a poet, Stratis Paschalis. «Without imposing his taste, he turned the compass toward the right path at the right time,» said Livathinos. Paschalis also wrote the lyrics to songs for the production, based on personal details of the respective cast members who will interpret them. The play’s music was composed by Nikos Platanos. Other personnel includes lighting director Zafeiris Epameinondas, and Sotiris Steliou for stage and costume design whose work for the production, Livathinos said, is discreet because «poetry conveys things without aid.» Conscious effort was made to interpret each poem in a purely theatrical way, a process which was «often demanded by the poems themselves, because good poetry is unbelievably theatrical,» stressed Livathinos. «Great poets are great playwrights who have opted for verse as their medium of expression – period. I’m absolutely sure of that.» The National Theater’s Experimental Stage, which opened the current season with one of Bertolt Brecht’s lesser known plays, «Baal,» will follow its upcoming theater-poetry production with Nikolay Gogol’s «Overcoat» late in February.

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