In search of author and life

It’s hard to believe that this slender, cool woman has a 23-year-old son. «I like it when we’re together and people say that. But we’re all like this in our family, even those much older than me appear younger, both on the inside and the outside,» says actress Lydia Fotopoulou. After several seasons in Thessaloniki, she is now back in Athens, at the National Theater, where she is playing the demanding role of the stepdaughter in Pirandello’s «Six Characters in Search of an Author,» under the direction of Dimitris Mavrikios. Fotopoulou grew up in Thessaloniki, but was born and raised in Kavala. She discovered the theater just before graduating from high school and was captivated. She married Dimitris Karellis, lead actor with the State Theater of Northern Greece (STNG), while still very young. They had their son, then at some point their roads parted. A shining talent, one of the most important lead actresses of our era, Fotopoulou has moved between Athens and Thessaloniki for the past 10 years. And are you as young inside as you appear on the outside? So we go straight to Pirandello! (laughter). Not always. Sometimes I feel very tired. But I’m optimistic. Even when I’m completely down I know that at some point things will be brighter once more. Even the most difficult situations can have a bright side. You rarely come to Athens these days. I love Athens, but I like to miss her. I prefer to be based in Thessaloniki. I need to be able to see a horizon over the city, and in Thessaloniki, however bad things have become, there is an open horizon. What has changed there? People’s behavior – which is, however, conditioned by other things. Large cities are tortuous places. The traffic jams, the cars, anxiety; so we can achieve what? It’s all about what needs we are told we should have. Fifteen years at the State Theater of Northern Greece, in lead roles from the start. Then, down to Athens and productions at the National and at Yiannis Houvardas’s Theatro tou Notou. At the same time you work sporadically at the Peiramatikis Technis in Thessaloniki, then back to the STNG. My most innocent period was the first one at the STNG, when I was still captivated by everything. Then, when you get to know it all well, you are less easily charmed. That doesn’t mean that there weren’t some very interesting moments. Roles that are different from those I was usually called upon to play – the young woman, passionate and in love – roles with many sides to them, which helped me to progress. How do you select your roles? The people are the basic criterion, above the play even. Even if I was offered a role I really liked, if I felt I couldn’t communicate with the others involved, I would prefer not to do it. How do you look back on the period with Houvardas at the Amore? I remember the beginning, the years when the theater was getting off the ground, and it was a crusade for all of us; late nights, work, rehearsals until the early hours. It was good for me, of course. When I returned to the STNG I was now free, I could think for myself. Because during my first period there, I had no judgment whatsoever. My need to work in the theater was so strong that everything seemed wonderful. When I returned I was different. I had lost my innocence, as they say, I saw things more critically. What do you miss most from the past? My childhood years, when I felt connected to the world, to the universe. Something which you later lose, and only the delusion of love or some other strong relationship can make you feel again. I don’t just miss this from the past, but from the future as well! What would you say that the past 25 years in the theater have left you with? I don’t get on so well with reality, so theater provided me with the delight of having one foot somewhere else, a delusion. This is good for my psychological makeup – to feel that reality isn’t a static thing, that it changes, it varies. Without the fear of change which something new brings to «reality.» No, I like changes in reality too. Of course, not like the one I experienced with the death of my mother at the age of 14. But, I like the fact that life is full of surprises. Was the Marika Konitopoulou Prize that you were awarded this year, along with fellow Thessalonikan Filareti Komninou, for «best actress of the past two years» a surprise? To be honest, I feel that with the way things are in the theater today, honors and awards are somewhat predetermined. I felt, in other words, that this year it was my turn, along with Filareti, not that «something» happened. Even so, it was a very emotional moment when I opened up the box at home and read the phrase on the medal «The actors of the National Theater to our Marika, 1949.» I was holding in my hands something that some fellow actors once gave to their Marika, «to our Marika?» How did you see the theater when you started and how do you see it now? When I was starting out, I thought the theater was the center of my existence. Now I know that it isn’t. Now, if I were able financially, I would stay away from the theater for a few seasons, to have other experiences. Of course, if you were to say to me, «You will never act again,» I wouldn’t want that! But, to have some distance every now and then, sure. In the past, everything was enchanting for me because it was new. Now, I pray to be enchanted again, for something truly new to come along. Is something like this happening with Pirandello’s «Six Characters in Search of an Author?» Mavrikios’s productions always aim at theatrical enchantment. From the play’s title alone you feel that the six characters are in search of an author, i.e. a creator, because they are incomplete. We are the creatures of an imagination that left us incomplete and cannot live our lives. We come on to the stage, then, which could be this Earth here, and ask to live, to exist. A masterpiece. Each door you open leads to others. And it interweaves theater with reality, a theme of particular interest to Dimitris in all his work. The madness of giving life to figures of the imagination – this madness of actors is what I believe inspires Mavrikios. National Theater’s New Stage, 22-24 Ag. Constantinou, tel 210.522.0585.