Greek theater roaring back to life

Greek theater roaring back to life

One of the predominant trends in this already successful theater season is the appeal of Greek plays. Plays by new and established writers, of all stripes and styles, based on novels, narratives, testimonies, compositions and monologues, are selling seats in theaters big and small.

If there is one person who has a finger on the pulse, that’s Irini Mountraki. The head of the Greek National Theater’s drama, library, archive and international relations departments, creator of the Greek Play Project – an initiative for studying, strengthening and promoting the local scene – and professor of theatrical studies at master’s level at the universities of Athens and Thessaloniki, Mountraki says that the blossoming of Greek theater is not new but has been evolving over the past few years.

“We saw a kind of ‘multipurpose’ artist emerging during the economic crisis and after capital controls were imposed; artists who write their own work, direct it, act in it and sometimes even do the music and sets,” she says.

Mountraki believes that creative writing workshops organized by various institutions have also been instrumental in unleashing new talent and driving them to the theater. “There’s output, new work, a lot of which stems from the process of learning and is presented unfinished or unpolished,” she says.

The Greek Play Project was born out of a need to tell the world about the new renaissance on the local theater scene and the results have already been encouraging, particularly from the presenting of contemporary Greek plays in New York that were staged in English and went on to be published in translation.

‘Globalization and all the things that are happening to us make interesting material for young writers and they have the tools to do it’

The plays that have stood out in the last decade, she notes, are those that “manage to penetrate the core of humanity, that do not moralize.”

Diversity, gender issues and the #MeToo movement are among some of the key motifs, “because they are issues that [the playwrights] are concerned about or have personal experience of.”

“On the other hand, I feel that they can also sell better. We have not seen important work being done on these subjects yet, but it is good to see the playwrights showing that they have reflexes. Trial and error is what will lead to plays that are truly worthwhile,” says Mountraki.

With three plays on as many stages, one of the playwrights who stands out this season is Vassilis Katsikonouris, whose “Makis” is on at the Neos Kosmos, “Cheetah: The Goalie’s Solitude” at the Stathmos and “California Dreamin’ 2” at Apo Michanis.

This fresh interest in Greek theater is creating a new dynamic, “though this does not mean something special or signify a trend,” Katsikonouris says, recalling how hard it was to get a Greek play on stage in the 1990s. “Back then, a play had to have a leftist leaning; we were emerging from the Metapolitefsi [post-dictatorship era] then, now we’re emerging from the crisis. Globalization and all the things that are happening to us make interesting material for young writers and they have the tools to do it, a lot of creative writing workshops that can help,” he adds.

“Previous generations had the legacy of the greats. Iakovos Kambanellis, Dimitris Kehaidis, Loula Anagnostaki and Giorgos Skourtis were master classes in their own right, as were their plays,” the playwright says.

Katsikonouris, whose 2003 play “Milk” was a watershed for the Greek theater and a huge influence on younger playwrights, teaches one of those creative writing classes himself, at the University of Athens, and sees high standards and a thirst for learning in his students. This season will also see him directing, Nikos Dimitropoulos’ “Sketi Koroidia” at the 104 Theater. “Writing is a form of directing and directing is a form of writing,” he comments.

Nikos Diamantis is a director and also president of the Culture Ministry’s committee for the annual State Playwrights’ Award. He reads around a hundred plays a year and says that the new generation is much more assertive as a result of developments over the past 20 years. The economic crisis, he says, created a “strong existential and self-referential current on issues like challenging sexual identity, family and the individual’s place in society. Today’s 20-year-olds are concerned about where and how they’ll live, how to find someone to have sex with, where they’re going to go out at night, and other such questions. These are needs that are recorded easily on social media and extend all the way to the theater and to alternative spaces, which are multiplying,” he says.

Dimitropoulos also notes the revolutionary effect on the language in Greek theater from Yannis Economides’ raw galvanizing film “Matchbox” in 2002 and its stage adaptation by the 90°C team, as well as the linguistic style of Lena Kitsopoulou. “They employed aspects of everyday speech that had been banished from the theater, like swearing and its automatic repetition. It sent shockwaves that woke the theater up.”

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