How television changed theater

“Glamour, in the sense of success, is far removed from substance. The more second-rate a play is, the more likely it is to be a hit.» Exaggeration or not, Giorgos Kimoulis’s words are a reflection on our times. Especially in the theater, where he has played many successful roles in many plays these 26 years. In the past few years, he has opened up his own performance space, the Synchrono Theatro of Athens, as well as his own school. This season, he is at the Vembo Theater in «Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde,» a musical with a cast of 30, 13 stage areas and a five-member orchestra. «We are seeing the complete crushing of theatrical practice, which now uses the codes of television,» says Kimoulis. «Before, television helped those playing in the theater, but it did not influence the acting code or the writing. Now, that has been completely transformed. The second problem, in my opinion, is the notorious guilt that has been created around leisure. Because of the lack of free time, people feel guilty when enjoying themselves. They want to parody their very actions.» Is this connected to the live music scene? There are singers who don’t sing, but parody what they do, mimicking other singers. This has now been transferred to the theater. The theatrical act parodies the moment itself, thus compensating for a large part of the guilt. It’s the logic of «we’re just having a laugh.» People feel guilty for the lives they’re leading. They’re ashamed to be seen enjoying themselves. Are they ashamed? Maybe they don’t have any problem. It’s a question of shame. That’s why entertainment has this element of «it’s just a laugh.» There’s no sense of pleasure, euphoria. There is no joy in which one can lose oneself. In fact, they are constantly aware of what is going on around them. This is the impression I get. Maybe I’m making a mistake, but I think that the lack of time is at the root of this evil, when people think it’s natural not to have any time. How did we get here? People used to allow themselves to be violent and smash plates, then we passed to the tender flower-throwing period, now we have reached extreme parody, such as putting an ice cube into a paper napkin and throwing it. Theater, however, seems to be witnessing a renaissance. This is a bit of a myth. There are lots of soccer teams, lots of companies, lots of newspapers and magazines. They say we have more theaters than other European cities. It’s not true… It’s good to have cultural spaces. But, that’s not the problem. Nor how easy it is for Greek actors to form troupes? The readily available sponsorship helped in this. I never understood why Ministry of Culture funding has to go as far as the field of contemporary culture. Especially as it has nothing to do with research, but instead puts the product on the market, a product which is often the same and proffers the same thing as other theaters which aren’t funded. I would understand funding if it supported research or promoted modern Greek plays. What’s actually happening is that some money is being put toward our famous contemporary culture for electoral purposes. This flowering of teams and companies, is it good or can it cause misunderstandings? It always existed, in a different fashion. It used to be said that the smaller your audience, the more artistic your production was. Something similar is happening now with the small theaters. The small theater is a clever business strategy. The theatergoing public was once 100,000 people. Now, it’s only 15,000-16,000. I don’t mean the people who go to the theater two or three times a year. So, the number of consumers has fallen. The theater reacted in two ways: by raising the price of tickets and by creating smaller theaters. They realized that most people go out on the weekends. If they couldn’t find tickets for those days, this would act as a promotion for the weekdays. What differences have you seen in the theater in the decades since you started in 1977? I didn’t understand much in the 1970s. I was young, and even though your memory might be good, your judgment isn’t. Perhaps in the first decade things were revolutionary, with the political dissension and change that came with the fall of the junta. All our decisions were defined by that event, with the feeling that anything could be said. In the second decade, the 1980s, some people became aware that they could work with a more serious repertoire. Everyone thought they could do tragedy or Shakespeare. Suddenly, we saw popular actors, even stars, seeing the commercial value in plays that they had never seen before – this sense that we can all do everything. This was guided by the political situation. I mean the thinking that drew many people to the PASOK party. I’m not saying this is good or bad, I’m simply recording the changes. In the 1990s came the attack. The one [that came] from the mistranslation of postmodernism, that everything is relative, everything is allowed. In theatrical practice now, each signifier on the stage doesn’t have to mean anything. It’s just a signifier. How far is good from evil? Kazantzakis’s maxim is one of the wisest: The first stage of our initiation is to realize that good and evil are enemies. The second stage is to accept that they are collaborators and the third that they are one and the same. This is what «Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde» attempts to show. Do you know your dark sides? No one ever fully realizes their dark sides. Usually, others see them. By contrast, we think that they don’t show because we can’t see them. And when we try to bring them out into the light, we alter them. Are you suspicious of those who are brilliant at everything? The 20th century added suspicion as part of our way of thinking. There is positive and negative suspicion. What we call distrust. Positive suspicion is that things aren’t always as great as they seem. A whole philosophical movement changed the way we interpret the world. This also has its downside, leading many to the negative suspicion of seeing enemies all around them. I can’t fall into this trap. If I see a good person, that’s how I approach them. Was your double transformation tiring? Art is not about the artist having a good time. Whenever I hear about the artist’s need to have a good time, I’m distrustful. We’re not doing this work to have a good time, but for those who are watching us to have a good time. If they are enjoying it, so are we. This is our job, and it’s painful. You suffer for your talent. If you want to put your soul on the market, then you have to suffer for it. «Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde,» at the Vembo Theater, 18 Karolou, tel 210.522.9519.