CULTURE

Director gets back to his roots

At a time when the theater scene in Athens is overflowing with dozens of theater groups, stages and warehouses that have been transformed into theatrical establishments, actor and director Michalis Virvidakis dared to do what few others would: He moved his theater company Mnimi, founded 12 years ago, from Athens to the city of Hania in Crete. He opened the Kidonia Theater at 12 Ipsilandou St in Hania and continued his work there. He did not opt for the easy solution of using people already established in Athens but decided to work with local talent. His experiment has paid off, what with David Mamet’s «Oleanna» and Samuel Beckett’s «Endgame,» the spring runs of which have only just ended and are scheduled to start again on October 24 and will run to the end of the year. August Strindberg’s «Creditors» will be the next production. «This was not a step back for me,» explained Virvidakis, who is also an established playwright himself after writing «Stin Ethniki me ta Megala.» «I come from Hania and my ties to this city are strong. My career has come full circle, in a way, so I decided to move Mnimi to Crete. I have not left Athens for good, but instead of creating a theater in Athens, which would just be one among the many, I wanted to try my luck in the countryside.» Once in Hania, he became involved with children who wanted to learn about the theater. As a teacher at the Workshop of Theater Education and Acting, he gleaned the most promising students to form a theater troupe. «The first experiment took place with Harold Pinter’s ‘Lover’ about two years ago. The show was so successful that it kept running beyond the initial scheduled dates; each time we gave the last performances more people would show up. So I decided to build my own theater in Hania, on a 12-year contract.» That was how the 50-seat Kidonia Theater was constructed, which is equivalent to a small regional theater in Athens. The entire undertaking was a risk, yet according to Virvidakis «it was worth it,» mostly because under these circumstances one does not come across an audience with clearly defined views of theater, as is the case in Athens, but one has the ability to shape the audience instead. It is needless to point out that Athens still seems very appealing to all artists. «At the beginning of my career, when I was 25-35 years old, I would not have dared to embark on such a project. Now, at the age of 50, I have completed a full circle and I feel I can rely on my own powers.» Virvidakis’s career began in 1981, once he graduated from the Katselis Theater School. Moreover, he has not cut off all ties with the capital. «I come to Athens, I get all the information I need, I see friends and acquaintances and then I leave again,» he said. The goals of Mnimi have not changed. Since its foundation in 1991, it has produced works by William Butler Yeats (at the Embros Theater) and by Fernando Pesoa (at Lefteris Voyiatzis’s Odou Kykladon Theater) among others. «We want texts of quality, texts that go beyond the surface of life and can stir up emotions.» Virvidakis believes that acting is the link between all his activities (actor, director and playwright). «I studied to be an actor and everything I do stems from that. I direct as an actor and I write as an actor. I do not see this as a burden, it is a pleasure.» When he handed his text «Stin Ethniki me ta Megala» to Lefteris Voyiatzis, a work that was eventually staged at the Odou Kykladon, he was not aware that he had created an entire theatrical play. «Somebody else had to come along and tell me.» Virvidakis did not want to reveal anything about the new play he is presently composing. «I am still working on it. Besides, like the rest of us, I write because of an internal need.»