Love’s labor’s lost? Actor on state of the Greek stage

“I couldn’t speak English, I wasn’t wealthy, I didn’t know anyone in New York. Still, I went and sat exams at the Actors Studio. After a gruelling process, I became a life member, began to direct performances, performed on Broadway, and today teach directing and acting.» Andreas Manolikakis appears surprised today by what he has managed to achieve, starting out from the Karolos Koun drama school and ending up as a professor and life member of the famous studio opened by Elia Kazan in 1947, from which some of the world’s biggest cinema stars have graduated. And just to think that it all started one afternoon in 1972 when, ball in hand, he walked up a steep road in Aghia Paraskevi with his brother, who asked him, «What do you want to be when you grow up?» His brother started suggesting various professions to him, «finally proposing that I become an actor and go and study at the Actors Studio. He mentioned names such as Marlon Brando and James Dean, which meant something to me, and so I decided to become an actor.» Lambs to the slaughter This summer, just as in the previous eight, Andreas Manolikakis taught acting to actors and drama school students in Athens and Paris. Kathimerini caught up with him in Aghia Paraskevi a little before his departure for the French capital. Is teaching so precious to you, even more than acting and directing, that it even takes up your vacations? The spiritual and mental interaction with my students is of great importance to me. I get upset each time a class ends, I feel as though I am losing people dear to me. My emotions are very strong. Given your joy in teaching, I imagine that you must be a very popular professor. Are you flexible as well? Not at all. In my classes we have yellow and red cards. I demand discipline and hard work. The teacher must be the leader, without, of course, becoming a dictator. I am strict and even throw students out, although so far this has happened only in the directors’ class. I never have with the actors. Why the distinction? Because the actor is the passenger and the director the driver. I don’t have the right to produce dangerous drivers! I know that in the directors’ section I’m giving baby-sitting lessons. The actors are the babies! Talking of babies, what do you make of the young Greek actors that you have met in your seminars? There is a lot of good material, many talented people. The real problem, however, is that the proper training doesn’t exist. The young actors, even though talented, lack a method by which to approach their roles and acting in general. You mean the talent is there, but there is a lack of teachers in the theater? The problem is much deeper, I believe. Greek theater has no protection. Anyone can claim that they are an actor, a producer, etc. Truth be told, I don’t believe that the profession of actor exists in Greece. It’s more of a hobby, a sport. There are no regulations and laws, and it’s surprising that the ministers of culture and labor haven’t stepped in to do anything about this field, where 80 percent of actors don’t get paid for the two-three months of rehearsals or maybe get paid a year later. Television operates like a slave market. The picture you describe is very harsh and pessimistic. Unfortunately, that’s the way it is. And do you know who is most to blame for this situation? The lead actors. Every year, the dozens of drama schools produce armies of new actors, who are led like lambs to the slaughter in this thing we call Greek theater. The few lead actors will use them, most likely for a pittance, and then move on to the next lambs. Two or three will make it, and the rest will be sacrificed on the altar of the lead actors’ interests. The 300 Athenian theaters – a figure of which many are stupidly proud – work with slaves and amateurs. Insulting the audience What do you feel about Greek theater today? Good works are few in number. If training and work conditions don’t improve, then we will never have decent theater. The standard of acting and production is nothing like that of London or New York. Most times when I follow Greek theater, I am saddened. Productions open with a low-budget attitude. Once the premiere is over, the on-stage wisecracks begin, the actors joke with each other during the performance. They forget that when the audience comes to see you they are honoring you, they are paying for you and you can’t insult them in this way. The public, however, bears some responsibility for permitting such phenomena. The instinct of the public is to be initiated into something good. From the moment that they are fed rubbish, what are they to do? They end up happy to eat rubbish. Everyone is responsible: actors, directors, writers, producers, critics, the actors’ union, and the State, which is not taking action against the rot. Open-handed city Hearing you now, I wonder if you are considering returning permanently to Greece. Each year I think that this will be my last in New York. I want to come and work in Greece, (and would) if the conditions were good. I want to create my own acting and directing research center, where productions would also be staged. You saw the attack on the Twin Towers from your window in New York, as you were drinking your morning coffee. Were you frightened? Didn’t you think that the time had come to return to Greece? Of course I was frightened. And everyone in New York is still frightened. I wouldn’t leave under those conditions though, because I would feel that I was betraying the city that had given me everything. Each year it gives me even more, and all with an open hand. For me New York has been a just city, a city which has rewarded me for my efforts. Actor-politicians What do you make of the Greek actors who enter politics? This is the decline of politics and not the rise of the actor. A big name on television and the stage can’t sit in Parliament just because the masses know who they are and vote for them. And while we’re on the subject, since there are so many actor-deputies, why hasn’t the actors’ work situation been solved yet? Should the minister of culture come from the art world? They should have a good knowledge of the issues but not have any ties or interests.