Aristophanes’ comedy adapted for children by National Theater

The National Theater of Greece has not performed any comedies by Aristophanes lately at the Ancient Theater of Epidaurus, probably to give the ancient comedian a rest; yet Aristophanes has managed to creep into the National Theater’s Children’s Stage which, this year, is under the direction of Yiannis Kalantzopoulos, who has vast experience in children’s theater and was once a wonder child of Greek cinema. Kalantzopoulos’s first choice was Aristophanes’ «Birds,» which he adapted into a children’s play and renamed «The Land of Birds.» «The play is for children and smart grownups,» said a grinning Kalantzopoulos, who, apart from adapting and directing the play, also plays the leading role of Epopas. The remaining main parts, those of the two old Athenian men who go to the land of birds in order to found the ideal state, are filled by Sotiris Tzevelekos and Costas Darlassis, while Nikos Dimitratos is narrator and singer. Another 25 actors will take part in this rich production, which opens this week. «We have kept the main plot,» said Kalantzopoulos. «We want the show to give children an indication of the playwright’s style and mentality. We want them to understand that Aristophanes was a playwright who then produced what we would today call revues: He castigated and made fun of current events, through poetry. We kept some of Aristophanes’ references to events and personalities of his time, but not all. We also used his choruses and his lyricism, namely all the different aspects of his style.» «The dialogues and the choruses have been slightly summarized and rendered in words that are more familiar to children, but that was carried out without removing the essence of Aristophanes’ speech. For the same reason, we wanted to retain some of his foul-mouthed manner, so that children could get a taste of that, too; of course, it has all been adapted and is appropriate for their age.» «The Land of Birds» is a spectacular play. «But that does not affect the deeper meaning and the magic of theater. The National Theater’s Children’s Stage will demonstrate that spectacle should be limited to the needs of the play and should not deprive children of their imagination. In theater it is preferable not to see everything, but to leave certain things to the imagination.» The element of spectacle is mostly based on Anna Maherianaki’s sets and costumes: The costumes create colorful, lively, imaginary and abstract birds, while the stage, initially an uncultivated field, is transformed into a dreamy state which resembles an ideal playground once the two Athenians reach the birds. Since the set is supposed to be the land of birds, it floats between earth and sky, something that can be felt in the entire theater. The director added that the music, which was written by Dimitris Lekkas, Daniel Lommel’s choreographies, which cover about three-quarters of the show, and Nikos Kavoukidis’s lighting are very important in the performance. This being Kalantzopoulos’s first year with the National Theater, he was asked whether he was going to stay on. «I don’t go anywhere with the intention of staying on, I had also said that when I was president of the Greek Actors’ Association,» he replied. «The National Theater has both the right and the obligation to try out different ideas and tendencies, which should be renewed. While I am here, and this being my first time with the theater, I adapt, direct and play, so as to give an indication of my work, if you like, but I don’t intend to do everything by myself. On the contrary, I will call on many people for ideas, views and work. Both (National Theater director) Nikos Kourkoulos and me also dream of creating a Youth Stage at the National Theater, which will produce plays directed at teenagers. We might be able to open that stage this season, even.» «The Land of Birds» opens this Friday. For more information contact the National Theater at 210.330.5074.