Alternative ideas for the theater by theatrical group in Thessaloniki

They had the freshness of youth, the eagerness to create, and the stamina for hard work; and they were bold enough to be able to experiment with different theatrical suggestions that aimed at quality results instead of financial success. That is why when Thomas Velissaris, Ioanna Katsarou, Theano Amiridou and Nikos Ortetzatos founded their own theater company, Theatro Technis Aktis Aeliou, in October 2000, they knew it was a big challenge. They took a risk, both financially and professionally, but they were determined to perform even if the audience consisted of just one person. There were indeed some nights, in the beginning, when there were no more than five spectators at the basement of 15 Christodoulou Street. After the first show in April 2000, however, the group, which by then was working well as a team and producing quality work, established its presence and became a fresh breeze in the otherwise bleak theatrical environment of Thessaloniki. The four young actors’ decision to present an alternative approach to theater was welcomed not only by the Thessaloniki audience, but by the State as well, three years on: This year, Aktis Aeliou received a distinction as one of the three theater companies not based in Athens for its new and highly interesting innovations. The other two companies to receive a distinction were Mnimi, in Hania (Crete), and the theater company Polis, in Syros. Aktis Aeliou also received the sum of 30,000 euros for 2003-04 from the Committee of Theatrical Sponsorship of the Ministry of Culture. When asked whether this could be described as their year, they remained down-to-earth and replied that it was just another year and another bet. They are currently ensconced in their newly painted basement theater, getting ready for the winter shows. Far from making them ecstatic, the distinctions they received instead weigh on them, because they have to meet the demands of being founding members, actors and directors at the same time. They also have to get involved with other theater groups in order to fund their company. It was a difficult task from the very beginning. The idea first occurred to them in 1999, upon finishing the State Theater of Northern Greece school, but they only brought it to life after taking a shot at state and free theaters in Athens and Thessaloniki. They then decided to join forces and create their own troupe. «There is a gap in theater education. We selected Thessaloniki because we thought there were more possibilities here. We realized that there is room for alternative theatrical suggestions that can attract a different kind of audience and not necessarily a new audience. And we dared to do it despite the cost.» With little money in their pockets, a lot of hard work, with sponsorships and the decisive help of technician Makis Mariadis, who literally set up the theater (such as the lights and the stage), they staged their first show, Pierre Marivaux’s «The Island of Slaves.» Their only purpose was to convince their teacher Nikos Sakalidis that they could work as a team. One of the elements of their «new theatrical suggestion,» apart from the selection of plays and their way of handling the text, is their relationship with theater itself. «In a play, one must view the plot with as much theatrical clarity as possible. We are trying to create theater for many, but also for each one separately. From that perspective, even a difficult play can be accessible to the wider public,» they explained. The artistic presence of theater, as indicated by the plays they choose to perform which are both Greek and foreign, remains their first priority. «During our first year, we appeared to deal with classical plays of different kinds of theater. In reality, the way we approached every play was different. We want the preparation of every play to function as a workshop, a sort of study of our acting abilities so that we can attain a more demanding repertoire.» Although the plays they staged during the first year had similar plots and almost identical heroes, they belonged to different genres and therefore the repertoire appeared not to have a main link. The productions were Kafka’s «Metamorphosis,» «Alexandria-Athens» (a performance based on poetry and prose by Costis Palamas and C.P. Cavafy) and «Ubu Roi,» a compilation of two texts by Alfred Jarry and Petros Markaris. «Yet these productions are all linked by the theme of power. The plays they first selected were clearly political, in a complex way,» explained director and colleague Nikos Sakalidis. The group started out focusing on bodily movement and has now moved on to concentrate on the spoken word. That will be their aim in this year’s productions, which will be an autobiographical work by Thomas Bernhard, directed by Ioanna Katsarou, Tennessee Williams’s «Suddenly Last Summer,» translated and directed by Nikos Sakalidis, and Dimitris Dimitriadis’s «Procedures of Settling Differences,» also directed by Sakalidis. It is now three years since the group was founded and they have just received their first funding. Before starting repeat performances of «Ubu Roi,» they renovated the theater, built a smaller stage and set their goals once more, renewing the contract for the group’s future. As they said, «What matters is to resist time.»