Hard times for Greek theater

The older generation insists that last year, Greek theater went through its worst crisis in the last 20 years. The younger generation is less categorical, though they too agree that «it was a very bad year.» And, as if this weren’t enough, the Olympic summer offered the coup de grace. A hesitant public, with little money to spend on entertainment, chose to attend sport events rather than theater performances. As for this winter season, it features a plethora of productions unfolding in theaters big and small, in garages, warehouses and bars. What is the problem with Greek theater today? The plain truth is that there are too many involved in it for all to fit: new theaters – big or small – too many actors (500 graduate from drama schools and workshops every year) as well as a number of unsuitable venues without the necessary infrastructure and prerequisites to deal with the unexpected. The great supply of productions is also an issue, given that everyone is looking for a way to differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack. «There is a fragmentation of powers. Everyone wants to run his own theater or warehouse. Last year was a bad one, indeed. Good work, however, will always stand out, even during hard times,» says Nineta Lembesi, owner and manager of the Lambeti and Veaki theaters. «There are a number of theater categories,» says Vangelis Theodoropoulos, founder of the Neos Cosmos Theater. «There are collaborations between two popular comedy actors, such as Sotiris Moustakas and Costas Voutsas, on the one hand, and let’s say seven good actors joining forces, on the other. There is a problem of fragmentation of powers, precisely because there are so many theaters. I don’t like dividing theater into quality and commercial, that’s why I insist on a division into good and bad theater.» So far, 135 theater productions have already been announced for this season – and there are more coming. Figures could very well reach last year’s total of 200 productions. The season will open with a number of established works (playing it safe perhaps?), with Shakespeare featuring prominently (no fewer than six plays), 43 productions repeated from last year and the staging of 32 Greek plays. «During the 2003-2004 season, only about 15 productions did well,» says Theodoropoulos. «There are so many theaters and companies out there, not to mention the kamikazes. This last-named group throws a performance and then disappears until they are able to come up with some kind of money. This is where the right of expression kicks in, however; no one can deny that.» Yet, according to Theodoropoulos, the root of the problem lies elsewhere. «Do you ever think about how many people enter the profession every year? It was the establishment of dozens of workshops and schools that led to this outcome. Every year we get 500 new kids entering the field – out of these only 50 can be absorbed by the system. Essentially, we are talking about an army of unemployed actors. Now, the more the actors, the more the theaters. So we have to go back to a licensing regime: Make it harder to get into the profession, because otherwise, there will be thousands of unemployed people in a few years.» And what happens to the rest? Could it be that established actors agree to less in order to join a production? «I often read interviews of well-respected actors talking about this idea of joining forces. Yet when you invite one of them to take on a supporting role, they count lines by the meter.» According to Nikos Diamantis, founder of Simeio, what is missing is a valid, new suggestion. «There seems to be a confusion about what is contemporary, new and novel. These are the kind of terms that audiences and theater people go after thirstily. They change their name, try to reinvent themselves in an attempt to reach something new. Audiences have also got used to this and, in the end, this blurred situation destroys anything substantial.» For Diamantis, there is also a problem when it comes to creativity, theater language and aesthetics. «The crisis lies deep in the heart of theater. Communication and emotion is what creates the contemporary,» he says, adding that besides the perpetual search for the modern, «there is also a deliberate distortion of ideas. It is this distortion which results in the establishment of so many theaters. Besides, we all feel that we have great ideas, that we are unique. The audience has its own share of responsibility as well: It creates a vicious circle of aesthetic demands based on what they watch on television, one which artists ultimately get caught up in.»