A changed man, Dimitris Lignadis turns into a boy

People started talking about this production last year. In «Oscar and the Lady in Pink,» Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt’s play about a dying, 10-year-old child, Dimitris Lignadis offers an exceptional performance, and one free of melodrama, as the suffering boy. Alongside an equally moving Jenny Roussea, Lignadis is also the director of the play currently on stage at the Ilissia Theater. Besides performing and directing, the 40-year old National Theater graduate is also teaching at the National Theater’s drama department and the Theater Studies department of the Peloponnese University. How soul-destroying is it interpreting this role every night? That’s what actors do. An actor is 50 percent his role and 50 percent himself. A number of feelings come straight through us, but it’s all under control. Yet, some roles touch us more than others; that’s true. When I first read the play I thought, «OK, it’s a drama,» and there is a danger of falling into melodrama. Here’s this 10-year-old child, facing his death. As a text, the only challenge I was faced with was directorial. As I was going along, however, I realized that I was adding a lot of elements from my own experience. It’s the same with every job; we all add elements from our own lives – and this was especially true in this case. How do you go about interpreting the role of a 10-year-old? It would be a mistake to try to copy a child, the same way that it would be wrong to go for total abstraction. I’m trying to move between the two. To borrow a few codes of behavior and to signal how a child is. Naturally, in order to go down a bare acting method path you must have gone down a bare road in general. Abstraction, deconstruction and economy require wealth, equipment and experience. It seems that you have changed a lot in the last five years, even on a physical level. What happened exactly? I took a better look at myself. I woke up one morning and said to myself, «Since you’re not enjoying what you do and you’re bored with it, why do you keep on doing it?» That was five or six years ago. Of course, all of this change has to do with various events in my life, as well as a number of people who helped me in my professional path and said, «Take a look at this too.» In the end, I got off one train and hopped onto another one… Was there something specific bothering you about Dimitris Lignadis? I don’t condemn him or throw him out. I just put him away on a shelf, keeping his most lively and real elements. I didn’t appreciate the fact that I was a slave of the serious image I had built for myself. Perhaps it had to do with the way I was brought up. For example, I didn’t want to appear on stage unless I was fit. That’s how I felt. So at one point, I wanted to deconstruct myself. The earlier you do it the more natural it is, otherwise it’s occurs furiously. It’s not easy. You’re not plucking daisies; it’s self-refutation. Has your family name been a burden? Not so much the name itself, but more as a reference to what I used to do. My behavior has always reflected the way I was brought up, my father [celebrated theater man Tassos Lignadis] and my teachers. Perhaps I was trying too hard in order for them to like me. What I didn’t have was a good working relationship with myself. In the old days my name used to be a burden. I don’t deny that it was helpful, but it’s little bit like dieting: So you lose the kilos, but how do you maintain your weight? Theater is a magic fruit you have to eat with the skin and the seeds. Is that when you realized that you were interested in directing? Looking at it from a 10-year distance, I think that the bug had always been there, I just hadn’t realized it. I used to direct plays at school and later on, I was always overseeing productions I appeared in. Therefore, in order for me to become what I condemned, «the dressing room director,» fellow-actor Constantinos Markoulakis came along one day and said, «Come and direct.» Do you mind seeing young actors becoming instantly famous through television? There is room for everybody. The point is to keep yourself going. I believe young actors are better than us. They are more guilt-free, they have fewer complexes and are more intelligent. How do they relate to you as a teacher? You look like you could be a fellow student. It’s not just looking young, it’s also how I feel. Theater is a serious business and that’s why we should take a playful approach toward it. I tell them not to make the mistakes I made. Not to be too serious or lock themselves up. This generation is more relaxed, but this creates problems too. They do things without scruples, things we would never dare to do, but they don’t go deep into things. They lack cultivation and some teachers ought to bridge the gap. We can’t go on blaming television eternally. Kalomira [the Greek-American reality-show winner of «Fame Story 2»] and «Fame Story» have a role to play in our lives… A few years ago you were passionate about ancient drama. Are you still excited about it? Yes, but from a different perspective. I’m not excited about the way it’s presented these days. I see it as active material. I love it enormously, but I think that I see it more as a living organism now than I used to. What is it you don’t like about Greek drama performances today? That there’s no halfway solution between the play and something contemporary. I’m looking for a daring approach. Theater is a living entity which constantly develops. No matter how much we work on them, nothing will ever happen to Aeschylus and Sophocles. The texts will always be there. Ilissia-Volanaki Theater, 4 Papadiamantopoulou, Athens, tel 210.721.0045.