Examining theater and ritual

Thebes is one of the few cities in the world that does not need too much promotion. Its classical heritage and monuments, both architectural and literary, have earned the city powerful recognition through the texts of ancient tragedy; a rare privilege which, nevertheless, Thebes was unsure how to handle until now. The city’s postwar transformation into a colorless urban center was not advantageous either. Yet things seem to be changing and Thebes’s municipal authorities seem determined to make use of its past heritage to benefit the modern city. In this vein comes the First International Symposium of the Theban Cycle, titled «Theater and Ritual,» which is to take place on Sunday and Monday under the aegis of the Ministry of Culture. Mayor of Thebes Athanassios Skoumas spoke of turning the symposium into an institution, so that it could «develop into a cultural institution of international standing.» Meanwhile, discussions are under way with the Ministry of Culture to move forward with a large-scale urban transformation of the city, while efforts are being made for Catherine Stenou, second-in-command at the trans-cultural relations department of UNESCO (and of Greek descent), to attend the symposium. The municipal authorities of Thebes who undertook the initiative, with the backing of the society for the protection and promotion of Thebes’s antiquities «The Cadmeans,» turned to the center of classical drama at Panteion University and its director, Professor Yiagos Andreadis. Organizers are aiming for the best possible scientific coverage of the symposium, which will attract numerous academics, theater experts and artists from around the world to the Municipality of Thebes’s conference center. After talking about the weight that the Theban Cycle has even in the contemporary world – from 20th century modernism to cinema and theater – Andreadis referred to the «obvious and hidden bonds» between theater and ritual. In theater, certain stage habits, such as the ringing of the bell to signal the beginning of the performance and the actors bowing at the end, carry a ritual element; accordingly, some of the most familiar rituals, such as the anastenaria (walking on burning coals), southern Italy’s Tarantella or the whirling dervish dance, have a strong theater quality to them. «So if we try to reopen the issue of theater and its relationship with ritual, it is not because of some abstract anthropological and theatrical interest,» said Andreadis. «What we really need is a long and sustained effort to understand what these kinds of experiences mean to those of us who live, feel, think and create in modern society.» Two parallel events will accompany the symposium, the staging of Euripides’ tragedy «The Bacchae» by the Greek National Theater and the premiere of Pepi Rigopoulou’s half-hour documentary «Nobody Talked about my Soul,» about the fire-walkers in Greece and India.