The importance of being talented

For the 35th anniversary of the Stoa Theater, directors Vassilis Papageorgiou and Lyda Protopsalti will be leaving the theater’s Zografou home to celebrate, by creating openings at other theater spaces. They are still using their home base to stage Luigi Pirandello’s «The Pleasures of Honesty,» but at the Porta Theater on Mesogeion Avenue, Papageorgiou is putting on Yiannis Tsiros’s «Unshaven Chins,» which made something of a splash at last year’s Culture Ministry competition for young playwrights. This is the director’s second attempt at a co-production, following Bost’s «Medea,» which he is doing with Ieroklis Michailidis, who also stars in the play alongside Gerasimos Skiadaresis and Odysseas Papaspiliotopoulos. Papageorgiou is already finding all this activity a bit too much to shoulder, especially as he is also in charge of the Athens Conservatory Drama School. What has taken you away from Zografou? I liked the play and we couldn’t stage it at Stoa, so we finally did it at Porta. It is a very interesting work. It is rare for a playwright to exercise such a critique of men’s sexual behavior. How would you describe the mood at the Stoa Theater after 35 years? Things are quite difficult because we have to adapt and move along the lines set by people who are much younger than us. Out of step Is that so hard? It is, when you discover that you don’t even speak the same language. Beyond that, we don’t really know how to go about advertising a piece of work. We don’t know the way. It’s often quite chilling because relations with the printed media and television were never the way they are now. What has changed in these relationships? We never knew how much television series could affect your choice of cast. Nowadays you have to know. You talk about a project and people will ask you: «So, who are you casting from TV?» It’s quite a serious issue. In the past we used to cast actors according to talent. Today actors are asked to join a company depending on how popular they are and what else they are working on this season. They get into the mindset that if they are doing something with, say, Mega Channel or Antenna, then they’ll also have the station’s support. This is all pretty sick and has nothing to do with art and creativity. What are the consequences of this? Today Stoa belongs to a small group of theaters that stand out as being different. We are appreciated, but nonetheless the audience always thinks of us as something on the side. Theater in Greece seems to be quite trend conscious, focusing on the work of specific playwrights for one season, doing TV-style work at others. How do you feel about all this? You have forgotten to mention the trend to show sex scenes, or to serve food on the stage; that one hasn’t really gone out of fashion yet. All this used to be unknown in the theater. An idea that becomes a text, improvisation, this is always done in drama schools because it helps develop the imagination. Of course, all of this we had to see at some point and consider it. What do you look for in the people you work with? That they can act well. We also make sure we have good dressing rooms and in this respect the Stoa Theater has always been lucky because it has a very good back-stage area. A matter of depth How about plays? Do you find good Greek plays? There are always good plays, but they are few and far between. When something good catches our eye we like to promote it. Like the play by Yiannis Tsiros. The fact that a lot of plays are being written means nothing. The same applies to theater companies. Just because they have 150 members does not translate into quality. It also doesn’t mean that Greeks suddenly became theater fanatics and spend every day in the theater. I can’t say that I’m impressed by the fact that so many plays are being staged. You can make a play out of a magazine cover nowadays. Do you think the problem lies with the subject matter of the plays? We directors may number 60-70, but very few can take a play and turn it into a performance. It takes knowledge, love, experience and will. Can a 25-year-old become a director and stage Chekhov? You can just imagine what happens next. They pick up any old play and pull it apart. Ninety percent of contemporary Greek plays have a television series structure; a string of skits, short scenes that are reminiscent of old Greek films. You get some nice conflicts, but they are not very profound. The 1970s and ’80s produced some good plays, but they eventually became a bit tedious. How would you describe plays today? Back then there was some profundity. Nowadays it is rare. «Unshaven Chins» is one of the few. The language is very good – a rarity – and takes an interesting viewpoint. The writer examines the way men perceive women in a very interesting manner.

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