Peter Brook goes to townships

The first thing Peter Brook did when he walked into the press conference at the Hilton Hotel last week to present his upcoming production of «Sizwe Banzi is Dead» was to pull his chair out from behind the long table at the end of the room and place it before the audience. «I want to be close, like a group of friends,» he said. The eminent director is in Athens to stage the play by Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona at the Ilissia Denisi Theater from June 1-4 as a guest of the Attica Cultural Society and the Opening Nights film festival. Even though his move did warm the atmosphere at the Thaleia Hall considerably, one of the first things Brook did was rant against the Municipality of Petroupolis, because everyone involved in last year’s production of Brook’s «Tierno Bokar» staged in Petroupolis has yet to be paid. According to the Attica Cultural Society, «according to our contracts, we were supposed to get paid by late October and the size of the debt is 70,000 euros. All we have is promises.» Brook had a lot to say on the subject as well. «I have worked in theater for over 50 years and this is a first for me. It is scandalous to be invited to play in a city, and very warmly I might add, and then be left without pay. I am shocked. The people who worked on this production have not been paid. You have a fantastic tradition in tragedy in Greece – but also a tragicomic one: a socialist mayor who does not pay the workers.» As far as this year’s production is concerned, Brook began by talking about the age-old humanistic traditions of South Africa and about Johannesburg, a city that resembles New York or Chicago in almost everything except one major difference: the ghettos that surround it, the Apartheid-era townships. «The white minority made theater impossible for the black population,» said Brook. «For the Africans, theater was a form of communication between people: with movements of the body, gestures, sounds. That is how township theater was born. This particular play is the story of a man whose entire identity and survival depends on one piece of paper: the pass the Apartheid authorities forced him to carry. Today, millions of people around the world face a similar situation.» Brook also commented on the society the play examines. «South Africans, even in their most horrendous moments, laugh. And as I said, theater is not just tragedy, it is also comedy. What does this mean? That the truth is always well hidden under the surface of things. And the truth is composed of all the contradictions in life. That is why I detest politics; because it is the art of lying.» At the same time though, in an age of intense political tension such as ours, Brook stated that «saying you are apolitical is also a lie.» «Sizwe Banzi is Dead» was first performed in 1972, four years before the Sharpeville massacre and eight years after Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. It was not written but improvised by Fugard with actors John Kani and Winston Ntshona. More than 30 years later it is still performed around the world. At the Ilissia Denisi Theater, 4 Papadiamantopoulou. Reservations can be made on tel 210.723.4567, 210.721.6317 and 210.721.0045.