Fired-up ‘Persians’ examines violence in the world today

Following 20 years of virtually uninterrupted touring around all five continents, stage director Theodoros Terzopoulos and his theater company Attis, which he founded in 1986, have generated greater fame abroad than at home. Focused mostly on ancient drama, Terzopoulos’s group has established international clout for its remarkable quality, as is highlighted by a new German book release on the «Terzopoulos Method,» taught at about 30 drama schools around the world. Forthcoming editions include releases in Italian, Russian and Spanish. Prior to that, though, Terzopoulos’s version of «The Persians» by Aeschylus, a Greek-Turkish production featuring actors from both countries, will open this summer’s Epidaurus Festival. The production also launched last month’s International Theater Festival of Istanbul. Performed bilingually, it would seemingly make total sense to very few. Body language, however, a prime factor in Terzopoulos’s work, overcomes the barriers. «The Persians» was one of the first Attis Theater productions. How does the latest version differ? In the previous one, those who lamented the army’s defeat in Greece were Persians, people of the palace. Therefore, their stage behavior and body language was appropriately more formal and rigid. Now… I was driven toward another approach after researching and asking experts. It is not the dignitaries that lament the catastrophe, but dirge-singers, something like mourners of various ethnic backgrounds from the empire. The current production draws elements from the modern world, the wars of our era, which is why it’s not as ceremonial as the previous production. On the contrary, the lamenting, at times, leads to acute, raging behavior. The 14 young male actors in the play wanted this. Today’s young people are different. They feel a deep anger about global affairs today. In the end, especially, as we saw in Istanbul, they escalate to a feverish pitch, throw themselves around, suffer… Yes, they hurt, they torment themselves, as is the case in many regions of India, or during Kurdish celebrations, and in other parts of the East, where there’s self-inflicted whipping. After all, in the text itself, Xerxes calls for explosive frenzy, he tells them to «rip your skin, tear out your hair.» He doesn’t call for mourning. Mourning follows the frenzy, the extreme state of stimulation, the annihilation of the body. And that’s what the actors do, to offer, more effectively, the horror of war, and, on a more general level, contemporary violence, which has also spilled over into relationships, judging by what I hear from youngsters. Why did you want to use both Greek and Turkish actors? For this specific tragedy, I was interested in the common point of mourning for both races. As rehearsals progressed, I would increasingly realize how similar our souls are… it’s the Turks that are closest to us, not the Italians. Weren’t you afraid of the bilingual aspect, that people wouldn’t [fully] understand? There are many ways of expressing or absorbing things in art. The recipient is able to understand and enjoy not only through psychological effect, but also through the stomach, heart, even sexual organs because the energy on stage often produces a type of eroticism. Some individuals are interested in understanding the story and being touched by the words, others want to be moved by body language, to experience stimulation of feelings and instinct and feel new things from parts not understood… And I believe that in our era, where art and theater are too dogmatic and life is too confined, if we stimulate feelings and instinct, then we start creating our own stories as recipients, in other words, our dreams. And I find that to be very interesting. Has it helped you create your own dreams? Of course, both in art and in life. Because I haven’t entered any norms of justification, either personal, social, or emotional… You say this despite the international recognition of your work? That doesn’t comfort me. On the contrary, I look back, as [Samuel] Beckett says, I look inside and, many times, minimalize or nullify things… I don’t, for example, practice public relations. I’ve repeatedly turned down proposals to run state theaters or festivals. Why? I don’t need that sort of involvement in power’s structures… Do you plan to continue working as you have done until now? How? I’m approaching 60. I’m running out of options…

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