Theater as a ‘substitute’ for life

He now has a clear understanding that «life lies somewhere else» beyond the theater, and that his work in the theater is a «substitute for things I couldn’t have» in his life. And he confesses that «people who see the theater as a job and separate it from the rest of their lives are far more balanced» – that is, all those who «do not confuse the two.» Yiannis Houvardas is one of the few people in Greek theater who do not present themselves as different from what they actually are. He talks directly about his «lack of a life» and does not hide his skepticism of the theater, his declining interest in the stage, and his slackening faith in it as the years go by. Without being able to help it, however, he is one of those who confuse life and theater, and so the production which he staged recently at the Amore Theater «concerns» him greatly. It speaks of time passing by, of sexual desire and dissatisfaction, of the fear of getting older, of death and illness – that is, all those things that are of great concern generally, not just for men or for older people. This is the play «The House of the Sleeping Beauties,» based on the novella of the same title by Yasunari Kawabata (1899-1972), winner of the Nobel Prize in literature in 1968. In an isolated house somewhere above the sea there is a peculiar brothel, run by a woman. The visitors are men suffering from sexual dissatisfaction, and they go there just to sleep next to the young girls who have been drugged. When one old man visits the house, he goes on a «journey» of thoughts and memories relating to his weakened sexuality («the first death»), age, the women of his life, his fear of death… How faithful is the production to Kawabata’s work? It follows the novella to a great extent, but it also provided an opportunity to create something else, independently. We worked for a month with the actors on their relevant experiences, many of which passed indirectly into the play. Giorgos Despotas, the translator, and I wrote the texts that are not in the novella during the rehearsals. Ultimately, the play follows a middle path, not entirely based on the novella, nor entirely on the actors’ experiences. There is not just one visitor to the house, but eight – men of different ages, from 25 to 70, because such problems of sexuality, time and decline are not just faced by old men. (The men are played by Pericles Albanis, Dimitris Asteriades, Ieronymous Kaletsanos, Akyllas Karazisis, Argyris Xafis, Manos Stalakis, Cosmas Foundoukis and Nikos Hadzopoulos). The drugged girls are the play’s second focus (Alexia Kaltsiki, Marilita Lambropoulou, Mary Lucy, Gogo Bremou, Ioanna Pappa, Amanda Piperaki). The third focus is that of the woman who manages the brothel (Maria Kehayioglou), who here takes on a multifaceted personality. She guides the men, controls them, and consoles them. She is their mother, sister, nurse. The house (sets and costumes designed by Lily Pezanou and lighting by Lefteris Pavlopoulos) is not so much a brothel as a gym, a hermitage in some ways where everything happens with lots of music and song (selected by Nikos Platanos). Theatrical hive This is the play which Yiannis Houvardas is directing this year with the 10-year-old Notos theater company, which, though he founded it, he has never envisioned as a vehicle for his own personal promotion. He strove, and succeeded, to make it a hive of theatrical work, where unstaged works both classical and modern were staged, and where a plethora of young actors, directors, and writers exercised their trade. Did you imagine when you started it that the Notos theater company would evolve in such a way? Yes, I imagined it somewhat like this. It’s an open space, pluralistic, where there are lots of trends, with quality. What I didn’t imagine, however, is what’s happening now. A collectivity at management level, which I share with Thomas Moschopoulos, but also the formation of its artistic direction, where a stable, core group of actors, an ensemble which we’re shaping now, will have a say in things. Haven’t your many managerial and financial responsibilities denied you the opportunity to focus more on your work as a director? Yes, in the first few years mainly, when we didn’t yet have much state financing and I was responsible for everything. But it’s not like that anymore. I’ve been fortunate enough to find some colleagues upon whom I can depend a great deal. I’m talking mainly in terms of management. Now I can leave for three months for directing work abroad! They relieve me of a lot. Even if it was a long time ago that I decided to direct only one play a season. Truth be told, as the years go by you don’t have so much to say anymore… Why do we not see more interest on your part toward participating in the Epidaurus Festival, the Athens Festival or the Cultural Olympiad? The truth is that I have somewhat removed myself from all this situation being created in light of 2004. Even so, we submitted two proposals, one for the festival, the other for the Cultural Olympiad. We have had positive initial responses – and that’s where things have remained. I don’t see much happening, and these things need time and the right preconditions in order to happen as they should. Lack of a life You may be satisfied by the direction your theater has taken, but is there, perhaps, a dissatisfaction from some unrealized goal or desire? There is a lack, but it’s not artistic. It’s the lack of a life. Theater for me is a substitute for other things that I can’t have. Family, for example? Is the Notos theater company a cause or a result of the fact that you remain a bachelor? No, it’s not the cause, not at all! If at some point I threw myself into things and disappeared, then the theater is not to blame. On the contrary, it’s a substitute, a consolation. Just as art is in general. Because things weren’t going right for me in my private life, I found a refuge in the theater. After 28 years in the theater, have your love and faith in it decreased or increased? I’d like to be able to say the opposite, but, to be honest, it’s decreased. Along with my faith, my desire, my tolerance. As you grow older, you see that life lies somewhere else. Even so, I have had moments in the theater which can’t be replaced by anything. The theater for me has been a field where I could be free to do things which I would never have been permitted to do in my life – or that I wasn’t capable of doing. Is it true that our character and life «fades away» on our face and in the character of our work? This is debatable. Sometimes you might not be able to see it with a first glance, but if you search a little… It’s a mirror for perceptive «readers.» «The House of the Sleeping Beauties,» at the Amore Theater, 10 Prigiponison, Polygono, tel 010.646.8009.

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