Forty years on, vim is still there

Forty long years working in the theater and Giorgos Patsas, one of the country’s most important and productive set designers, is far from giving up. He is an insatiable theater man, «as passionate today as when I first started,» he says. Patsas is also one of the few people working in the theater who will actually be seen sitting in the audience, watching plays he has not worked on. Right now, there are four productions playing in Athens whose sets he has designed, with a fifth on the way, one in Thessaloniki and another as far away as St Petersburg. The jewel in Patsas’s crown however is the recent publication of an album paying homage to his 40 years in the theater. «The Sound of Empty Space: Set Designs from 1965-2005» (Argo publications) is a beautiful 370-page tome – a true phantasmagoria – of every production Patsas has ever worked on (that’s over 400, or an average of 10 a year). The volume also has a section focusing more closely on 100 productions picked out by Patsas himself, brief notes from directors and critiques, among others. The introductory texts are written by Eleni Varopoulou and Giorgos P. Pefanis, while there are also extracts from interviews Patsas has given over the years outlining his views on the theater and art in general. The album is in Greek and English, and wonderfully illustrated. In this interview with Kathimerini, the celebrated stage designer sets down some of his observations over the years. What is that sound of the empty space, of the stage that must be filled, like? It is very poetic. A challenge for creativity. An empty stage may be filled with everything or with nothing. It is an enigma in search of a new answer each time. Is the album on your work, perhaps, the only tangible evidence of your work in something as ephemeral as the theater? It is so ephemeral that one even wonders how long the album will be around for… Are you ever bitter about the fact that you work in an art form that leaves nothing behind? No way! I think about it sometimes, but never with bitterness. Not at all. Stage design is such a vibrant art form, it has so much energy and stimulates you so directly, with all its ups and downs, that I live for it, I enjoy it and that is good enough for me. The response is also direct, live and timely. At the theater you always get immediate results. But, there’s something else too. What stays of art more generally. Very few artists survive eternity. Very few. Thinking back After reviewing the 410 projects you worked on over the years, how would you assess your overall work? I really couldn’t say. I’m a bit confused. I look at some of my older work with some pleasure. Just a few of them. That is why most of what’s in the album is from the last 15 years. I’m still not quite clear in my own mind about which ones are really valuable and which aren’t. I haven’t got the right amount of distance from them yet. What would you say are the main characteristics of your work? There are two things that interest me most: abstraction and hyperrealism – at least wherever these are possible, because in some projects this sort of thing is completely unsuitable. I don’t know if these can be seen as the basic characteristics of my work, but this is what I like and I try to implement the styles whenever possible. Is there a genre of theater that you prefer to work in? Poetic theater for sure. Whether it is ancient drama, or Shakespeare or Pinter. Do you have trouble identifying with contemporary theater? Often, no. There aren’t that many very modern works around anyway. But there are some. For example, just recently we staged Antonis Antypas’s «Seven Logical Explanations» at the Aplo Theatro, and this is a very poetic play. The writer, Leonidas Prousalidis, is very good and uses a lot of poetry to describe very mundane things. The highlights Which of your more recent projects do you remember most fondly? I really liked Sartre’s «Closed Doors,» directed by Nikaiti Kontouri in 2005 in Patras. The acting was very good and the stage design was very particular, different. In the same year, I also liked «The Bacchae,» directed by Sotiris Hadzakis for the National Theater and Pinter’s «Birthday Party» at the Aplo, directed by Antypas. It makes a huge difference to me when a project is interesting overall. I am elated to see the actors at rehearsal being wonderful and esoteric. Whether we like it or not, we must admit that there have been wonderful stage designs, and I don’t mean my own, that have disappeared into the shadows because of poor acting or other that never really got their proper dues because the overall production was substandard. Has love ever put the brakes on your pace of work? No. But I must admit that now, with this retrospective, what I didn’t stop to look at was whether my work was better when I was madly in love or not. Now you’ve made me curious. I’ll have to look. Love generally motivates my work, but I must check on the quality. Did love give me time to work on my projects, or did I just slap them together and run off? Does love affect your clarity of thought? No, I don’t think so. Whatever happens, when I’m working it’s like I’ve pushed an «off» button to everything else around me. With one click it’s just me and the work.

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