A Greek-American leads a Pittsburgh theater

A highly accomplished Greek-American, Theodore (Ted) Pappas is the artistic director of one of America’s leading stages, the Pittsburgh Public Theater. Born in Florida to parents from the Dodecanese, Pappas has a handsome resume enriched by collaborations with personalities such as Anthony Quinn and Harry Belafonte. One of the highlights of his career so far was being handpicked by opera diva Beverly Sills to produce a series of productions for the Metropolitan Opera at New York’s Lincoln Center. Kathimerini caught up with the theater man in Pittsburgh. Tell us about your debut in theater. I moved to New York in 1975 at the time of the great stage directors (Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins, Harold Prince). I learned from these giants, but my first major experience was on Broadway, as an assistant to Al Pacino. I assisted him during his performances and organized his schedule. I earned a good salary and watched one of the greatest actors in the world working. That was right after «The Godfather» and the Tony Award. Cinema, however, came second. He reminded me of British actors who believe they can only renew themselves through theater. He is very well-mannered and terribly disciplined. Great actors tend to have this kind of steely discipline. But you haven’t just worked in the theater. Yes, I worked as a choreographer for «Saturday Night Live.» It was truly «live,» not taped and that meant tremendous pressure on all of us. That’s where I met Eddie Murphy and Jim Belushi. We worked really fast during rehearsals, rewriting and redirecting scenes. I still get anxious on Saturday nights, even though it’s been 20 years since I worked for the show. Your move to Pittsburgh in 2000 signaled the beginning of an important chapter in your life. I enjoy complete artistic freedom in a city with great culture. The artistic side is only part of my duties. The hardest part of my job is trying to raise money for each season’s shows. In America, we are not subsidized by the state. Every year, we must raise $7 million to cover our budget. We stage both well-known and new works, unknown as well as a number of commercial ones. We had an Andrew Lloyd-Webber play one year and the following year we used the money to produce the work of an unknown author. This is common practice for us. What are you working on these days? We just finished a successful staging of «Oedipus The King,» which I directed. We also had the world premiere of Mark Hampton and Michael Sharp’s «The Secret Letters of Jackie and Marilyn,» based on Jackie Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe. Right now we are presenting «Cabaret.» Has American theater changed in the aftermath of 9/11? In 2001, straight after 9/11, I staged «Medea.» At the time, I thought that following such a national tragedy the production would not meet with any success, yet people poured into the theater in a desperate need to be next to each other, to cry with a play full of violence and revenge, written 2,500 years ago. This is the power of art.