Peter Stein prepares ‘Electra’

Peter Stein, the celebrated German director, invited Kathimerini to his estate at San Pancrazio in Umbria, Italy, where he is conducting rehearsals with the Greek National Theater for a production of «Electra» that will be staged at the Ancient Theater of Epidaurus on August 10 and 11. Sophocles, according to his anonymous biographer, was well educated and prosperously raised. What was your own childhood like? With many ups and downs. I was born in 1937, to a wealthy family – my father owned a motorcycle factory – but then the war came, the bombardments, the surrender. I lived through it all: the prewar prosperity and the hunger after the defeat. During the first, hard, postwar years my father hoped that I would follow in his footsteps as a mechanic. But I chose the theater, to get away, even though as a child I had learned a lot by his side. I remember spending my free time putting bikes together. But I don’t like being compared to Sophocles in any way. He was a genius and I am nothing more than an insignificant man of the theater. At home in Europe When did you first travel abroad? Basically when I was 16 years old. I went to England to learn the language. I stayed with the family of a professor. Every afternoon friends and relatives of theirs would come by to stare at «the Hun,» the German barbarian, as they called us. They looked at me as if I were some strange animal. «You killed 6 million Jews!» they would say. «My father, yes, he was a part of it, but I was not,» I answered. «I was just 3 years old when the war started.» I learned English well because I had to defend myself against such attacks. When did your «special relationship» with Italy begin? When I was 17, I came here to attend art history lessons. Ever since, I have spent at least one month a year here. Eighty-five percent of the world’s cultural heritage belongs here and not in Greece, as most Greeks like to believe. Greek civilization ended with Pericles. Do you feel that Italy is now your home, especially as you are married to an Italian (actress Maddalena Crippa)? No; I feel more like a guest. Where do you feel most at home? Nowhere in particular and everywhere in Europe. Certainly not at all in Asia and America. It is like they don’t even exist for me. Why did you chose to live in San Pancrazio? I never owned any property until the age of 50. With the money I inherited from my father I bought a flat in Rome. Five years later I found myself in Umbria and it took me less than half an hour to decide to buy this property. When did you first go to Greece? It really was a very traumatic experience! You know, my father had quite a lot of money, but he didn’t like to share it; not even with his children. Even as a student I had to work through every summer. I didn’t know what the word «holiday» meant. «Holidays from what?» my father would say. «Why does a young person need holidays?» So, when I was 20 years old, a student of archaeology and history of art, I got a job at a big travel agency, Studiosos Reisen, and they sent me to Greece as a tour guide. But I was very young and extremely shy. I would blush to the roots of my hair every time I had to speak. I stuttered! Just imagine! What makes an actor really stand out? A great actor is one that walks out onto the stage and commands the audience’s attention without even opening his mouth. I also find it a great advantage for an actor to have a profound knowledge of the language he is speaking. To develop a strong, passionate relationship with the plays he’s in. This way he can make his own a text written by someone else. This is how an actor differs from a clown. All about the play What about a director? It depends on how you understand theater. To me theater is, above all else, about the text. But I’m feeling increasingly alone in this point of view. Most of my colleagues see it as a way of expressing themselves, venting their inhibitions. I see it as a means through which I can convey to the audience the message of a great play. Do you read new plays? Almost none. Plays written today are less dramatic and theatrical than those written in antiquity. Maybe because our very lives are lacking any theatrical interest after the way they were organized following the Second World War. They are so dull. People believe that the ideal way to live is to have less to worry about. And it all starts with television. We watch reports about hundreds of dead in conflicts in the Middle East, for example, while eating spaghetti on the couch. And we feel nothing. We are flat and this is a disaster for the theater. What do you find interesting about «Electra»? The way she changes. How a poor girl who has suffered so much becomes a bloodthirsty animal. «Kill her, kill her!» she shouts to Orestes. And she’s talking about her mother.

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