Fifty years of taking risks on stage

The is just about to clock up half a century in theater: Maya Lyberopoulou enrolled at the Theatro Technis drama school in September 1957 and began her education under the guidance of Karolos Koun and his associates, including Giorgos Lazanis, who would soon become her husband. Later on, at the age of 30 – some 12 years and 40 roles later – Lyberopoulou abandoned the Theatro Technis at its artistic peak and headed for Paris to work at the Olympic Airways ticketing department and concurrently take courses in a variety of fields of interest. Lyberopoulou returned to Greece several years later to establish herself further on the domestic drama circuit. Hard-working, serious and diligent, Lyberopoulou has always conveyed an image of the intimate yet distant figure. For her latest project, Lyberopoulou is preparing to stage her theatrical adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s «The Possessed» for the Athens Festival. An ambitious endeavor, it will be presented in two parts of three hours each, between July 22 and 31 at the Pireos 260 venue. Lyberopoulou has assembled an exceptional 22-member cast for a project «that’s worth the effort even if you lose,» as she put it. Would I be right in thinking of you, right now, as a kind of referee placed between Dostoevsky and your cast members, especially the younger ones? Yes, in many ways I am a mediator, as many of the younger actors hadn’t read Dostoevsky. But this writer is a challenge for all of us, young and old, for many reasons. For one, he is not a playwright, and we don’t have references to stagings of his works. Then, on stage, apart from the classics – ancient tragedies, Shakespeare and so on – we rarely confront such a spiritual entity. The large venue is also a challenge because the young actors have become accustomed to performing in small theaters with audiences just a breath away. The performance’s duration is also a challenge. Overall, this production is a challenge. What’s your view of the younger generations in theater, based on your work experience? Talented kids. However, here, too, is the issue raised by Dostoevsky – that of faith. It’s about the faith you have in what you do and how much of a need it is. That’s what the young ones are up against every day. The older ones, too. In an older interview of ours for Kathimerini 10 years ago, you put the number of theaters where a young actor could work and feel proud at six or seven. Are there more or less today? They’re far fewer now. As I see it, good theater – the type which, besides being good, contributes to the overall quality of Greek theater – is repertory theater. And, for many reasons, these kind of theaters have vanished – lack of appropriate venues, lack of education, not just theatrical, but fundamental, and so on. A decade ago, you had also said that theater and art in general are tending to become synonymous with entertainment. How about today? Look, if we judge by television, it’s not merely entertainment but has gone on to become a huge grapevine. And this has consequences on the viewer. Is there something in our society that scares you? Many things scare me. I fear the lack of human respect. There’s something inhuman about things today, dare I say savage. And this creates a situation of intense conflict for art, because art deals with the spiritual and other deeper needs. What troubled you most in making Dostoevsky’s novel into a play? That was the least of my troubles. What’s still troubling me is trying to make it convincing at the rehearsals. In other words, making the idea a reality. I asked because you’ve been working on it for five years. Not continuously. I’ve worked on it periodically, when there was time left over after work. And, having taken into consideration Greek reality, I never imagined that it would ever get staged. I don’t think it stood a chance if it weren’t for the radical change brought about at the Athens Festival by Giorgos Loukos. It would have remained a personal exercise of mine, or workshop material for young actors. Why did you choose «The Possessed»? We’re living in an era of disarray which is reflected in the abyss that preoccupied Dostoevsky throughout his entire body of work. Especially in «The Possessed.» It’s a novel that addresses us, from back then – its weight, dizzying speed, agitated atmosphere, disorder, what people end up doing with ideas… because the ideas aren’t to blame, it’s the people. Six hours over two parts. Isn’t that a bit too long? No, because I’m obliged to be respectful of the novel, which the audience isn’t obliged to know. But you’ve complained about the lack of time in preparing? I would have wanted more rehearsal time on the actual stage, which we get just four days earlier. Apart from that, I know that even if we had three years of rehearsals, Dostoevsky, like the playwrights of ancient tragedy, or Shakespeare, always transcend us. In theater, there are projects that are worth the effort even if you lose. Much more than the little hits. You need to take risks, not wait for conditions to ripen. Is the production spectacular, with period costumes and so on? Not at all. The stage props are plain and the costumes are just everyday attire – neither entirely contemporary nor period either. The costumes combine something intimate and distant at once. On stage, it’s basically the actor and the text. Tricks and antics won’t do with Dostoevsky. ‘I never look back’ You clock up 50 years in theater this year. Does the figure frighten you? Not really. What scares me right now is reaching the end of these performances, on July 31. In recent years, you’ve suffered many losses in your life – your mother, sister, Giorgos Lazanis… Yes, I was watching a TV show they did on me and realized that I was talking about deceased persons. Like all of us when we age… Do you feel complete with regard to your artistic course up until now? Complete? I don’t understand what this means. These days I go from feeling extremely worn out by the major efforts being made for the production to feeling very complete, for the exact same reason – because this effort is being made. I only think about this when you insist on asking. But as I’ve said before, I didn’t suffer in my life. How do you feel when you look back? I never look back. Especially when I find myself immersed in a project where even after giving maximum effort you’ve got to give that much more. This makes me function like I have another 50 years ahead of me.

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