Making theater from scratch

Old Greek traveling theater troupes occasionally used to put on plays without a play. The performance would start with an idea or a story that would act as an outline on a canvas in which the actors would gradually paint in the story while improvising on stage. Today, we have devising theater, an experimental genre of theater that is born out of nothing. There is no canvas when rehearsals start. At the beginning there is a mere idea, a phrase, a piece of music or an observation. This serves as the troupe’s springboard and anything can happen over the course of rehearsals. It is a very risky venture, but theaters abroad have been doing it for years. Greece has only caught on to the trend in the past few years. This year, while there are several devising theater performances taking place, the genre is about to enter the formal vernacular as the National Theater is preparing its own devising theater production. The debut will be with «Stalin, a Conversation About Greek Theater,» which will be put on by Michail Marmarinos and Akyllas Karzissis later in the year at the New Stage of the National. Both are well-known heretics of the Greek stage – Marmarinos especially, who also happens to be the one to introduce devising theater to Greece. In 1997 he staged «Romance» and went on to the Thiseion Theater with performances such as «The Schliemann Factory,» «Romeo and Juliet» (nothing in common with the classic), «Public Spaces,» «2004» and his most successful, «National Anthem.» Marmarinos also teaches devising theater at university. This year’s performance is loosely based on Kafka’s «The Castle,» but was developed mostly in rehearsals. «These performances require an enormous amount of research before rehearsals can even begin,» explains Marmarinos. «You have to collect texts, conduct interviews with people based on questionnaires drawn up by the actors. Personally, what fascinates me most about this process is the literature, that trace of original writing it leaves behind.» Marmarinos explains a bit about the roots of devising theater, which was pioneered by the likes of Canada’s Robert Lepage and the British ensemble Forced Entertainment. «Important writers also emerged from devising theater,» says Marmarinos. What leads directors to experiment with this genre? «We couldn’t find a suitable piece to say what we wanted to say,» says Laertes Vassileiou about the performance «One in Ten.» «We wanted to tell stories pertaining to all of us, to all immigrant children, to paint a picture of the absurdity of daily life.» Olga Pozeli, from the Noiti Grammi theater group, says: «Devising theater gives a bigger creative role to every member of the cast and the play comes from everyone. The greatest attraction is the freedom it gives you. Another reason is that sometimes we need to talk about the little things and a third is that devising theater blends well with other art forms, such as video art, music and literature.» Charmed by all this, an increasing number of young directors are turning to the genre. «Some are good at it,» says Marmarinos. «But there is also a risk, as was the case with dance theater, of overkill. How one handles it is important.» Different approaches to a genre Other devising theater performances currently taking place are: «One in Ten» at the Theatro tou Notou, in which four sons of migrants (Laertes Vassileiou, David Malteze, Chris Radanov and Enke Fezolari) present an original play about their daily lives; «Everything I’ve Forgotten,» by the Noiti Grammi theater group at the Argo Theater, poses questions about the human condition – love, fear, the need to belong, power and television, among others; «New Order» by the blitz group at Bios can be «seen either as an interrogation or a television show, a show or an experiment, a crash test of emotions,» says the group; «Stories with an Echo» is a musical theater performance at the Victoria Theater mixing different artistic genres.