CULTURE

Pioneering theater in danger

Crisis has finally struck the Notos Theater Company, or the Amore, as it is best known from the name of the premises where the company has been based over the past 17 years. The crisis, in fact, is a double one. Hot on the heels of the departure of its founder, Yiannis Houvardas, who relocated to the National Theater, the Notos theater company now faces the threat of eviction. The property’s owner, Tassos Papandreou, has his own plans for the premises. The eviction threat further burdens the task of stage director Thomas Moschopoulos, who has replaced Houvardas at the endangered theater’s helm. No ordinary theater, the Amore has been a pioneering force on the domestic circuit over the past 15 years. Its intriguing activity helped rejuvenate the interest of theatergoers and also drew younger audiences. In turn, the Amore theater’s degree of success prompted other Athenian venues to imitate its ways. «When I began, I wanted the Notos theater company to be entirely different to the star-oriented theaters that had existed until then,» Houvardas has said. «I wanted a pluralistic venue, with repertoires and artists of various trends, a venture that would continuously strive to bring forth new ways.» The objective was achieved. The Amore Theater went on to establish a school of thought that produced a string of quality actors such as Anna Mascha, Akylas Karazisis, Argyris Xafis, Maria Skoula, Nikos Hatzopoulos, Yannis Dalianis, and Costas Berikopoulos, as well as stage directors, set designers, and playwrights. This is the venue that brought back contemporary – often cutting-edge – plays from abroad. The initiative helped spark domestic artistic activity, while also forging a new operational model for Greek theaters. Houvardas retained responsibility for whatever the theater presented, but was supported by a team of very capable assistants, especially Moschopoulos, his deputy in recent years. The theater’s period with Houvardas is now over, but, of even greater concern, the venue is now threatened with closure. This venue was never just a one-man show. A solid number of worthy artists continue to maintain ties with the Amore Theater, and they have proved that they can not only keep this fertile theater alive, but may also revive it. «The matter is now yet over – we’re expecting a reply from Mr Papandreou [the property’s owner], and this will probably take us through to the end of this year,» said Moschopoulos. «But I’ve already organized my thoughts with regard to two possible scenarios – either the Notos theater company remaining at the Amore and continuing, or closing down,» he continued. Moschopoulos said he would not consider continuing at a new address. «I don’t think that the Notos theater company can continue as is elsewhere. That would demand a complete change of course. And the reconstruction this would entail would be enormous. The weight you need to carry in such a situation is far greater than what I could possibly bear, at least right now,» contended Moschopoulos. «The responsibility I’ve already assumed is big enough as it is. I don’t know if I could handle taking on the extra burden of relocating…» Considering the theater company’s schedule, this may not be an easy thing to do. Upcoming projects, following «Metamorphoses +,» a current production based on Roman writer Ovid’s «The Metamorphoses,» include a Manolis Kalomiris opera, «O Protomastoras» (The Masterbuilder) next spring at the National Opera, Athens Concert Hall, as well as in Beijing. A production for the Athens Festival next summer is also in the pipeline. There is little that has not been staged in this day and age. Even so, the Notos theater company’s latest project, «Metamorphoses +,» does come as a surprise. It was written in dactylic hexameter, the meter of Homer’s epics. The Notos theater company’s rendition, directed by Moschopoulos, features an impressive cast. «Ovid and ‘The Metamorphoses’ share a strong bond with Greek antiquity and its myths, and an even bigger one with the Renaissance,» noted Moschopoulos. «Reading the 15 books of ‘The Metamorphoses’ often gives you the impression that you’re hearing Shakespeare’s monologues. It is not strange because we’re talking about a work that, over centuries, influenced virtually all the arts.» Moschopoulos described the Notos theater company’s approach to Ovid’s classic as loose and improvised. «We all went way beyond. We created another play, all together at rehearsals… We started off by creating 10 recognizable characters – everyday people whose conceptions were based on our experiences and observations. And we asked ourselves, ‘What are today’s myths of metamorphosis?’ It’s all about a person who was one way and then turned into somebody else. We say things like ‘You’re no longer the person you were,’ or ‘Power (or success) changed him.’ We created the project’s 10 characters based on such thoughts. In other words, we created meetings between such fictional and real characters and from all this a play gradually emerged, as a collective effort, during rehearsals.»