Working the stage for 25 years

Quietly and discreetly, Lefteris Vogiatzis’s Skini Theater, one of the country’s most important ensembles, celebrated its 25th birthday this year. «Hadn’t even thought about it until you mentioned it,» said the actor-director. This comes as little surprise, since his schedule has been especially packed in 2007, with a production of «Antigone» at Epidaurus followed by a starring role in Nikos Panagiotopoulos’s new film, and preparations for a production of Dostoevsky’s «A Gentle Creature,» which premiered a few days ago at the Skini Theater, taking place before another staging, of Heinrich von Kleist’s «Prinz Friedrich von Homburg» for the Greek National Theater. «It’s crazy,» he says. «But I had already committed myself to the other projects because I thought I would get Dostoevsky on stage in spring.» Since March 1982, when the actor and director made his low-key debut on Kykladon Street in Kypseli with his Skini Theater company in Kleist’s «The Broken Jug,» the company has staged 21 plays. The number, however, is not as important as the quality of the group’s productions, which have had a profound influence on every aspect of modern Greek theater, productions that were never played to an empty house. There were few theater companies in Greece when Skini took its first steps and it was a company of unique individuals, each one a talented actor who then went on to become an acclaimed stage director (Tassos Bantis, Rania Economidou, Dimitris Kataleifos, Anna Kokkinou, etc). Despite the rather shoddy exterior of the theater and the knowledge that chaos reigns behind its doors until curtain time, the building on Kykladon Street has become an emblem of Greek theater, and Vogiatzis an emblematic figure. Was he ever happy with any of his 21 productions? «I love every single one of them because each required an enormous amount of work and with each one we have to overcome unbelievable obstacles,» says Vogiatzis. «I was very happy with Sarah Kane’s ‘Cleansed’ and Georgios Hortatsis’s ‘Katsourbo.’ With ‘Katsourbo’ I was able to dive into something that was more free, very colorful and happy, something that I have never been able to do again even to this day, because I keep jumping from one mood to another. In ‘Cleansed’ I discovered a huge writer and the rehearsals were a very creative period in my life. We also achieved a great rapport with the public with this play.» Vogiatzis says that 21 productions in 25 years are too few. «That’s what I could do, though,» he says. «Firstly because of the space; it takes a lot of time to change it around for a new production. It’s also very small, so every production needs to have a long run so people can see it.» What about the time it takes for him to put a production together? «That’s just the way I work,» he says. «It’s a crazy way and it costs a lot of money, but that’s what it is. That’s who I am. Our productions take time because they are all handmade, there’s elbow grease in them. I have never felt as though previous productions have given me what it takes to find a simpler procedure for staging the next. Every production starts from scratch. Now I just know that even if I had done 100 productions, it would still be as though I had only done one. But I also don’t believe that the more productions someone does, the better they get at the job. We have plenty of examples where a great number of productions not only fails to produce better results, but hinders them.» Vogiatzis does not have specific plans for the future, though he would like to find a new theater and have a group of dedicated young actors. «A handful who are crazy about the job and want to learn it in practice, like in the old days, by watching the making of a production rather than through schools and that sort of thing. I would like that a lot, but it also depends on having the right space,» he says. In fact, he asserts, when he was approached for a book on his life, Vogiatzis said the theater was a better subject. «How this space was used, how it was transformed from one production to the next, over the course of 25 years. Every production is literally rooted in the space. It does not have a set; the theater is the set itself. This is also why the production cannot travel outside the theater and be played in other parts of Greece. We have had to reject a number of invitations because of this.» For his production of «A Gentle Creature,» Vogiatzis has turned the small theater upside down once more, pulling out one section of seating to accommodate an L-shaped stage. On this stage he projects both aspects of the main character (played by himself). Two video screens show him speaking. «All of this was developed gradually over the course of rehearsals with the help of Giorgos Skevas (video), Chloe Obolensky (sets) and Lefteris Pavlopoulos (lighting),» says the actor and director. «It gives us this idea of the many different facets of an individual that are reflected on different planes.» Skini Theater, 11 Kykladon & Kefallinias, tel 210.821.7877.