Renowned Athens theater tightening its belt, looking to a brighter future

Twenty-one years after the death of its founder Karolos Koun, the famed Theatro Technis appears to be making a push for better days, to leave its darkest years, its debts and the infighting behind it. Those dark years have left their trace on every facet of the historical theater, on its walls, dressing room, its stages, its equipment and its Basement stage at the Orpheus Arcade on Pesmazoglou Street. This may be a building listed for preservation, but it will take a lot of time and money to restore it fully and to bring it up to modern standards. It also appears that the people in charge of making the Theatro Technis run smoothly have given up on waiting around for the Ministry of Culture to fund the project and have gone ahead alone with a string of initiatives. They are, for example, currently expecting an answer from a private institution that may participate in the Basement theater’s renovation to the tune of some 450,000 euros. The problems the theater must overcome, however, are multifold. When director Diagoras Chrono-poulos took over its helm a few years back, he found the company in the red by 550,000 euros. How did this happen? How was such a huge debt accrued? Was the poor management of funds to blame? Were the company’s artistic choices at fault? Chronopoulos and Theatro Technis managing director Costas Kapelonis set out to find the answers and right the wrongs. «My impression,» says Chrono-poulos, «is that the productions put on in the past did not do very well, were very costly, and did not attract enough revenue or sponsorship. The previous managements began to hold back payments, such as social security, and, as a result, gradually build up debt through fines for non-payment. The first thing we did was settle with the Social Security Foundation (IKA) and with the tax office, even if this meant delaying payment to several associates. To date, we have paid about 350,000 euros of the debt off.» Kapelonis says that the program choices were also a problem in the past. «There were productions that may have done very well in terms of bringing in audiences, but they were expensive productions with very large casts. The cost of these productions could not be covered by ticket sales or state funding, so the theater began making losses.» The management duo also clarified that though offers have been made for the purchase of the Theatro Technis stage on Frynichou Street in Plaka, that is not an option. Meanwhile, they have also disbanded the permanent cast, which was paid whether it performed or not; they are looking at productions with smaller budgets and have tried to find ways to make existing productions more cost effective. With their debts now under control, they are also making much-needed improvements to the two venues, starting with fixing the roof and painting the walls of the Frynichou theater. The Basement theater is a different kettle of fish, says Chro-nopoulos. «A lot of very expensive work has to go into it, such as changing the stage completely. Up to now we have just been slapping one new layer of paint over the old. We need to change the seats and the dressing rooms, which have been there since 1957 and whose walls are made of plasterboard.» Kapelonis adds that there are other problem areas that aren’t visible to the naked eye and require costly repairs, such as the electrical wiring which needs to be completely stripped and replaced. On-stage and backstage efforts have paid off and over the past two years the public has been starting to pay attention to the Theatro Technis’s bill once more. The theater’s drama school receives about 150 applications a year, though they only accept 15 students, based on stringent criteria. As far as the near future is concerned, Chronopoulos says, «If we accept that the Theatro Technis will continue to exist with contemporary elements, I think that we need to find a repertory that reflects that continuity, but is also subtle.» One of the plays that will be going on stage soon is a revival of the theater’s classic production of «The Birds,» which will also travel to China for the Beijing Olympics and then return to Athens for a showing at the Herod Atticus Theater.