Striking the right note in search for reality on stage

Hers was a shining presence in Vassilis Papavassiliou’s promising theater company, Epochi, toward the end of the 1980s. But unfortunately, the troupe broke up and actress Alexandra Sakellaropoulou went to France where she spent the following 10 years. A recent returnee to Greece, she has already won plaudits for her performance in «Strangers,» by Panayiotis Mendis, at the National Theater’s New Stage. A gifted actress, Alexandra Sakellaropoulou offers her point of view freely: «No, I don’t see any great change in Greek theater,» she says. «The actors are still using the same old technique; the same fake, exaggerated manner, showing too much emotion.» Is displaying emotion on stage a negative thing? It is not enough. To reach the audience, you must emphasize the text. Why should the public care if I’m on stage crying, but I fail to be the link between the play and the viewer’s consciousness? My duty is to converse with my role, not to bombard it with emotion. In Mendis’s play, you interpreted the role of a Russian immigrant living in the USA. Do you feel there is any connection with immigrants coming into Greece? A member of the audience said that the character had very little in common with Russian women who come to Greece and end up as prostitutes. I was furious and told him that I knew a lot of hard-working Russian women in Greece. As for those working as prostitutes, they would not end up there if they had had some support. I’ve reached the conclusion that racism has developed considerably since I left Greece. A career abroad Were you planning to leave theater behind when you left Greece? Not at all, I simply wished to stay away for a couple of years. It had to do with my great sadness at the end of the Epochi troupe. The fact that I sought refuge in France, however, was also because I had fallen in love with someone; we got married and I followed him there. How long did you stay away from the theater from? Ten years? Just three and a half. For six and half years I lived in Brest, where I appeared on stage with one of western France’s most prominent theater groups. Did you feel you would have to start all over again when you came back to Greece? On the contrary, I was deeply moved by the way they welcomed and took me back into the theater world; all the way up to the various reviews which were published. I felt that there was still something there from our previous work. You began with a modest appearance in the chorus in a production of «Oresteia» at the National Theater. It was a very conscious decision. I wanted to make a quiet comeback. But I also believe that being in the chorus is particularly difficult; every member of the chorus ought to be a lead actor. No one should get a principal role if they haven’t gone through the chorus. Are you planning to work as an actor the way you used to, as part of a troupe? I would like to, but do they exist? I don’t see any theater companies out there. Each actor heads his own, but I do hope to collaborate with people. What is your next project in the theater? I’m going to appear alongside Betty Arvaniti in Anton Chekhov’s classic play «The Seagull,» in a production directed by Nikos Mastorakis. I’ll be reunited with members of the same theatrical family. Is it going to be pure Chekhov, without exaggeration in style? Absolutely. Now I understand what Papavassiliou used to say to us back then: «After you reach 40, you will not accept ‘doing’ things on stage. You will have to ‘be.’» In other words, what I’m trying to do these days is not just to offer some of my talent on stage, but to be present. To be what we would call a real presence.