CULTURE

Director’s singing safety valve

She’s an impressive, earthy figure who can morph from a full-gale force to a caressing feather when singing on stage. Under no circumstances can she pass unnoticed. Martha Frintzila has established a considerable following in recent years as a result of her contributions to albums and performances by Thanassis Papaconstantinou, one of this country’s more inspired songwriters of late. For more personal musical input, she also has her own band, the Kubara Project. Prior to this, a smaller following had taken note of Frintzila through her work in the theater, where she started as an actress in 1993, the year she graduated from drama school. These days, she seems to be thriving somewhere between both her theatrical and musical worlds. The past year has been a big one for Frintzila in theater. She has directed four plays. The latest of these, Sophocles’s «Ajax,» was launched at the National Theater’s New Stage last Friday. It was preceded by Dmitri Shostakovich’s opera» Katerina Ismailova» and Roland Schimmelpfennig’s «Arabian Night» at the Neos Cosmos Theater, and «To tiflo simeio» (Blind Spot) at the Poreia Theater. Theatrical activity aside, Frintzila also did an extended series of weekly shows with her band every Wednesday at the capital’s Metro club. Frintzila’s upcoming musical plans include performing with the songwriters Stamatis Kraounakis and Lena Platonos during the Athens Festival. Next winter season for Frintzila includes projects at both the National and Neos Cosmos theaters. So, which do you prefer, directing or singing? My work, and my pleasure, is the theater. Singing is a safety valve for me. In other words, I don’t know if I’d get through it all if I didn’t have the singing. Sometimes I just need to break out, go out, reveal myself, or sing – to express myself, as they say. Because theater is not expression. It is research. There’s always a question mark hanging over your head. I’ve never felt that I provide answers in theater. I always ask the questions. I don’t think I’ll ever reach the point of offering answers. You’ve neglected yourself as an actress, despite the talent you possess. You no longer perform on stage. The truth is that I want to very much. But there are others who want it even more, and they’re cut out for it. From as far back as my student days, I wanted to have a hand in everything, to have a total view of things. I couldn’t just concentrate on my role. I’m more interested in doing the play than in the role. Isn’t focus on one thing needed to achieve significant results? I am devoted, totally, to theater. Singing doesn’t take up that much of my time or energy. On the contrary, it fills me with energy, which I channel into theater. [Poet C. P.] Cavafy’s words, «and in art again, I rest from its labor,» apply. You also teach at the National Theater’s drama school. Yes, and I communicate well with the students. It’s an important thing in theater, because I believe in the theater of the actor, not the theater of the director. Would you say that, in theater, you possess that extroverted quality that distinguishes you in singing? No, I’m not as playful in theater as I am when singing. I find it easier to reveal myself than in a play. I feel an enormous responsibility when I’m holding the work of a writer in my hands. What I mean is that I’d like to summon the writer’s spirit each time I work on something. After all, I don’t have lofty ambitions as a director in terms of getting involved in directorial tricks. That would have been very easy for me, because I have many ideas – a constant flow of ideas keeps tormenting me. But you don’t do theater based on ideas. On Karaghiozis puppets, actors and shadows For her production of «Ajax,» Martha Frintzila has imported elements from traditional Greek shadow theater, or «Karaghiozis.» The research behind the creation of the show was both a team and family effort. Contributors include Nikoletta Frintzila, a literature graduate and experienced translator of ancient drama; her husband Vassilis Mantzoukis, a composer, painter and stage designer; the dance theater group Sinequanon, a co-tenant at the Kratira venue; Maria Kehayioglou and Manolis Mavromatakis, both of whom are regular collaborators, as well as her regular acting team. Also involved in the production is the shadow theater artist Athos Danellis. Shadow puppet theater combined with actual actors… How did you come up with that idea? This project began two years ago at a seminar for ancient drama. I was wondering about who should play the (title) role, because Ajax is a hero from another era – and the whole play addresses the end of the era for heroes and the beginning of the era we’re living in, in other words the era of the dialectical person, the multi-machine… We had reached a dead end. Many ideas were being tossed around, even that of the basketball player Sofoklis Schortsanitis, because we wanted somebody who looked like a giant, somebody like those people you occasionally see on the street who look like they don’t belong in our world. I settled for shadow puppet theater, especially Athos Dianellis, the domain’s only person who does shadow puppet theater for grownups. I had wanted to work with him for a long time because he serves an art form that I highly respect. I am awed by shadow puppet theater. While working at the seminar, and later on, when we presented our work at the Kratira venue, we realized that this one-dimensional and dark shadow before us actually enlarged the emotional impact. It was something. For the National Theater performances, we took up the project again from where we left it. Which does not necessarily mean that we’ve completed it. A production is never completed, especially when you’re dealing with texts that can be read in many ways. The major works are always loaded on your back. Which is why we rework our productions, like «Ion,» which we’ve staged as two different versions, and will do again… Doesn’t this approach limit you in any way? On the contrary, it opens up news horizons. Many directors accumulate collections of productions, like many singers accumulate collections of personal albums. I don’t condemn this. But I believe that if you open the door of one play, it never closes. It’s there and it tugs away at your bed sheets. You don’t sleep easily.