Surefire hit opens Central Stage

«There is another world, but it is inside this one.» This fragment from a poem by French surrealist Paul Eluard will be the motto and overarching theme of the National Theater’s (NT) 2009-10 season, revealed Yiannis Houvardas at a press conference over the summer. Since taking over artistic direction at the NT just over two years ago, Houvardas, former director of the always innovative – and now, sadly, defunct – Amore Theater, has drastically altered the kind of performances Athenian audiences had expected from the NT. Both the directors and the actors treading the boards have changed, with performances skewed toward a younger, savvier audience; more specifically, the kind that packed the former Experimental Stage headed by Stathis Livathinos under the previous administration led by the late Nikos Kourkoulos. While this angered some theatergoers who wished to see at least one classical staging in the repertory – something notably absent from a theater funded mainly by the state – last year, most NT performances filled over 70 percent of their seating capacity, with some nearing the 100 percent mark. Of the 18 productions staged in the 2008-09 season, only five fell below this percentage rate. Thus, next season’s program will try to continue this successful trajectory by keeping old friends, such as the Blitz Theater Company, repeating last year’s most successful productions of «M.A.I.R.O.U.L.A.» and «The Thirsty,» and bringing into the NT fold the most innovative of local and international artists. However, the NT has also cleverly retained the services of well-loved artists such as Stamatis Fasoulis, who will be directing Nena Menti in Costas Tachtsis’s «To Trito Stefani» (The Third Wedding) at Panepistimiou Street’s Marika Kotopouli Stage – something sure to please more traditionally inclined theatergoers. The most important addition to the 2009-10 program is the unveiling of the Central Stage. Eight years in the making, and seating nearly 700 individuals, the landmark building on Aghiou Constantinou Street – constructed between 1895 and 1901 by German architect Ernst Ziller – has undergone a complete renovation. It will be reopened on October 14 with a surefire hit of a performance: «Nowhere,» choreographed by Dimitris Papaioannou. The man who has managed to turn contemporary dance theater into box-office success is the NT’s strongest card in enticing people to venture out to the square delineated by Aghiou Constantinou, Satovriandou, Menandrou and Koumoun-dourou – streets that have become a byword in recent months for crime, state neglect and police crackdowns. With a recession-friendly ticket of 10.70 euros – already on sale since June – and scheduled for two performances a day, if the site-specific work-in-progress, with a central theme of history and the recycling of it, repeats the smash success of Papaioannou’s «2» and «Medea,» then the new stage’s future will be assured. The rest of the 8.5-million-euro budget, with an additional 2 million promised by the Culture Ministry, will be divided among a plethora of productions. Following «Nowhere,» three classical plays will feature on the Central Stage. Houvardas himself directs Chekhov’s «Uncle Vanya,» featuring Akilas Karazisis and Maya Lyberopoulou, while actor Aimilios Chilakis gets into the director’s seat for the first time to tackle Moliere’s «Don Juan.» Eirik Stubo, the former artistic director of Norway’s National Theater and recipient of a prestigious Off-Broadway Theater Award (OBIE) in 2006, will direct a Greek cast in Henrik Ibsen’s «The Lady from the Sea.» Playing out on the NT’s other stages, highlights include a blood-drenched «Titus Andronicus» directed by Angela Brouskou, the return of Yiannis Kakleas to children’s theater and actor-directors Giorgos Gallos and Giannos Perlegkas form the new troupe 1272, which will present Shakespeare’s «Henry VI» and «Richard III.» Lastly, under the aegis of the British Council’s Creative Collaboration Project, a new initiative, Group Hostel, has already introduced a series of collaborations with British theater company Imitating the Dog and the Cyprus Theater Organization. These collaborations include workshops and seminars for young artists, as well as a tour of Cyprus and England with the shows created during the workshops. Hopefully, this will finally put until-now insular Southeastern Europe’s new artists firmly on the continent’s theatrical map.