An SOS from the Rex as rain and neglect do their worst

The National Theater’s main building may be in the process of rebuilding and expansion, but that is not enough to solve its acute problems. Its diverse activities and offices are spread out among various other buildings, which also face serious problems. The most serious case is that of the historic Rex Theater on Panepistimiou, which is falling into ruin. «We even have financial problems with the main building,» newly appointed National Theater director Yiannis Houvardas told Kathimerini. «The price of the machinery to be installed in both theaters was estimated four years ago and the cost has risen much higher since then. Apart from that, no funds have been secured to refurbish the building or to employ the additional trained staff that are required. And we will come up against that new expense, for which there is no provision in the government funds, in a few months’ time when the building is ready.» But that did not surprise him so much as the issue of the Rex: «This building urgently needs help, because it is in a bad state,» said Houvardas. «The facade has crumbled, and the windows no longer fit, so when it rains a lot of water gets in and it has spoiled practically everything. The necessary repairs were not done after the earthquakes, so now there are cracks so big you can see right through the wall. The floors are in a dire state. The building has aged and it urgently needs renovation, almost reconstruction.» The situation is so serious that Houvardas had to intervene directly. «I have already started something using money from our budget, which doesn’t stretch to that, but something had to be done. At the same time, I am starting a campaign because we are talking about a very large sum – around 5 million euros – to find funds so the necessary work can be done. They could be spread out over three years, that is, the work could be done in the summer months so we can avoid closing our auditoriums in the Rex.» Like the man of action and logic that he is, Houvardas added: «We have done a preliminary study of the work needed, which we assigned to architect and set designer Eva Manidaki. Now we must get funding for the main study, which will be costly of course. And we have completely renovated the entrance and the foyer of the children’s theater (the Paxinou Theater at the Rex), which needed a refit and revamp. If only we could do that to all of the Rex. At any rate people will notice some changes this year. But the structural and operational work will happen only once we have secured funds.» Unfortunately, however, apart from the Rex, other buildings belonging to the National Theater face major problems. «The very old Drama School building, which is in the center of Athens, doesn’t even have air conditioning. And the technical workshops in Rouf – for sets and costumes and so on – are basically in a large shed, with many shortcomings that urgently need fixing. We are 50 years behind in that respect. The National Theater should have state-of-the-art technology in its workshops, so that its staff can work in good conditions. «It is urgent and it is a matter of dignity for the National Theater to deal with these issues,» he said. «I have already started a campaign to the state and various public and private bodies to see what we can collect to solve these problems. It is a second full-time job, but I can’t compromise on this. Besides, I think the state put me here to see things for myself and do something about them. There’s no point hiding our heads in the sand. We’ll do what we can with the existing infrastructure, but solutions are needed now, like those the state had the courage to do concerning the vision of [late National Theater director] Nikos Kourkoulos for the theater’s main building.»