Letter from Thessaloniki

Broadly defined, there’s a lot of «theater» going on in our modern world. Yet the election of 2004 may have set a new party pattern in Greece. The emergence of more showpeople competing for a place in the new Parliament is more evident than ever. It now seems that the saying «Scratch an actor and you’ll find a politician» is not far from reality.  Television luminaries such as Eleni Kourkoula (ex-soap opera star in ANT-1’s «The Shining» and former deputy education minister), Giorgos Vassiliou, known as commissioner Theoharis in the same sitcom, entertainer Angella Gerekou, known better as the wife of old-star singer Tolis Voskopoulos than for her thespian activities, entertainer Vassia Trifilli, Costas Karras, who is now at an age that he has to prove that he is just as good as he never was; these are just some of the actors that use the publicity surrounding their fame to express their political opinions. Of course, there are also those who are not standing as candidates – just this time? – but have already declared their support for «Giorgakis,» such as actor Antonis Kafetzopoulos or lush performer Vana Barba who is «for the broader democratic bloc.» Generally they are actors about whom one keeps wishing they would only put on some mascara, or a false nose and be themselves again. In past decades, showpeople in Greece took extensive care to hide their preferences and keep politics under the surface. Cases like Emilios Veakis – a great actor of the 1940s who became a follower of the left-wing resistance movement National Liberation Front (EAM), and thus made himself a prosecution target, great tragedienne Eleni Papadaki who was murdered by the Left because she allegedly belonged to the Right, or even the legendary Melina Mercouri, who stood up against dictatorship in the 1970s, got elected with PASOK in the 1980s and became a successful minister of culture – were rare. Of course the last Grand Lady of the ancient Greek theater, Anna Synodinou, came to New Democracy and became a minister in the mid-1970s. Do not miss her reappearance at the Ancient Epidaurus Theater this summer.  By contrast, nowadays politics are worn on one’s sleeve. Sure enough, the term «political theater» does not apply in this plethora of candidates for Parliament. In Greece, «politics in the theater» still means heavy-handed theater, didactic theater, propagandistic, dogmatic, finally boring theater. In general, badly translated Bertold Brecht. Hence the question «Where do political activism and theater break apart?» surfaces once again. For instance, take Edward Albee, who returned to the land of middle-class suburbia – American and Greek – with his play «Delicate Balance» (being performed at the Athinais Theater in Athens) who is thought of primarily as someone who wrote plays about psychological problems and psychological extremes and nothing else. Or take Tom Stoppard’s super-eclectic «Arcadia,» which is now playing at the National Theater of Northern Greece in Thessaloniki and which could be described as posing some of the biggest questions that have driven most Western theater for the last few millennia. Both might be thought as «apolitical,» but they both display an enormous interest in the politics of sexuality, the politics of outsiders trying to break in. Just as actors are currently trying to break into the Greek Parliament. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s election – as a governor – in California must have also brought to Greek minds the many times Hollywood figures have been involved in politics, and it must have encouraged many of our actors to overcome the insecurity of their acquired profession. And that is because in our modern times, no opponent would ever think of using such propaganda as when Ronald Reagan successfully ran for governor of California in 1966 and had to face one of the fruitless tactics used by his opposition: a television commercial featuring Gene Kelley stating, «In films I played a gambler, a baseball player and I could play a governor, but you wouldn’t really want an actor to really be a governor, would you?» Well, personally I stand wholeheartedly for actors in our next Parliament. One sees that one of the main problems with politicians is that they are required to perform politics and to act as well. Occasionally, they are endowed with both talents, but this is quite a rare event. In good company, politicians can learn a lot about how to display fundamental facets of human sentiments. And they can learn additional techniques, down to the routine of outspread arms for expressing general delight and exhilaration. By expert mimics they could be taught several helpful gestures and expressions, and such elementary contortions as forehead-furrowing, eye-widening and brow-raising. They can also learn to portray sincerity (arms across the chest), to indict despair (one arm across the forehead, palm uppermost), remorse, confusion, hopelessness, pain – or all this at once. Even so, if all the world is a stage and all the men and women merely players, then the question that arises is: Where do all the audiences – oops, sorry! I mean the voters – come from?