Back to square one

Back to square one

The theater crowd spent the weekend following developments at the Athens and Epidaurus Festival and the controversy sparked by Jan Fabre, despite the breaking of the much bigger WikiLeaks story. After the Belgian artist surprised the Culture Ministry by resigning before he even took charge, Vangelis Theodoropoulos was announced as his replacement: an artist and “programmer” (in Fabre’s own words), a man with experience who for years had run his own successful theater.

Theodoropoulos’s name had been been floated after the festival’s previous director, Giorgos Loukos, was dismissed. The Culture Ministry, however, took the Fabre route instead. Why? No one really knows, though it would be interesting to learn why the ministry backed him.

The irony is that the backlash against the ministry’s choice came mainly from artists believed to be on the same side as the government, actors and directors who openly supported SYRIZA’s election. It was not the opposition or the media, as the Culture Ministry’s press release broadly suggested, that caused Fabre to resign. Fabre was not chased off by anti-SYRIZA liberals, homophobes or religious zealots shocked by the nudity in his work. The protesters who gathered at a theater last week to discuss their reaction were not New Democracy supporters. Even more importantly, this chorus against Fabre was joined by SYRIZA’s own cultural department. The minister obviously forgot to mention a few things in the press release, which insinuated a “coordinated assault” by the media and opposition.

Fabre’s resignation letter is also an interesting read. In it he says that in the initial agreement the government had assured him full artistic liberty, but he added that “this no longer appears possible in Greece.” He obviously felt the animosity against him and appears annoyed by pressure to add some Greek shows to his Belgian plan. It later emerged that he would have been allowed to do his own thing and the selection of local participants would have been put to a committee. Very odd goings-on. Surely an artist of Fabre’s caliber didn’t need any of that.

Culture Minister Aristides Baltas was right about one thing: the art world’s lack of patience and calm. However, the authorities’ handling of the entire matter is cause for concern. Sure, they want to make changes at the festival, but they seem to be using short-termism rather than any grand vision to do so and the result is that Loukos was removed in January just months ahead of the festival’s start, followed by the Fabre fiasco. In the meantime, there’s a festival to put together from zero. On Sunday morning, Baltas said on TV that the festival would go ahead, but it would simply be a little “worse than last year’s.”

This is the situation Theodoropoulos is being called on to manage. From the bottom of our hearts, we wish him the best of luck.

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