May 16, 2016

Thoughts on the Athens and Epidaurus Festival of today, proposals for the Festival of tomorrow

 

I have undertaken to serve as artistic director of the Athens and Epidaurus Festival for three years. I accepted the position because I believe that a broad-focus institution like the Festival has an extremely important contribution to make to cultural production in Greece, especially in a period of crisis like our own. Which is to say that I have also consciously undertaken the role of “crisis manager” and worked to ensure that this year’s event isn’t cancelled, with all that could mean for the future of the institution. Another key factor in my decision was the need not to deprive the public of their most valuable annual encounter with the performing arts and Greek artists of a key opportunity to work in their chosen fields.

I accepted the responsibility to fill the gap that has existed for the last four months and to allow the Festival to continue and to gradually acquire the new way of doing things and artistic identity I can bestow on it during my term—an artistic identity that cannot help but take into account the Festival’s success, especially over the last decade.

Now, in the space of just one month (the time available to us continues to ebb and flow), we have had to draw up a programme for a major Festival whose activities cover the theatres of Epidaurus and Little Epidaurus, the Herodeion, and the multiple spaces at Peiraios 260.

We followed the usual practice of scheduling seven or eight productions at Epidaurus. What a festival at Epidaurus might actually mean, given the prestige the theatre enjoys worldwide, I consider a crucial question in need of revisiting. We opted for mainly musical productions at the Herodeion. As for Peiraios 260, despite the tight time restrictions, we managed to secure the presence of a considerable number of interesting productions from abroad. As far as contemporary Greek production in theatre, dance and music is concerned, we acted in line with the submitted proposals; ultimately, impersonal protocol had its uses: the individuals and companies that had submitted proposals had already made the preparations required to start work on their productions without delay. I have to say that the process was a test of endurance for all of us.

Given this ‘Greek’—meaning, in this case, extreme—reality, I accepted the challenge because collectivity concerns me as an artist and because, in the tough financial times in which we live, the Festival is a window for expression as well as- we must remember--one of the few events that still pays the artists who participate in it.

We know from History that difficulties can give rise to creativity and solidarity among artists, especially when the public makes its need for the arts clear in practice by supporting them.

I believe we have selected the most interesting proposals; that, together, they form a common axis; that this year’s programme is going to be youthful, alternative and political in the sense that its ears are open to the Greece and the world of 2016. The programme also includes elements of our plans for the future; plans which respond to observations and to deficiencies—my own included —in an ever-shifting landscape which continues to change radically from year to year. I believe that every important festival is called upon to be both national and international, and that its primary objective should be to create culture, works and collaborations, not just to host them. This is something I would like to see engrained in our programme, especially in the years to come when our scope for commissions and co-productions will be so much greater.

I am also convinced that the Festival can provide us with a unique opportunity to dispel the unpleasant and unproductive atmosphere created by the void of recent months and to begin a dialogue on the key issues that concern us.

So this year will see the introduction of a pilot programme of discussions (in the form of colloquia and parallel events), with interventions by artists from Greece and abroad who are taking part in the Festival, as well as theorists and cultural institutions. The discussion will cover a range of subjects:

 

A. What sort of Festival do we want? To what extend Greek? To what extend international?  In a time of crisis, to what extent is the Festival about supporting domestic creativity? How far should its policies be geared towards this goal? How eclectic, bold and individual can it be? What can we take on board from the international conversation on what the term ‘festival’ can cover?

B. The art of direction in Greece and Europe today: trends and perspectives.

C. New forms of political theatre: How is the contemporary scene engaging with our present? New forms of drama, the dynamism and limits of documentary theatre.

D. How can we listen to and redefine the needs of today’s dance professionals? The nature of contemporary dance in Greece today, institutional and otherwise.

 

Issues of relevance to music and the visual arts will form the subject of next year’s dialogues.

 

Axes for action in the coming years

I will focus on the main axes we are currently working on for the years to come. I believe they will do more than simply mark my time at the Festival and hope they will seek to respond to long-term needs and requests:

 

A. Epidaurus Lyceum: Setting up an international centre for research and actor education (and, further down the line, courses on directing, music and dance) in the sphere of ancient drama.

B. Opening up to the city and to society.

C. Contemporary playwriting and dramaturgy for dance

D. Looking outwards and embedding the Greek performing arts in the international cultural community.

 

A. Epidaurus Lyceum

A key aim of the Festival’s artistic management is to establish an educational institution in Epidaurus—an International Summer School for Ancient Drama, the Epidaurus Lyceum, which will be aimed at young actors and drama school students from around the world. The Epidaurus Lyceum will be an international centre for the applied study of ancient drama. Our core aim will be to ensure a multiplicity of voices by including different aesthetic tendencies, artistic schools of thought, methods and interpretative approaches 

ranging from the traditional to the radical.  A camp will be set up to host the students in the Epidaurus area. This will allow the participants to be inspired by the natural environment, while the experience of communal living should take the edge of their rivalry and sense of the solitary artist and promote community values (cooperation, complementarity and exchange in an environment which instils a sense of security and trust). Holding the workshops in the Epidaurus area should help breath new life into the region through artistic creation and encounters with people from different cultures.

The Epidaurus Lyceum will be brought into being in association with the Municipality of Epidaurus, the Peloponnese region, and the University of the Peloponnese Theatre Studies department (which is Nafplio-based).

In parallel, we will also be collaborating with the Diazoma Citizens’ Movement, both on the Epidaurus Lyceum project and on bringing dozens of other ancient theatres back to life and back into service as venues in which the public can experience drama as it was meant to be experienced, live.

More information on the Lyceum’s curriculum and tutors (directors, choreographers and musicians active in Greece and internationally) will be announced at the end of 2016.

 

B. Opening up to the city and to society

The Festival belongs to the city. The artistic management intends to join forces with the Municipality of Athens to extend the Festival’s actions and productions out into the city’s public spaces (squares, arcades, neighbourhoods, archaeological sites, historical sites, museums). The Festival will also be collaborating with citizens ' movements, immigrant social hubs etc.

In addition to the City of Athens, with which we have already agreed a programme of joint activities, we have also signed a collaboration agreement with the Athens School of Fine Arts which will allow the Festival to make use of the School’s premises adjacent to our own on Peiraios street and to integrate this year’s Graduate Show into the Festival programme. We will also be working with the Attica Region authorities.

 

C. Contemporary playwriting and dramaturgy for danse

Given the financial crisis and the Hellenic Festival’s status as a public institution, the Festival clearly has an obligation to stimulate the creation of new work. The need to transcend the tried-and-tested formulas which limit our reading of reality, private and public, has spotlighted playwriting and dramaturgy as key axes in Festival policy. Given this, and our conviction that it is of vital importance for dramatists to have the opportunity to subject their work to trial-by-staging if they are to develop and proceed, we are proposing a series of activities which will establish a Greek infrastructure for the support of playwriting and dramaturgy for dance . These activities will include: commissioning new works from up-and-coming playwrights for presentation at next year’s festival, issuing an open call for proposals relating to set subject-matter, creating a platform to encourage people to get closer to literature and the performing arts, educational activities centring on performances stimulated by contemporary works etc. For dance, we will be setting up residencies combined with various forms of mentoring to provide much-needed support for choreographic research and dramaturgy.

Details on the programme of dramaturgy-related activities will also be presented by the end of 2016.

 

D. Looking outwards and embedding the Greek performing arts in the international cultural community.

Establishing connections with foreign festivals and theatre institutions is a key concern for the Festival’s artistic management, as is the discussion on the place of the Greek performance arts on the international scene. The Festival will be functioning starting in 2017 as an international forum, working with foreign producers, festival directors and critics to present the Greek arts abroad and to encourage co-productions in line with its policies. Starting next year, we intend to hold regular workshops, discussions and seminars with the directors and choreographers who bring their works to the Festival so that we can benefit from their knowledge and experience not only through watching their work on stage, but also through direct interaction with them as colleagues.

 

From my experience as a director and as artistic head of the Neos Kosmos theatre for the last 20 years, I have learned to work in conditions of collectivity. Given that I would find it impossible to tackle this new challenge without a group of artistic associates, I set up my group on my very first day in the job. The team consists of:

 

 

 

- Dimitra Kondylaki (Ph.D. In Comparative Literature, Sorbonne-Paris IV, theatre theorist, dramatist, translator) as our Contemporary Greek Theatre Co-curator.

- Matthias von Hartz (artistic director of Berlin’s Foreign Affairs summer festival) as our International Productions  Co-curator

- Steriani Tsintziloni (Ph.D. In Dance Theory & History, Roehampton University, dance historian and researcher) as Dance Co-curator

- and Georgina Kakoudaki (MA in Theatre Studies, Athens University, theatre educator, director) as our Educational Programmes consultant

Kornelios Selamsis’ contributions on musical matters have also been invaluable.

Before concluding, I would like to stress that the Festival is actively seeking partnerships and collaborations with other institutions and that, this year, we have already joined forces with the National Theatre of Greece, the Athens Megaron Concert Hall, the Athens School of Fine Arts and the Athens Open Air Film Festival.

I would like to thank the British Council for its support with the Shakespeare Tribute in the context of the Athens Open Air Cinema Festival, and the French Institute of Greece for its contributions overall.

Finally, because the Festival is also a celebration, we are organizing a major concert for Tuesday 14 June with the Cheimerinoi Kolymvites, the Chalkina tis Florinas and Matoula Zamani. The evening will end with a DJ set and a lot of dancing, and we’ll be expecting all of you there!

 

Vangelis Theodoropoulos

Artistic Director