4 April 2017: A year later
During these times of crisis and radical changes, without ignoring any of the major political and social challenges currently at work in both our country and the rest of the world, we here at the Athens & Epidaurus Festival retain a special privilege: to serve a key area of culture, a field that is of paramount importance for the future of education and cultivation, and for the forging of a modern identity.
It has been exactly a year to the day since I consciously took on the role of “crisis manager” in order to save this important festival from cancellation; to save what is by far the most important forum of artistic collaboration and creation of the performing arts in Greece. After only five weeks of preparation, my team and I gave a taste of things to come, focusing on our areas of interest and setting the tone for the future: youthful, alternative, and politically meaningful. Having overcome the multiple challenges that took over most of 2016 and having managed to secure that this major institution will continue its dynamic course, we are now turning the page, inviting all of you to what is, for all intents and purposes, our true debut.
The year 2017 will go down in history as one of new beginnings as far as the Festival is concerned. We are launching a series of new sections, collaborations, and openings, which will hopefully revitalize the Greek performing scene and over time bear fruit and become established parts of the Festival.
First of all, we are launching the Epidaurus Lyceum, an international summer school of ancient Greek drama intended for drama school students and young actors from all over the world. From the very first day I took over as artistic director of the Festival, one of my primary concerns has been to connect artistic processes with education and research in the discipline of the performing arts. The Epidaurus Lyceum serves just this purpose. First, because it will fill the gap of an international research centre in the field of ancient drama that will be set up in the same area that gave birth to theatre thousands of years ago. Secondly, because it will constitute an international meeting point of actors, drama teachers, directors, musicians, choreographers, theatre theorists, anthropologists, and musicologists, leading to a much-needed reappraisal of our approaches of ancient tragedy and comedy. More significantly, because it can help bridge the gap between tradition and modernity, between the ancient and the contemporary Greek civilization.
The Epidaurus Lyceum is also expected to be a source of spiritual and economic development for the entire Epidaurus area, in conjunction with the performances that are held on an annual basis at the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus and the Little Theatre of Ancient Epidaurus. The 2017 Epidaurus performances and the courses on offer at the Epidaurus Lyceum, as well as other relevant activities will fall under a common theme. With the migrant and refugee crisis continuously testing and trying the identity of Western societies, this year’s umbrella title for all Epidaurus and Lyceum productions is “The Arrival of the Stranger” as reflected in ancient texts and in the interplay of ancient drama and the historical present. Our collective anxieties about the migrant and refugee crisis will pervade this year’s overall programme, giving us an opportunity to renegotiate the meaning of "limits," as evidenced in geographical, cultural, gender, and racial borders, as well as aesthetic, moral, and ideological distinctions.
Amidst this uneasy climate, it is imperative that we promote collaborations, collective activities, and co-productions, not only in Epidaurus but in other branches of the Festival, as well, keeping in mind that collaborations are standard practice in all major European festivals. Out of a total of eleven productions that will be held at the Epidaurus theatres, two will be co-productions with Municipal and Regional Theatres: the Municipal and Regional Theatre of Larissa and the Municipal and Regional Theatre of Ioannina. Complementary to the Epidaurus programme will be a series of theatrical events to be held at the Little Theatre of Ancient Epidaurus and other archaeological sites as part of the Lyceum curriculum. The Epidaurus programme will come to an end with a closing celebration at the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus on Saturday 19 August, featuring music and dances from the Peloponnese region.
The artistic creativity and collaboration of young people from different cultures in the field of ancient drama will hopefully bolster the Epidaurus area. We wish to encourage the local community to be part of this collective endeavour. Thus, we are already planning a series of activities for children, youths, and adults, in collaboration with the Municipality of Nafplio and the Department of Theatre Studies of the University of Peloponnese, in order to familiarize audiences with the form and content of this year’s Epidaurus productions. The Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus will feature works by both accomplished and emerging Greek directors. The Little Theatre of Ancient Epidaurus will host productions with a more alternative take on ancient drama, including a Festival d’Avignon production, directed by Olivier Py. Furthermore, we are interested in promoting research on the subject of ancient chorus through works in progress, workshops, and masterclasses to be held within the framework of the Epidaurus Lyceum.
This year will also see the launch of another important new section of the Festival: "Opening to the City." Encompassing performances and events at non-theatrical spaces, site-specific, poetic and musical performances, and activist interventions in dodgy or run-down areas of the city, this section seeks to counteract the increasingly withdrawn and introspective stance of society, responding to the fear of diversity, and taking a stand against parochial, insular, and racist attitudes at large.
The section "Opening to the City" will be realized with the support of the Athens Culture Net of the City of Athens, and will also include the working-class neighbourhoods of Piraeus, in cooperation with the Piraeus Municipal Theatre. The section will extend as far as the town of Eleusis, with the collaboration of the Eleusis 2021 European Capital of Culture. Thanks to the "Opening to the City" section, the Festival will become what a festival could and should truly be for its host city: a pillar of original creativity that mobilizes first and foremost the inhabitants of its own city, an artistic platform that challenges and overturns preconceptions, and, above all, a celebration.
We emphasize diversity. We emphasize youthful creativity. We want to inject this year’s programme with the energy and enthusiasm of a youthful audience. As much as we believe in the individuality of artists and the importance of artistic direction, we also believe in collectivity and self-management. Starting this year, we have decided to set up a pre-festival platform of events at Peiraios 260, to be held between 22 and 28 May. During that period, we will be hosting two self-managing platforms. The popular Bob Festival, which is held on an annual basis, will give the floor to newly-formed theatre groups, attracting large audiences of youths. The queer platform Sound Acts will encompass a number of performances about gender, racial, and body identity.
The problematics of alterity and diversity are also inscribed in our core programme, that is, in the theatrical and dance productions to be held at the Peiraios 260 stages. The question here is broader. It is not just a question of how the polis treats the outsider, the Other, but also of how the Other inhabits us and lurks menacingly inside each one of us and inside our very city. The programme is also informed by historical and existential concerns, on the basis of the artistic and aesthetic value of each proposal.
Invariably, our priority is to support Greek artists, especially in these times of crisis, while also exposing audiences to prestigious works and artists of the international scene. A case in point, the international programme will include a multifaceted tribute to the world-famous Volksbühne, featuring three major productions, among which a performance by its outgoing artistic director, Frank Castorf, who ran the historic Berlin theatre for 25 years.
We are keen on promoting co-productions with local and international organizations, deeming collaborations to be the most significant driving force in contemporary art. The Festival actively participates in international co-productions of several artists such as Romeo Castellucci, Hofesh Shechter, Marlene Monteiro Freitas, as well as co-productions with Euripides Laskaridis, Katerina Andreou, and the blitz group. At the same time, we are promoting a nationwide policy of collaborations with theatres, cultural institutions, and various collectives. Our collaboration with the Third Programme (Trito Programma) of the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT) is of particular importance to us. This collaboration marks the first time that music concerts will be held in the Garden of Peiraios 260 with live radio broadcasting. Furthermore, for the first time there will be radio broadcasting – with a live audience – of a brand-new Greek play. Since the Greek National Opera is being moved to the facilities of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre, the Athens Festival will be hosted for two months (June and July) at the Olympia Theatre, where a number of principally musical but also theatrical events will be held. I am confident that this historic building will be utilized in the future in the best possible way.
Bridges are a key concept. We are building bridges with the regional areas of Greece in order to make sure our productions will last longer into the season(s). We are willing to include intriguing productions from regional theatres into our programme. We are part of the pilot network of Greek festivals organized by the Greek Ministry of Culture. Moreover, we are building bridges with international organizations, responding to what is a steady demand of Greek artists: the promotion of Greek productions on the international stage. The idea of openness remains central to the identity of the Festival, and is consistently and systematically pursued through a series of coordinated efforts which are already taking shape. The meeting of the European dance network [DNA] (Departure and Arrivals), a partner of Athens Festival, will contribute to this direction of openness. A plan to invite artistic directors and programmers of major festivals to attend productions of the Athens Festival is also under way, again with the support of the Ministry of Culture.
Additionally, we are planning to further enhance the unique character of each of our theatrical spaces. The stages of Peiraios 260 will be dedicated, as usual, to contemporary theatre and dance productions. The Odeon of Herodes Atticus will host principally musical productions, including operas, orchestras, and concerts of classical, modern Byzantine, folk, and contemporary Greek music. As a tribute to the late and great director Spyros Evangelatos, a revival performance of the last play he directed in his lifetime, George Mormoris’ Amyntas, will also be held at the Odeon.
In conclusion, in an effort to actively engage with the artistic world at a deeper level, and to keep audiences engaged even after the performances are presented, we will give emphasis to educational activities (workshops, debates, symposia). This will be an organic continuation of the policy we adopted back in the summer of 2016.
My cordial thanks go to the Greek Ministry of Culture, the Greek Ministry of Tourism and the Greek National Tourism Organization, the City of Athens and the Athens Culture Net, the National Bank of Greece, the Administration of Attica, the Department of Theatre Studies of the University of Peloponnese, the National Theatre of Greece, the Athens Concert Hall, the Piraeus Municipal Theatre, the Municipal and Regional Theatre of Ioannina, the Municipal and Regional Theatre of Larissa, the Eleusis 2021 European Capital of Culture, the Institut Français de Grèce, the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT) and the Third Programme radio station, the Municipality of Epidaurus, the Administration of Peloponnese, the Administration of Argolis, the Ephorate of Antiquities of Argolida, the Municipality of Nafplio, the Embassy of Greece in Tehran, the Organizations and Citizens Network for the Historic Centre of Athens and the Elliniki Etairia - Society for the Environment and Cultural Heritage, the 1st Ephorate of Ancient and Classical Antiquities, the Hellenic Association of Theatre and Performing Arts Critics, the British Council and the Athens International Film Festival, the administration of the Public Power Corporation, the Athens International Airport, the Thessaloniki Museum of Photography, and the Institute of Public Health of the American College of Greece.
I am also indebted to my team and to all those who work towards making this year’s programme. I would also like to thank Ms. Efimia Karakantza for her unwavering support regarding the Epidaurus Lyceum and Koralia (Sotiriadou) for always being there for me.