Thanos Vovolis masks for the play Suppliant Maidens performed at Epidaurus in 1994
The main topic in Aeschylus’ The Persians is the loss and in Seven against Thebes the author deals with the betrayal. According to the art director of the first Festival of Ancient Greek Drama in Athens Yannis Margaritis, these are works corresponding to the situation today, the problems of modern man and his issues. Excerpts from the unknown work of Euripides Cretans, in which the author takes up love passion, but not only, will be presented for the first time.
These are works putting the issues of violence, fear, democratic institutions, the operation of democracy and dialectical thinking. All these issues relate to modern man. We are living in a world that is overwhelmed by violence. People face with fear every day and quite naturally ask themselves how democratic the society they live in is. How much it is open to accept different people, to accept the alien, to help establish the connection between the alien and the local.
At the end of perhaps the tensest summer and in anticipation of even harder autumn and winter, the ancient Greek drama will return in the city where it was born. The works of ancient Greek writers who laid the foundations of the European theatre will be presented again in Athens from 25 August to 18 September. The professor in acting at the National Theatre of Greece Drama School Yannis Margaritis, who has directed plays in the ancient theatre of Epidaurus, shared for the readers of GRReporter the idea of the first Festival of Ancient Greek Drama and the aims of its creators.
How did you come to the idea of organizing this festival?
Athens is the home to ancient Greek drama. All the tragedies and comedies we see in the ancient theatres in the summer, like the one in Epidaurus, were first presented at the theatre of Dionysus at the foot of the Acropolis. I think that the right question would be why there was no ancient Greek drama festival in the city where this kind of theatre that is the beginning and basis of the European theatre was born.
What was the reason for that in your opinion?
I could not know if anyone has suggested the idea to municipal authorities before me and how they reacted. What I can say is that my idea was appreciated by the chairwoman of the Cultural Organization of the municipality Anna Filini and the Mayor George Kaminis. Our goal is to make the festival an annual event and to turn Athens into a destination for scientific and cultural tourism, to attract people who are interested in meaningful intellectual events.
What are the main features of the ancient Greek drama, which make it different from the modern theatre?
The ancient Greek drama is a kind of theatre, in which sacredness and religious rite dominate. We find it even in Aristophanes comedies. The modern theatre is more about the everyday life of people; it deals with their everyday problems, whether mental, social or financial. The ancient theatre deals with large-scale political or social issues, but its base is connected to the religious rites. This kind of theatre connects the meaning of the sacred and the divine with the social and political issues, if you wish.
In this sense, would you say that it is somewhat difficult for the modern audience to understand the works of that era?
It is quite the contrary. The ancient theatre was an example of folk theatre and the works have been directed to a very large number of spectators. That is why the theatres are so big. We see that even theatres for 18,000 spectators were built. The performances were for all and they were educational too. People had stopped working to watch the theatrical performances. This is a kind of theatre that can be read, heard and seen on many levels: from the first understanding of the meaning of the story to a very advanced philosophical level.
What will we see at the festival?
The festival aims to initiate events, which will provoke, question different things, analyze and raise issues. We do not want to establish a festival, which will simply present some works. Therefore, beside the performances, we have planned to show films and recordings of major performances made abroad. We also have an exhibition of masks made by the eminent artist Thanos Vovolis because it is known they were widely used in the ancient theatre. In one of the performances, the actors will wear such masks.
The festival will begin on 25 August at the Kalimarmaro Stadium with a street show titled Prometheus. There will be also a theatrical tour in the region of Keramikos and on 1 September – a parade of volunteers who will recite excerpts from ancient tragedies in central Athens streets. The concert of Aliki Kayaloglou will present snippets of musical works of many famous composers such as Mikis Theodorakis, Manos Hatzidakis, Dionysis Savvopoulos and others who have composed music for productions of ancient tragedies and comedies.