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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 7 May 2016
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 7 MAY 2016 21 GREECE Unfortunately, Greece is under-represented in theatre meetings abroad, usually in a fragmented way that does not allow for a true presentation of what is happening. There are hundreds of plays staged in Athens at the moment and theatre is in blossom, something that the rest of the world is oblivious to. We have performed in many European festivals and most of our audience can't hide their surprise, because they have a set view of Greek theatre, informed by the classics. They know nothing about contemporary Greece, so we are very pleased when they acknowledge the quality of our work and keep on inviting us. How does a play like Sons and Daughters appeal to people who are not Greek? In Sons and Daughters, we'v used true stories of Greeks, which makes it easy for the Greek audience to identify; they recognise themselves, their parents and families in the situations described. On the other hand, since it is about true stories of people in extreme situations (wartime, migration, and so on), the emotions are shared among people of other nationalities, their reactions are the same. Despite the culture and language differences, happiness and sadness stem from the same things, for all people. When we were playing the Second World War stories in Italy, and sang the song that the Greek troops were singing to mock Mussolini, the audience were in tears, because we were in Udine, where the first unit set off the deployment; they all remembered the grandparents who died or were injured during the war. When we were playing in Sarajevo and Nicosia, in a scene where we have air raid sirens blaring, we also had people in the audience bursting into tears. Pain and joy know no language, age or side. What is Phone Home about? It is a play based on real stories of people who left their homes in search of a new one. It is a play that will be staged simultaneously in Athens, London and Munich; the actors will interact via video-conference from each city. It is an idea that we've been working on for a couple of years now, collecting stories through weekly meetings with migrants and refugees. We chose the stories in which the protagonists eventually manage to contact their loved ones at their home countries or those who've migrated before them. For in- stance, one of the stories is about a homeless family of Syrian refugees in Athens; they go to a photographer's studio and Skype their relatives in Munich, pretending that the studio setting is their home, in order to reassure them that they are safe. So we have three venues and three theatre companies in one play, which will be streaming live (at www. phonehome.eu). When you take part in international theatre outings, are you seen as an ambassador of ‘crisisstricken Greece’? Sons and Daughters is an anatomy of the Greek psyche; what have you realised about Greeks, while working on it? This play is a different recounting of our contemporary history, from the perspective of the anonymous protagonists. It contains the true stories of the people who actually move things forward and who have to face the consequences of the decisions made by politicians and military leaders. Working on the play, we felt deep affection and appreciation for the elderly, all those usually put aside by everyday life, since they are not of 'productive age'. There is so much pain, but Yannis Kalavrianos also so much will to live within the Greek people, and being reminded of that has been very uplifting during these difficult times of crisis. Our parents and grandparents have set an example that has given us so much power. If you started working on Sons and Daughters today, would you seek a different kind of material? Our intention is to keep pursuing it. We want to build on this experience, of the success that this play has been met with in Greece and Europe, in order to create separate plays with stories relating to each location. We want to create versions of the play for the Greeks who had to migrate to the US, Argentina, Australia or Canada. The only thing we need is some assistance, so that we can get in touch with people willing to share their family history. Is there one story that didn't make it to the play, that has stuck with you? The story of a coal mine worker in Belgium, originally from Kommotini, who came up with songs to sing in the mines to deal with his fear. Have these stories of migrants taken on a different meaning, now that Greece is facing a double migration, seeing desperate Greeks fleeing abroad, while at the same time hosting migrants from the Middle East? We have collected many migrant stories, since this has been a highlight in most Greek families during the past decades. All families in Greece have some members or acquaintances who were forced to migrate in search of a better life. Watching the play today, we all saw the similarities to what is happening today. We stopped seeing these stories as something from the past. Like we already said, pain and joy do not change through time. What does it mean to be involved in theatre in Greece today? My theatre studies came late in life, after I had already studied medicine and practiced it. I changed my professional orientation completely because I found in theatre all these elements that gave me joy and made me feel I am progressing. For me, theatre is the highest form of art and the most important creation of the human intellect. It is beyond eras, situations and crises. Granted, current reality in Greece makes working in the theatre unbelievably difficult. State grants are all but completely cut off, and there's an army of vibrant, creative theatre-makers who cannot find support anywhere. They are struggling, each to their own strength, but they manage to achieve a lot. More and more Greek plays, theatre companies and individual artists travel all over the world, showing that Greece is not the devastated country shown in the media, but a place that continues to live and create despite and beyond the strains.
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