For directors, performers and audiences ancient Greek drama provides a compressed narrative of the Western understanding of human existence over the course of nearly three millennia. It allows contemporary audiences to rediscover the Homeric heritage through the gratitude and amazement experienced and recorded by Athens’ democratic polis. The performances of Reinhardt, Rondiris, Stein, Suzuki and many others since the 1920s demonstrate that these qualities can be cultivated to provide a bulwark against the postmodern relativism that many theatre-makers rightly view as undermining their ability to “project the theatrical, philosophical, social and aesthetic issues of the play as seen with the eyes of the time in which the production is attempted” (Spiros Evangelatos, To Vima, 2 July 1972). “The gods have not withdrawn or abandoned us,” as Karolos Koun stated some 35 years ago, “We have kicked them out.” That we have lost the sense of being in the world, which the Greeks found so natural, should therefore not hinder directors from depicting contemporary society as capable of self-transformation as our ancient ancestors depicted it. It is this question of how to regain “the call of the gods” that has informed and shaped Greek and Cypriot productions of classical Greek drama since the 1970s.
Achilles’ speech in Hades—like all the poetry Plato wanted to expunge from his ideal republic—is a key to understanding that “Homer’s heroes, like the rest of us, had a great deal of trouble with suffering and evil, those things that make the meaning of life problematic” (Dietrich Ebener). They also had trouble with alienation—or how else should we understand Odysseus?—“the charismatic man who can find his way anywhere but is nowhere at home is a prototype of modern ambivalence—down to the love for his wife that coexists with the enjoyment of other erotic attachments too deep to be called flings” (Jannis Ritsos).
Similarly, Brecht’s influence on theatre cannot be overestimated. Particularly in Cyprus and Greece, starting with Karolos Koun’s 1957 production of The Caucasian Chalk Circle, aesthetic questions became political issues as well. “Brecht’s critical stance towards theatre making translated effectively into a critical stance toward society itself” (Elli Lambetti). His plays, aesthetic texts and especially his productions with the Berliner Ensemble were not only revolutionary for the stage but also strongly appealed to those working toward social change.
“His concept of ’epic theatre’ enhanced the relevance of the political issues being examined” (Petros Markaris) – an approach not unfamiliar to a theatre culture defining its roots in drama and performance of the democratic city-state of Ancient Greek society. Brecht’s “‘thinking capable of intervention’ helped to (re-)create an open-minded examination of controversial and critical topics that took place right in the hearts of both societies, allowing a dialectical self-examination of an identity construction trying to develop and refine itself further” (Panayiotis Serghis).
The social and political conditions – Greece during the Junta from 1967 to 1974 and the following process of democratization in Cyprus since the coup d’etat against President Makarios and the Turkish invasion in 1974 – created models for a new aesthetic understanding of theatre and history. “The Brechtian process of experimenting and analysis did not only offer liberating choices, but re-instated the art of theatre as a venue for socio-cultural change” (Vladimoros Kafkarides). “The stage became an orchestra again, where society investigates its affairs, facing its historical and social contradictions” (Panayiotis Skoufis).
An interdisciplinary workshop for theatre makers, scholars and beyond. Please send brief abstracts by 1 June 2016 to Mihaela Albu, at firstname.lastname@example.org
Workshop: Why Are Actions More Reliable Than Words? Drama from Ancient Greece to Brecht and the Modern World
2016 ISSEI conference
The University of Lodz, Poland