by Alexandra Papaisidorou
Over the past few weeks humanity has been going through a very challenging period, struggling to survive this pandemic, with thousands of casualties already. Life, as we know it, has changed for all of us.
It has been almost three weeks since theatres and cultural venues closed down, and day by day we have come to realise how important contact with the living Arts is in our lives. Theatres are hubs, places of reflection, entertainment, homes we go to in groups, audiences and artists alike, hoping for something that real life cannot offer us. Can anyone fathom what our society will be like after this crisis and how important its cultural reflection will be through artist insight and sensitivity? The presence of an international festival will be, more than ever, a need and our duty.
The Athens & Epidaurus Festival is an international event that has been warmly embraced by audiences and artists for 65 years. Normally on this day we would all be at Peiraios 260, together with friends, artists and journalists, to announce our programme. This is a programme we have been working on for seven months now, in collaboration with the entire Festival team and with the practical support of our Board of Directors, as well as my invaluable team of artistic advisors: Stefanie Carp for international theatre productions, Costa Pilavachi for music, Ilias Chatzigeorgiou for dance and Evi Nakou for artistic research and audience development. However, we are dealing with unprecedented circumstances and our communication is limited to this message.
I am not to announce our programme in detail, nor speak about the oer 70 events that we have planned for you. Out of respect for the whole Festival team and the artists who have worked towards making this programme, you can find the detailed 2020 programme – as originally conceived – on our website.
I would like to note, that my collaborators and I realise that this year’s Festival will not take place as initially planned. Nevertheless, we feel the need to send out a message of hope: we are here and are working hard in order to rethink and redesign the Festival with as little disruption as possible. We do hope that we will be able to realise it, with safety for everyone, as soon as circumstances allow it. We are examining different scenarios regarding the dates that this year’s Festival will take place on, always with the unwavering support of the Minister of Culture. Our priority is the health and safety of the audience, the artists and the whole Festival team.
We hope that the artists will soon be able to safely return to their rehearsals and that our venues’ doors will open to welcome you all. Besides, the image of an empy theatre signifies a cultural desert for us and this does not become our festive mood. This year the Festival would like to celebrate its 65 years with a series of new initiatives.
Now I would like to point out some of the basic pillars upon which the concept and planning of this programme were based, in the hope that my collaborators and I will have the opportunity to present it to you in detail as soon as circumstances allow it.
This year’s programme will feature theatre, performances, dance, concerts, opera, musical theatre, visual arts, talks, cinema, parties, research platforms and children’s events. Our main concern this year has been to deepen and expand the Festival’s outreach. Expand the art forms featured in our programme and our target audience. Make audiences more actively engaged with the Festival experience in general. What is also important to us is the element of surprise, to debunk the myth that certain art forms are not suitable for a festival or a certain venue.
Starting with theatre, we urged Greek artists to explore uncharted territory. Veteran and emerging artists pursued that path, wishing to dabble in it for the first time or to continue their research in fields they had already worked on. We asked the artists to challenge themselves in new forms; to revisit classical repertoire with a liberating eye; to build performances on new dramaturgical forms. We pursued polyphonic harmony as far as the representation of forms and aesthetics are concerned. We made room for comedy with hilarious plays and we delved into human drama through the eyes of leading international artists.
Regarding our guest international theatre and dance productions, we have two directions:
We are introducing entirely new faces through the section “Introducing to Greece”, while also bringing back beloved artists, who left their mark on the Festival in the past. If all goes well, we will able to offer you spectacular shows from artists who are at the forefront of the performing arts. These are performances that we have carefully selected from the international stage, and most of them are distinguished not only for their unique style, but also for the way in which their creators reflect on socio-political turbulence. From Chile to France to Poland to Israel to Brazil to Russia, we will present you with stories about erotic desire, women’s place in society, desperate crimes of passion and unborn children, ancient myths and people that fly through the centuries with wings and bathing suits, in a ten-hour performance, a not-to-be-missed experience with intervals for food and a party. Furthermore, we are launching a number of co-productions, the first benefits of which we will reap this year, while we’re seeking to expand these co-productions not only to Athens but Epidaurus as well. Our programme includes over 1,400 artists from more than 30 countries and 70 events, with 40 premieres and new productions.
In Athens we are launching a cycle on Ancient Drama, aiming to further research on this genre in indoor venues, featuring Greek and foreign directors.
At this point, I would like to mention the Epidaurus Festival in particular, where our international co-productions will be hosted in the years to come. Our goal invariably remains Ancient Drama, the ancient texts in general, and their contemporary stage interpretation. Our experience in recent years has shown us that there is a gap in the dramaturgical approach of an ancient text, a process that will make it speak through the stage language of today and the latest directorial trends. So, we wanted to turn the quest of theatre professionals in that direction, hoping that this can bear fruit in the future and infuse Epidaurus performances with new material.
While there are numerous notable efforts in our country to enable further training and research for actors and dancers, we were lacking a research structure in Dramaturgy. Therefore, we wanted to suggest a way to give a group of professionals the opportunity to work with new tools in their dramaturgical approach to Ancient Greek Drama.
To that end, we are introducing the Residency programme Parodos, which will last for a total of seven weeks, taking place in Athens for four weeks and then at the Little Theatre of Ancient Epidaurus, that will be used exclusively by our guest artists for three weeks. They will be able to work there undistracted. The research will be practice-based and will be supported by leading artists from Greece and abroad. Parodos is the first interdisciplinary studio residency programme for Ancient Greek Drama, with a focus on contemporary dramaturgy, its scenic forms and the procedures of artistic production. The open call for Parodos will be posted on the Festival’s website, as soon as we can share more details on this year’s programme with some degree of certainty.
The Little Theatre of Ancient Epidaurus, on the other hand, is dedicated to Music and Musical Theatre. Concerts and shows of a broad spectrum of Music, famous artists sailing in uncharted waters, performances running the gamut of experimental productions from Baroque to electronica to opera and the underwater discovery of a sunken city. Experimental and electronic music are presented at Peiraios 260 for the first time ever. We are opening our doors to welcome domestic and international club culture, allowing it to be heard through two of its main forms of expression: electronic music and clubbing performance. Sometimes independently and sometimes in dialogue with one another, our planned events, namely concerts, parties and workshops, are targeting a younger audience and fostering dialogue within contemporary music.
The Layers of Street cycle is dedicated to hip-hop and street culture. We are opening the Festival’s doors to street dancers, giving them access and space to engage in artistic creation. At the same time, through events like this, we are inviting younger audiences to join us and become an active part of the Festival. We present important international artists, who are inspired by hip-hop, creating a new choreographic language, and for the first time in the history of the Athens & Epidaurus Festival, we are holding a two-day battle, i.e. a dance battle with a prize, under the title Athens Festival Urban Dance Contest.
At the Odeon of Herodes Atticus we are focusing on contemporary music featuring great composers, who create unique soundscapes by mixing classical with electronic sounds; artists we are not used to enjoying in this venue. For the first time, we are hosting Jazz Sessions, consisting of major jazz stars. At the same time, beloved Greek artists will be presenting their new albums live for the first time. We also have a great dance co-production with 70 performers on stage and a symphony orchestra, a project we are very much looking forward to. Of course, classical music, great orchestras and opera will all feature prominently in our programme.
In addition to these events, we wanted to enhance and deepen the Festival experience as a whole.
By stressing the connection between modern creation in performing arts and Ancient Drama, this year’s programme is filled with special events that are named after Ancient Theatre or its dramaturgical and architectural structure. Apart from the research programme Parodos, we are launching the section Prologue, where 30 minutes before the premieres at Peiraios 260, dramaturges and dance specialists, guide us through the universe of every performance, helping us to enjoy them even more. And after the performances, the artists will discuss their work in post-show talks as part of the section Exodus.
We are renaming our favourite Creative Workshop for Children in Epidaurus, Little Trackers, after Euripides’ satyr play.
Finally, we are further extending the viewing experience using the audience as the focus: we are naming the in-between open space that connects all the halls at Peiraios 260, Platea. Platea in Greek means ‘square’, an open meeting point, but it also means ‘the stalls’, the theatre area in front of the stage, where spectators’ seats are placed.
Thus, in our Platea, a new meeting point will be born, with huge tables, a mini restaurant and a bar, where audiences can come early, but mostly hang out after the end of the shows, in order to talk about what they watched and share their experience over a glass of wine. It is a popular habit world, but more importantly an inextricable part of our tradition: sharing our life, its trivial and notable incidents, around a big table.
We are monitoring current developments, hoping that we will soon be able to provide you with further information about the realisation of the Athens & Epidaurus Festival.
We hope that this unprecedented situation will be over as soon as possible and that we will soon be able to return to our stages and celebrate life, creation and coexistence.
Thank you and we wish you all strength and courage.
*you may find the full Festival agenda here