Final editing/Photo lay out & captions: Lila Papapaschou
Photos/Video/Translation: Giorgos Aggelidis
Autumn’s first month is drawing to its end and instead of beading it goodbye as we probably should, we –always authentically subversive– decided to welcome October and the year’s most sweetly melancholic season, which starts to become more and more present. A season during which the weather worsens day by day, but at the same time a season when new and returning plays premiere at theaters around the city.
Accompanying us in those first autumnal “Periplokes” is a couple –in life and on stage– that surprised us last year with one of the most inspiring plays we have ever seen: the famous and already loved by a vast audience, “AGGELIKI”. Katerina Damvoglou and Robin Beer welcomed us to their cozy house, offered us raki –among other treats– and revealed to us how this big –theatrical– journey of “Aggeliki Mattheou” begun. The journey of a girl that started in New Fokas, Smyrna at 1922, wandered the inner parts of Turkey before ending up at Rethymno and then coming before us today to help us realize, that in essence… “nothing has changed”.
We kindly thank them for the hospitality, the warmth and the trust they showed us and we present them to you through a question-and-answer game for four, just a few weeks before they begin their appearances at the Lower Scene of the Theater of Neos Kosmos (11/11/2016) and in the middle of a tour throughout Greece and Cyprus that will conclude at the end of October…
LILA PAPAPASCHOU Vs KATERINA DAMVOGLOU
GIWRGOS AGGELIDIS Vs ROBIN BEER
and in the end…all together!
L.P. Aggeliki Mattheou actually existed and her story, even if it seems almost fictional, is absolutely true. When you and Robin –as the FLY THEATER which you both constitute- decided to present a life’s journey capable of filling hundreds of pages in about an hour and a half, did you expect such a positive reaction from the audience?
K.D. No. We created “Aggeliki” because we ourselves had put some theatrical bets, while at the same time we wanted to touch upon the subjects of the destruction of Asia Minor and immigration. “Aggeliki” had for us a given value, even though we didn’t know if it would concern other people as well. You cannot know some things beforehand, if you don’t try to show what you feel, say it, communicate it so that others feel it too. With the audience’s warm response, even if it wasn’t our main goal, “Aggeliki’s” true importance and worth became even more apparent to us. The fact that at the end of every show, irrespectively of whether they were only two or a hundred and two spectators, the audience always gave us a standing ovation and teared up alongside us, constitutes the greatest proof that after all there was a purpose for all this. The applause is always a reassurance.
G.A. From the dozens –if not hundreds– of stories that were written in first person or based on historical evidence for the destruction of Smyrna at 1922 and the Greek wave of immigration that followed, you chose that of Aggeliki Mattheou. What contributed to that choice?
R.B. We begun with a story that fell into our hands. We didn’t decide to make a play for the 20s, immigration and the exchange of populations. Aggeliki, the real Aggeliki, was a close family friend of Katerina’s father at Rethymno, she was like a second mother to him. So we already had a personal connection to her. Her story, a story that she wrote down and published in local and some international newspapers, was part of the family. So our decision wasn’t to make a play concerning this historical period, but to adapt into a play this particular story, that –in a way– found us and had identity as its main subject. For us, this whole historical period, is about this subject; it concerns people that had to decide who they were and where they came from, and some other people that took those decisions for them. A subject always under dispute and therefore timeless.
L.P. The way you decided to bring “Aggeliki’s” story to life is without a doubt polymorphic, combining physical theater (Lecoq method), puppeteering and prose, alongside unexpectedly redemptive doses of humor. Do you believe that Greek audiences fear when they hear the term “physical theater”?
K.D. Yes, they most certainly do. And that’s why we took it off the play’s promotion, because we realized that here in Greece things are quite different from what we had come to know in England, where we begun. Physical theater is kind of an umbrella that includes a variety of spectacles, some of which have dance as their core and others theater. For us, physical theater means movement as well as the ability to visualize and even though it has a set purpose, it is above all a game of imagination. That is why the spectacle becomes polymorphic. In Greece we are accustomed to watching stable, kinesiologically naked monologues. Choosing, therefore, to combine a monologue with its respective movement, was a huge bet. And this aforementioned movement does not limit itself to the actor that is speaking, instead it is shared by all three actors that are on stage; all of them constitute the “chorus”. The subject of immigration is one we all learn to communicate in a journalistic way, firm and angry, because some people want it to cause extreme emotions, without however the existence of a logical foundation. To change this, we decided –as did Aggeliki herself in her writings– that we had to begin from point zero and through a wavelike path between laughter and crying, hilarity and tragedy, to progressively reach a peak. What we have come to conclude is that, when the audience laughs and it lowers its defenses, a dramatic “slap” is felt more heavily.
G.A. Why did you decide to permanently move to Greece, leaving behind London, which is admittedly more thriving both culturally and generally? It’s the opposite that’s considered more common nowadays.
R.B. For me London is in many respects much more “uncivilized” than Athens. It moves in a crazy rhythm. It doesn’t allow its citizens to stay in touch with their humanity. There is indeed greater financial fruition, there are museums, galleries and many events. But to sit and think or just “exist” in London is a rare commodity. From this aspect Athens is a much more civilized and cultural place. Of course we had to make many sacrifices coming here. Even though there are many opportunities in Greece, the living conditions are very different from what we were use to. Here you have to create opportunities on your own, in a way that you are not obliged in England. Many artists will disagree with this, they may even become upset, but there it’s much easier to do things. Here you have to forge your own path. The reason we chose to come here is that in a very personal level we didn’t find what we were looking for there. Yes, we could have moved somewhere else in England, but a moment came that we had already spent so much time in Greece, that in fact it wasn’t a difficult choice to move. In essence, what Greece offered us was the chance, the time and space to create our own work, something that we wouldn’t have been able to do in London.
L.P. What would you say to Aggeliki Mattheou, if you had the chance to meet her? How many “Aggelikes” do we meet today in our everyday lives, walking past them with indifference or so-called compassion?
K.D. “Thank you”. That’s what I would first and foremost say to Aggeliki. I may have roots in Minor Asia from my father’s side, but it was extremely difficult to find details concerning the human aspect of the distraction of ‘22. That is why I thank her, because she helped me learn some things about my own story and because, even indirectly, some things from her story found their way inside me, emotions, pictures, scents. Even more so, I thank her –and that was something we realized when we had already begun rehearsals and when the first wave of Syrian and Iraqi immigrants begun to arrive in the islands of Greece by the dozens, something that we lived up close at Sitia– because she made us understand what it means to be Aggeliki, especially nowadays. We are very lucky to be living in Greece and to be coming in contact with immigrants. Going to Notara, which is the first point that immigrants reach when arriving in Athens, Robin and myself made a step forward. Others, that may have had even bigger financial ability to help, made a step backwards. Because when they came face to face with this condition, they didn’t know how to react, it was that far off from their way of life. This is how suspicion and racism are born. We can’t help everyone. Perhaps we have to help ourselves first so that we can afterwards help others. I can’t feel remorse for not helping the immigrants every day. There are many times however that I do feel bad, for not doing so, even though I play Aggeliki. On the other hand, Aggeliki as a play is a statement. It teaches the audience to look at things from a different perspective. Because Aggeliki is a young girl that grew up being an immigrant, went through a lot in the hands of many different people, Greek and Turkish, but in the end chose love and forgiveness. So this I think is a lesson for those who arrive, but also for those that receive them.
G.A. Given that Greece of 2016 is a country where parents cosign petitions so that immigrant children don’t get accepted in public schools, and having yourself a British citizenship, did you ever fear a possible negative reaction towards your participation in a play concerning the –patriotically sensitive– subject of Smyrna and Greek immigration?
R.B. From the first moment we didn’t approach the play from its political aspect. For me “Aggeliki” is the story of a girl that suddenly finds out that she is not from where she thinks she comes from and she is forced to redefine her whole identity. An existing minority always approaches such stories with political agendas, wanting to solidify some ethnical and border differences. Personally, there are only few times in my years in Greece that I’ve come across such people. Instead, I’ve come to feel a tolerance and a tendency towards acceptance of the different, even in a bigger extent than what you come across in London. Perhaps British people indeed don’t have the right to touch upon similar subjects and perhaps I don’t have the right to make a political statement about what exactly happened at 22’. But as a person and as an artist I have every right to tell the story of a human being. Even the political aspect of this story is approached through a personal perspective. It is the story of a child that loses its family, its country, its home. For us “Aggeliki’s” message is universal.
L.P. Aggeliki is a child of Lausanne. Of the Treaty of Lausanne. What is, in your opinion, the contemporary treaty that allows those that “dominate” this world treat children like Aggeliki as “children of a lesser God”?
K.D. According to conspiracy theories, climate changes will transform Europe into a dessert and thus the destruction of the Eastern world is a way for us to colonize it. I don’t know if such a theory stands and I don’t take it into account either way, because it seems to me at least absurd. However, even in this story there is a fragment of truth. Because the motives behind everything that is happening around us, are usually financial. Politics have changed, if they weren’t always as such. War has changed as well and we are constantly seeking for new enemies to fight. The greatest force is that which enforces and has the biggest influence on a global scale. For the western world this force is the U.S. something that becomes evident from the way we dress, from what we watch on TV, from what we listen to etc. This force is the same that dictates who are the “enemies” we have to combat, shaping our way of thinking and showing cynicism and indifference towards “humanity”. Unemployment rises, the homeless people of Athens become more by the day and immigrants arrive constantly in our country by the dozens. It is given that there will be incidents of racism and violence. It is easy projecting to foreigners all our problems and mistakes and treating them like “black ships”. The fact that we are not the same, or that we don’t have common interests does not justify such anger. I believe that interacting with different people is crucial so that you don’t form a closed circle inside which you don’t know why you are fighting, who you are fighting or what this person or people are thinking. You are unable to either teach them something or learn something from them. Perhaps in the future, through proper education, things might change in a way that the laws of the jungle will no longer apply in the “jungle” of the city. I firmly think that both misinformation and our bombarding with incoherent pieces of information is orchestrated, so that it keeps us ignorant of what actually matters, of the essence of things, reducing us to “vougia”, as we say in Crete. Only if we teach ourselves to operate independently, will we be able to understand what we really need and become, even if already human, more humane.
G.A. We met you as “Killing the fly” before your team was renamed “Fly Theatre”. Why did you change your name?
R.B. Finding a name is always complicated. There are so many companies with wonderful names and you end up thinking, how did they come up with them? For example, the company for which we worked in London was called “Complicite” summarizing everything that you may ask from a theatrical experience. During the devising process for our first show in Greece we were marking around with an exercise using what we call the “seven levels of tension”, when you take one action and you look at it through seven different levels of physical tension, a process in which both the action and its meaning change. The action we practiced with was the hitting of a fly with a swath. The name was born this day while our logo came from the collection of the painter Leonidas Giannakopoulos. However, in the process we realized that our name had a “suicidal” undertone, so we cut the “Killing” part and we kept “Fly Theater” which is a lot more optimistic, implying that our team… “flies”!
L.P. & G.A. “Aggeliki” has already gotten dozens of raving critiques, having been presented –apart from her permanent “base” at the theater of Neos Kosmos– at Crete, Thessaloniki, Hydra, amongst other places in Greece, and you are now on tour as well, ready to visit other places in Greece and Cyprus, before the play begins its second run at the theater of Neos Kosmos. Which would you say was the warmest reaction to “Aggeliki”? Where did you receive your warmest applause?
K.D. We have presented “Aggeliki” and we will present it in the near future at a number of locations that came up unexpectedly filling our schedule for September and October. For me, we got our warmest applause at Chania, where we first begun. Having already presented a small segment of the play months before its premiere, it must have been orally communicated, because, especially on our very first show, we got so many people that they couldn’t fit. A warm applause from an extremely diverse audience. From friends, acquaintances and strangers that just saw the poster to political figures, and sweet “grannies” that came after the show and congratulated us. The space was not suitable for theater, the heat was unbearable, still –in spite of all the unfavorable conditions– it was the most beautiful experience. We got our second warmest applause at Exadi, a village of Mylopotamos with only 70 permanent inhabitants, again in Crete. The priest of the village and his wife created an event for the play on facebook, because no show had ever come before to their village. It was a community that had no connection to the spectacle or the subject. However, that is what “education” is in essence. They all came and they were so enthusiastic and innocent with what they saw, that really moved us. Children kept asking if the story was actually true and older people came up to tell us how many things were brought back to their minds. This was my favorite show and it’s certainly magnificent to put on a play for such people.
R.Β. As an actor I need a balance between the city and the village. I need to do shows for both the “educated” audience of a city and the –let’s say– “less educated” audience of a village. The food you get from both is different but equally crucial. From the city’s audience you get a more logical and thorough reaction, given that people living in cities have watched a great variety of plays and shows. So there you may get the reaction you expect as an actor, in comparison to other shows and artists. At the same time, however, a “raw” and spontaneous reaction from a village’s audience is equally –if not even more– important and beautiful. The reason theater is so interesting, is because the factors that affect how a play will be received by its respective audience are so different and vary in each case. To answer your question, I will agree with Katerina; we received our warmest applause at Chania.
“AGGELIKI” AND THE FLY THEATRE ARE STILL ON TOUR THROUGHOUT GREECE AND CYPRUS, JUST A FEW WEEKS BEFORE THEIR OPENING AT THE LOWER SCENE OF THE THEATER OF NEOS KOSMOS (11/11/2016)
SALONICA: Θέατρο Τ 3-4/10, 10-11/10, 17-18/10
PATRA: Lithografion Theatre 7-8/10
IRAKLEIO (CRETE): 21-22/10
LEMESSOS: CENTER OF PERFORMING ARTS “MITOS” 29-3l/10