The kaleidoscope of contemporary Greek dramaturgy



Modern Greek theatre, unlike, say, German and American, is a theatre basically of dominant trends rather than individuals. Following the trajectory and the various phases of post Second World War Greek drama, one notices that from Iakovos Kambanellis, the acknowledged "father" of modern Greek theatre, to Yiorgos Dialegmenos and more recently to Panayiotis Mentis, Akis Demou, Vasilis Katsikonouris, Yiorgos Eliopoulos, Sakis Serefas and Leonidas Poursanides, there is a realistic pattern of expectations that underpins their conceptions of dramatic character and form.
Through this pattern modern Greek playwrights have tried to express Greek theatre's concern to find a stage metaphor that would be symbolic of the average modern Greek wo/man. The reason why a specifically critical realistic dramatic literature became necessary during the postwar period becomes self-evident as soon as one contemplates the fairly disastrous political, social and economic history of the second half of twentieth-century Greece.
I will dispense with reviewing that history here. It suffices to say that, although it is prudent to be skeptical of extreme contemporary claims that would obsolescent the values, categories and politics of the writers who began writing in the 50s, 60s and even 70s, it must be admitted that significant changes have been taking place in Greece in the last twenty years or so and that many of the practices and assumptions of modern Greek theatre can no longer effectively describe contemporary Greek culture and society. With this I am not claiming that there is any extreme break and rupture with the recent past; there are, as mentioned earlier, enduring continuities with the past and many ideas and phenomena which are claimed to be very contemporary have their origins and analogues precisely in the modern era. Nonetheless, I would suggest that Greece lives between a now aging modern era and a new "post" modern era that remains to be adequately conceptualized, charted and mapped. Greek society, like most western societies, has reached a turning point where the "motor of history" (class struggle/consciousness) has become more difficult to articulate. This is not to say that Greece has reached the end of ideology; nor is it to say that class struggle or class do not exist. Rather, it simply suggests that those concepts are in crisis. The various forms of earlier realism (good as they were) are now ineffective to adequately organize the world of the simulacrum in which there are only appearances and disappearances. The end of the grand narratives, the crossing of generic boundaries and all the postdramatic hybridities that came to replace the fixities of Aristotle’s poetics, have all contributed to the redirection of local theatre writing, especially by younger artists and ensembles like Blitz, Nova Melancholia, Prospecta, Playback, Vassitas etc. In the place of unity, order and centered poetics we now have fragmentation, diaspora, non-hierarchy, heterogeneity, intertextuality, dispersion, self-transformation, eclecticism, pluralism, discontinuity, simultaneity, irruptions of the real. Now is the time for the aesthetics of undecidability; the time of drama as an open field of (im)possibilities, as an arena of a plethora of performative (re)presentations.
A small, yet indicative evidence of what is going on today is the growing attention many playwrights pay to the dynamics and the performative potential of the “word” itself, its inherent musicality and rhythm. Demetris Demetriadis, Maria Efstathiadi, Yiorgos Veltsos and Andreas Staikos, among others, create perplexed and playful textscapes that cater to the ear rather than the eye, a writing style that seems to attract more and more theatre goers, especially among those who frequent to the renewed (and renewing) Athens Festival. Quite noticeable is also the presence of actors and actresses among Greece;s prospective playwrights (i.e. Spilioti, Soteropoulou, Atheridis, Papadopoulou, Gramsas), as well as fiction writers who have less scruples to enter the field now that its rules are more relaxed and hospitable to alternative poetics (Sakis Serefas and Vaggelis Xadjiyiannidis are two good examples).
If one takes into account the fact that Athens alone hosts well over 400 new productions a year, with a good percentage going to Greek plays, it seems to me pretty futile to clearly mark its trajectory and conventions. What is worth pointing out here is that despite the fact that writing for the theatre does not pay much, Greeks still believe in its potential to express their frustration and anger, expose the corruption of the authorities, dramatize the daily struggle of the average citizen, reflect on the ontology of their medium  and, more recently, discuss the problematics of their European identity. By deconstructing fetishized pseudo-images of selfhood, communication and origins into a play of unmapped possibilities, contemporary theatre writing brings us closer to the threshold of "an-other" aesthetic and "an-other" ideological understanding of things and of "greek-ness/european-ness."
Those scholars who speak of a theatrical renaissance have reasons to do so. Never before had Greece experienced such a creative drive that caters to all tastes, ideological credos and sociopolitical inclinations. It remains to be seen whether this creative euphoria, this opening of the field to the availability of its own historicity and mutability, will produce a radically new kind of dramaturgy, this time closer to its European rather than Greek context. Many things will depend on the outcome of the financial crisis that the country experiences in the last two years. I do not know whether the slogan that says “theatre thrives at moments of crisis” will prove equally valid this time. Let us hope it does.

Note: This brief account of Greek Theatre was first published in the booklet prepared by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism  entitled Contemporary Greek Theatre: New Visions (Athens 2010).