After “Iphigenia en Avlidis” – last performance at Herodeo on September 30 – what are you preparing for the winter?
I am writing with Panagiota Pantazi – we are doing a research – about Marie Curie. This is the most important personality, in my opinion, of the 20th century.
Why do you think?
The way he chose to exist, that he insisted on studying, is unique. He very much wanted something to happen. He succeeded by leaving Russian-occupied Poland and went to France. Einstein had said of her that she is the most selfless person he had ever met. She did nothing for herself, she only wanted to contribute. She didn’t care about matter at all, only spirit and man. Another charming element in her biography is the ideal love she lived with Pierre Curie. Also interesting is the way she was treated by French society – they devoured her – after Curie’s death. He criticized her for having an affair with another, younger, man (p.s.: because of this the French newspapers almost ignored her Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1903). But she died, she dreamed: in a bed, calm.
Are you concerned with the position of women in society in your creation?
Of course. In my opinion there is no equality, I don’t see it. Even the most progressive man still contains – in his behavior – residues.
Do you consider yourself progressive?
I think progressiveness is tied to the choices we make. The way you live and stand up for what you believe in shows how selfless you are. Privilege and progressive are – or at least should be – incompatible concepts. We give daily examinations, first to ourselves and to society to defend the progressive reading of life.
What kind of environment did you grow up in?
I come from a wonderful popular family in Thessaloniki. When I was 15 years old, we came to Athens, in Vrilissia, because of my father’s work. He was a tailor and created a craft. We had a decent living. There were no artistic concerns. I grew up in an environment that was illegal because of its ideology. I didn’t have the experience of coming from a middle-class family. I entered the theater knowing absolutely no one.
I mean, how?
Choosing to initially study directing at the Stavrakou School. Then I left for Paris in order to continue in Theater Studies. However, I did not complete my studies because I returned to Greece.
Why did you stop your studies?
At some point I realized I couldn’t cope. I went to Paris without any support and was forced to work. But they understood that I was messing around in everything I was interested in doing, in everything I loved, to be able to survive. I wasn’t able to devote myself as I wanted.
Did you consider your return a defeat?
Not at all. I decided very early on that I want to live in Greece and claim what I am entitled to. I also consider everyone who lives and works abroad lucky and blessed. Many important Greeks abroad excel.
You went to France with dreams that were dashed.
No dream is thwarted. Many times you have dreams, which collide with the relentless – timeless – reality. I never backed down. When I was a little kid in Thessaloniki, we played with the other kids in an alana, which became muddy when it rained. We knew that when we returned home a harsh punishment awaited us. But we were playing, we were bleeding in the mud, we were doing what we wanted. We played and we knew we would pay. This happens in life too. For everything I dreamed there is a cost. I knew all dreams come at a cost, but I didn’t stop dreaming. I’m not the only one like this, there are many like me.
Before I left for abroad, I studied at the Higher Industrial School. I must say that these studies later helped me in the management of cultural institutions, of which I took over the artistic direction.
You entered this adventure from a young age.
At the age of 29, I took over the artistic direction of the Byron Festival.
How does one entrust such a young man with a position of responsibility?
It happened under very great circumstances. On the occasion of a show I had directed – “The Comedy of Misunderstandings” – which was staged for the first time in Greece at the time. That’s how the proposal came. At that time efforts were made in Byron to strengthen performances – we had one or two productions of our own – and to create events. Now the landscape has changed nationwide and the artists are going to inhospitable landscapes. The Local Government has a very big responsibility for how the traveling modern culture is today, that is, the tours. The actors are only interested in the rent they will collect and the invitations they will get, without coexisting with the events. Clearly there are – exceptionally – great cases. I would ideally like there to be an operating framework, either in the educational part that concerns culture, or in the institutional sector. In other words, let rules come into play. For example, why do we have thousands of actors and not – for example – fifty excellent production managers or other specialties that involve both cultural and entertainment professions?
You did not regret returning to Greece. Did you regret your involvement in politics?
No, because it was a conscious choice. Besides, I have been consciously active politically since I was a child. It was an important experience for me. I did it with my soul and my belief that something can change and I think something has changed.
The way we talk about culture is not the same. Along with others, we fought very hard to bring culture as a central theme. Because it is both a social and economic dimension – and it could be a very serious development pillar, profitable, which will also create jobs. Politicians do not realize the importance of culture because they think they have other priorities. If they nominated him, we would win a lot. It takes a visionary plan, that’s the point. Culture, as I have said from the floor of the Parliament, is not the business of a – talented or not, it does not matter – culture minister or a party.
Part of art is to stand critical of authority. Did you manage to “compromise” this when you were an MP?
That’s how it is, but I think you can “compromise” with the way you are. I met SYRIZA MPs who did not act as professional politicians, but selflessly.
Only in SYRIZA are there the MPs you describe?
I’m talking about those who I lived through – for whom re-election was not an end in itself. When the MP ceases to care about his re-election, he will be more useful. Otherwise he submits to a series of concessions, makes the citizen a client.
How did you overcome this hurdle?
I did not engage in bribery.
Did all the proposals you made regarding culture, during your term of office, go to SYRIZA?
Everything was discussed and a lot was passed: the 6% VAT on concerts, the creation of a Secretariat of Modern Culture, so today we have a Deputy Minister of Modern Culture, which is very important. Also the discussion and the conflict that took place in the area of copyright, with many traumas of course.
And a lot of mistakes, let me say.
The guilds and individual interests of the artists are responsible for the mistakes. What matters is that there was a collision. I should also mention that no supervised institution was in debt: the Lyriki, the National Theatre, the State Theater of Northern Greece. These were political choices and no one can dispute them.
You told me that you come from a popular family. In your experience, is there a sense of class in art, especially yours?
Of course there is, just as there is toxicity.
How did you manage to penetrate this class and toxic environment?
Because I didn’t deal with anything but those I loved. I don’t belong to any group, I learned to respect and I always had a great need to admire people.
Who did you admire?
Theodorakis, Hatzidakis, Elytis, Ritsos, Campanellis, whom I met, but also other people who were or are really important. This creates exaltation and commitment: that is, that you must be worthy of your fellowship. This commitment was life-saving. I never forgot where I started and I hope my children never forget it either. This path must exist. It starts with a refugee, a second refugee, the self-exile of one of the two grandfathers in Czechoslovakia for ideological reasons, the return, my neighborhood. I grew up on streets that I should never forget. My only asset is my memory. The only winner in time.
Printed edition “TA NEA” – in.gr