European Program Horizon 2020

Proposal Title : Values Across Space and Time

Proposal acronym: VAST

National and Kapodistrian University of Athens: CONTRIBUTION TO THE PROGRAMM

Scientific Director : Theodore Grammatas, Emeritus Professor


Theoretical background

In the era of postmodernity, the general belief in the autonomy of the text has been abandoned. The author’s meaning may be inherent in the original text, but is produced and reproduced by the recipient, the reader or the spectator, who is the final co-author of the meaning. In theatre and dramatic text, the performative and imaging discourse, which is appropriated by the audience, signifies the scenic transcription and formation of the play within socio-historical contexts.

The contemporary theory of reception holds that everything is a reproduction of (pre) existing texts. As R. Barthes has argued, intertextuality is the state of any text. Therefore, all contemporary artistic creation is primarily a form of social co-creation and every theatrical production is always reproduction. Every meaningful act of writing loses a part of its original context when it is transferred and appropriated in a different context. Undoubtedly, when we put something in a new context, we change it, whether we aim to or not. Even without intending to, every new production of any text, whether classic or not, constitutes a new historicity, thus setting the laws for its reading and reception. In the terms of P. Ricoeur’s phenomenology , it redefines the present or it is redefined by that, meaning that it “discovers” new aspects of the contemporary real and releases the potential of a new explanation of the world and ourselves.

In the end, it’s all about who controls or shapes the laws of representation. Who is representing and what is represented, through concepts such as alteration, transformation, adaptation, assemblage, cut-up technique, pastiche, signifying, version, appropriation, abridgement, reduction? In contemporary adaptations of ancient drama, the ancient texts are no longer confined to a narrow circle of intellectuals, but are introduced in a wide spectrum of social life. They inspire and trigger various creative forces, those who seek ideas on human rights and the right of political asylum, expansionism, genocide, the conflict between East and West, and the concept of the “other”. They refer even to those who are concerned with psychoanalysis (e.g. Medea or Andromache). Furthermore, ancient texts provide an invaluable source for those who investigate human nature and values. Concerning values, ancient texts trigger questions on their timeless and invariable nature or their historically dependent and ever-changing nature (e.g. the moral questions erupting from Antigone, Hecuba and Medea).

In conclusion, the classic writers will remain contemporary as long as they are addressed with questions and anxieties of different historical contexts. The answers to the questions of life posed in these texts depend, inevitably, on other ideological and aesthetic enquiries. Therefore, the original meaning of the text is enriched by the director and is completed with the conscious act of appropriation by the audience.

Research Case

“The medium is the message”. The emblematic phrase of Marshall McLuhan has marked modernity and the society of the spectacle. Therefore, every research, that seeks to identify the size, the parameters and the exact content of the concepts and values which affect people through various types of informal education, aims to identify the ways and the medium through which it occurs.

VAST’ s first pilot will use ancient Greek tragedies as a starting point for the digitisation process. We will focus on the values and messages of ancient Greek culture, such as freedom, democracy, dialectics, human dignity, and we will see how all of these meet the contemporary man through theatrical plays. Our aim is to identify, evaluate and highlight the mediating factors which transfer the humanitarian values to the consciousness of the contemporary theatrical audience. As an expected result, theatre has a significant educational and pedagogical role in the psycho-spiritual cultivation of the spectators and in creating cultural consciousness and memory with universal and timeless reference.

The theatrical performance is a one-off event, bound in time, and artistically suspended between an elusive contemporary evaluation and an ever-decreasing mnemonic record, which makes any judgement about it extremely precarious and relativistic. Therefore, if we consider the “making of memory” as a performance, where the memory of the writer is creatively combined with the memory of the actor, as is the memory of the spectator with the memory of society, then theatre could be considered as the “art of memory”, reflection and the repetitive emergence of a timeless past. VAST platform will provide the place to preserve and interlink all these aspects of the initial text in relation to the modern theatrical adaptation and its artistic constituents.

We will focus on identifying and analyzing the content of the works, the ideas, values and messages emanating from them, and the relationships and situations experienced by the heroes. Our intention is to identify whether and how they affect the consciousness of the spectators and act as a catalyst for their memory, and then proceed to a performance analysis of the visualized message of the works. We will correlate dominant performative elements of the spectacle, such as the acting and the communication systems – phonological and kinetic – of the actors, with the general characteristics of directing (e.g. rhythm, interaction, spatial positioning, kinesiology, costumes, masks etc.). We will investigate the relationship between mnemonic recording and artistic context, and how the endurance of memories is correlated with the sound code, music and the potential presence of technology in order to produce different experiences to the audience.

On this basis, we argue that it is possible to identify those elements of the play that influence and determine the degrees of influence and appropriation of the messages, humanitarian principles, and universal acceptance of ideas which were constituted in ancient Greek culture and remain active to this day.

Part 1 – Past of values

This pilot wants to study values of antiquity, as can be found in stories like ancient Greek tragedies. Greek tragedies, this unique cultural moment in history, situated the notion of tragic as an element of human nature: Using moral values and messages as a vehicle, these stories attempted to help audiences transcend the “here and now” of their own existence to the “elsewhere” of the mythicized story. We will add metadata related to values to selected plays, and we will interlink these with the “Registry of Values”, curated by NCSR-D’s “House of Classical Greek Ideas” in Athens.

Part 2 – Present of values

In the second part of this pilot, we will examine how these values are re-visited in the present through each modern theatrical reproduction of the classical plays. We will analyze the new meaning that is created with each new adaptation of the text, through the interplay of various semiotic systems such as acting, music, voice, sets, etc., through which characters and text are brought to life.

Using tragedies, this part of the pilot will examine how values and messages from the past (i.e. those found in Greek tragedies) are perceived and revisited today: How does the director of a play today, chooses to present values coming from antiquity to the modern audience? We will digitize the experiences and stories from modern creators (directors, actors, costume designers etc.) using iconic/significant theatrical reproductions as “case studies” (selected with the help of University of Athens – NKUA). This digitized material will be used (employing semantic Web technologies) to enhance archival material maintained by theatrical organizations (such as Athens and Epidaurus Festival – FESTIVAL).

In order to demonstrate how the results of the research can be used in museums, we will use the findings of the analysis to create an educational program for museum visitors. The program will be implemented in the “House of Classical Greek Ideas” museum and will be linked to the permanent exhibition. The “House of Classical Greek Ideas” is a collaboration between NCSR-D and the Ministry of Culture in Greece. It aims to create a model exhibition on classical Greek ideas and ancient Greek philosophy. This pilot envisions, through the educational program, to prompt the visitors’ views on how these values are present in their lives/modern society. The collection of these views could be the starting point for a large public debate on core European values.

The users of the produced material of pilot 1 will be: I) the House of Classical Greek Ideas, whose curators will use pilot’s outcomes to enhance the museum’s exhibitions, ii) scholars, researchers, other museums and educators.

Stages/Research Dimensions
1. Bibliographical and source research

Our research will begin with an in-depth study of Greek and foreign bibliography, concerning the content analysis of ancient Greek tragedy, the public response to the theatrical plays, the mechanisms of ancient drama appropriation in contemporary theatre, the function of theatrical space, but also the problems of stage performance, modernization and interpretation. The bibliographical research will proceed to the study of sociological and psychological treatises related to the message appropriation within a theatrical context.

2. Field research: Study of the plays

We will analyze emblematic ancient drama performances by Greek and foreign directors, which are videotaped and accessible to the public. There will be a performance analysis of their content in relation to the specific semantic semiotic codes (directing, acting, visual arts, music) that support it and present it as the “’view”’ of the director to a specific audience. We will make a comparative approach to the same performances by different directors, in order to record the particular artistic and conceptual content in relation to the factors that shape the “aesthetics of appropriation” (public expectations, social psychology and behavior, artistic experiences, etc.). We will collect and study the spectators’ reception of these theatrical plays, as they were recorded in the press and the theatrical reviews of these plays.

3. Interviews with the key actors/creatives

The research on the appropriation of the ancient drama messages by contemporary audiences will be completed by personal interviews with key members of the creative team of the performances analyzed in the second phase (directors, actors, artists). The given answers, as well as the completion of questionnaires distributed, will lead to conclusions about the timeliness and timelessness of the ancient drama’s messages.

4. Interviews with spectators and museum visitors

In order to conduct holistic research of the spectator’s theatrical memory, the long-term abilities of the memory and the impact of the ancient drama in human consciousness, a quantitative and qualitative approach will be followed. Specifically, our research participants will be invited to answer cognitive recall and recognition tests, and semi-structured interviews at different time periods, in order to evaluate the memory of the participants. This process will be completed in three phases to allow for the evaluation of both short-term and long-term memory. The interview’s questions of the third phase, as well as the recall and recognition tests, will have a theatrical, aesthetic, historical, literary, psychological, sociological, cultural content, in order to cover all these parameters impacting the impressions of a multicultural audience.

In order to demonstrate how the results of the research can be used in museums, we will also use the findings of the analysis to create an educational program for museum visitors. The program will be implemented in the “House of Classical Greek Ideas” museum (NCSR-D) and will be linked to the permanent exhibition. This pilot envisions, through the educational program, to prompt the visitors’ views on how these values are present in their lives/modern society and record their experiences through interviews and questionnaires.