Twentieth century Greek Theatre – Contribution to the History of Modern Greek Theatre

Theatre is a wider form of cultural creation and demands a particular way of treatment as it equally combines both the dramatic text with the theatrical performance and the artistic expression with the social occasion. The continuously increasing interest in 20th century Greek theatre subjects and themes, has produced remarkable results. In spite of this, there is still need for a complex study that covers the whole spectrum of theatrical activity during the course of this past century, as well as the Greek theatre’s correlation with society in the aforesaid period. Apart from the standard historically orientated research on theatre, that would exhaust all its interest in the detailed recording of events and would round off its intention by citing source credibility and objectivity, contemporary theatrical research certainly requires a study of different orientation. It must be the kind of study that, based on events and information of a special nature and interest, will research on the correlation between Theatre and Society, the original theatrical relation and its foreign influences. It must be the one that will attempt to illuminate, if possible, the totality of the cultural creation of Hellenicity in the 20th century, and its findings would be instrumental in the research on its contribution.

The present study is an extensive and systematic treatment of the subject stated in the title above. Because of the subject’s nature (theatre as text/literary genre, theatre as an artistic and social event/stage production), this study moves in various parallel levels that have to do with Theatre Studies, Sociology, Comparative Literature and the Fine Arts as well. The study presents, analyzes, criticizes, and makes known events that deal with the theatrical text and the performance, as these have appeared and developed in the course of this past century, introducing various important authors, among them: Gr. Xenopoulos, P. Horn, N. Kazantzakis, Sp. Melas, D. Bogris, Ang. Terzakis, I. Kambanellis, P. Matesis, L. Anagnostaki, B. Ziogas. Many significant stage directors are also included in the study: K. Christomanos, Th. Economou, Ph. Politis, D. Rondiris, K. Koun, as well as other, younger ones. Moreover, leading actors and actresses as well as exceptional theatre personalities are also mentioned: M. Kotopouli, Kyveli, E. Veakis, B. Argyropoulos, K. Paxinou, A. Minotis, A. Phokas, Kl. Klonis, Y. Tsarouhis, Ph. Kontoglou, Sp. Vassiliou, and D. Fotopoulos.

The study discusses and records the above individuals’ contribution to the advancement of the Greek theatre, as it is evident in the case of the National Theatre of Greece and the National Theatre of Northern Greece, the experimental stages that made their appearance at the beginning of the century, as well as in the mid-war and post-war periods, like the New Stage, the Royal Theatre, the Professional School of Theatre, the Art Theatre, the Municipal Theatres, and the contemporary avant garde stages. In the study, particular attention is given to the efforts made by leading theatre figures to stage and interpret Ancient Greek Drama, as this is manifested from the early days of the century in the works of K. Christomanos and Th. Economou, but mainly in the mid-war creations of Ph. Politis, D. Rondiris, Ang. Sikelianos, L. Karzis, K. Koun, and also in the staging of Ancient Tragedy and Comedy by younger directors.

Apart from providing information of historical nature, our research also focuses on other distinctive theatrical forms and categories that deal with folk civilization and tradition and their depiction in dramas based on tales and legends. Our goal is to stress on the authenticity of dramatic creation and the continuity of Hellenicity via a theatrical expression that fruitfully links the past with the present. A similar attempt is made with dramatic works that utilize the ancient Greek myths (either in the form of Tragedy or in the form of Drama in general), but also themes from the recent and distant historical past, via which authors seek to stress on the continuity and cohesion of Hellenicity.

The study also presents and evaluates the comic and melodramatic aspects of the original Greek dramaturgy, two interrelated areas and equally important both quantitatively and qualitatively, in a manner that the other “side” of modern Greek reality is projected. Finally, the study carefully examines and records the influence that has been exerted upon the Greek theatre in the 20th century by European and American authors, including H. Ibsen, Osc. Wilde, F. G. Lorca, L. Pirandello, T. Williams, S. Beckett, and Eug. Ionesco. It also demonstrates how various literary and artistic schools, creeds, and movements, such as Realism, Naturalism, Symbolism and the Absurd, have affected theatrical creation. Conclusively, all the aforementioned factors reveal the Greek theatre’s direct relation and connection with the world theatre course. Thus taking the specific requirements as a starting point, both the research methodology and the subject matter order are shaped into the following: In the Introduction the research methodology is underlined and an analytical recording and critical assessment of the existing bibliography is attempted.

The first chapter titled “For a Prehistory of the Subject Matter, European-Greek Theatre, an Ebb – Tide of Cultural Influences (16th-19th Centuries)”, is a historical retrospection of the early theatrical days, starting with the 16th and 17th century Cretan and Ionian Theatre, up to the end of the 19th century.

The second chapter bears the title “Historical Reality and Theatrical Creation”. It extensively presents the 20th century dramaturgical evolution. It also distinguishes other concurrent historical periods that are established on the basis of social and theatrical criteria (bourgeois theatre at the beginning of the century, mid-war and post-war periods), and records the Greek society’s progress in relation to theatrical performance.

In the third chapter the study is further expanding to include a complex evaluation and appraisal of the theatrical phenomena. “Taking Advantage of the Ancient Greek Heritage” becomes the title and subject of the study. It carefully examines the relationship between Modern and Ancient Greek theatre, as well as the various attempts to stage the latter, to write tragedies and other theatrical works that focus on its tradition (pairing mythological elements with those of the modern folklore tradition or themes borrowed from antiquity and adapted to contemporary social issues). The writers’ thematology and source of inspiration is thoroughly analyzed, along with the directors’ questions regarding the staging of Ancient Drama. Furthermore, the chapter underlines the theatre people’s artistic pursuit of aspects of Hellenicity.

“The Art of Entertainment” is the focus of study of the forth chapter. Comedy is discussed extensively in it along with revue as a particular form of comic theatre, so typical of 20th century modern Greek theatre. Their thematic and stylistic characteristics are defined, and although they are considered loans from other European originals, they are absolutely adapted to Greek reality in a manner that they become an integral part of the theatrical expression.

The fifth chapter refers to “Melodrama and Melodramatic Attitudes.” After analyzing all  the parameters of Melodrama and recording the ways and versions of its presence in Greece and the whole of Europe, we reach the conclusion that dramatics becomes a constituent part of the thematology and stylistics of modern Greek theatre. This aspect must be emphasized, as it is also found in other forms of modern Greek art (cinema, music and songs).

The sixth chapter is titled “Theatrical and Cultural Identity” and focuses on the folklore elements found in the dramas of the period we study, as well as on the characterization of the dramatic space and time (rural, bourgeois, industrial, past, real, imaginary, mythological) and on the dramatis personae (bourgeois, petit bourgeois, proletarian, provincial) in relation with objective reality. Based on the analytical material of previous chapters, the study further stresses on the dramatic personas, correlations, as well as situations that characterize the Greek Theatre in direct relation with the objective reality.

In the seventh chapter, titled “Theatrical Spaces Theatrical Stages and Designs”, theatrical spaces and designs are discussed as means through which the audience can communicate with the spectacle. The 20th century theatrical activity is also depicted in a succinct manner, as this evolves from avant garde stages and commercial companies, national theatres and organized institutions (municipal public theatres, festivals, and so on).

The eighth chapter’s title is “The Sociology of the Reception, Conveyors of the Theatrical Interaction and Mechanisms of Audience Guidance.” It deals with the mechanisms and persons, as well as the conditions and forces through which the audience communicates with the Theatre (authors, directors, actors and actresses, theatrical reviews, critics, publishers, mass media).

The ninth chapter is titled “Cultural icons and Originality: the Identity of Being Different, the Others and Ourselves”. In a deductive manner, it discusses the assimilating and incorporating mechanisms through which foreign originals had an effect upon the Greek dramaturgical body, and concludes by citing the aspect of Hellenicity as the ideological stereotype that characterizes the Greek theatre as a whole. In this chapter, it is also ascertained that Theatre, both in the form of dramatic text and as a theatrical performance, becomes the 20th century Greek society’s platform for discussing social issues and presenting its pursuits. It is directly connected not only with the anguished quest for the fundamental correlation with antiquity, but also with its necessary incorporation within the frame of the modern world. Tradition and modernity, east and west, past and present, native and foreign are the two opposing pursuits of the Greek Theatre and the society. They are ever present and always demanding answers, whose nature varies according to the historical and the other parameters of each epoch. Therefore, our study concludes with this chapter, through which the contradictory idea of the identity of being different is clarified. This, also constitutes the theatrical and cultural particularity of modern Greece, according to the international theatrical trends that characterize world theatre in the 20th century.