Kostas Arzoglou. (Text in greek). 

An interview that Kostas Arzoglou, the famous actor, director and teacher, gave us at his cottage. And of course we are glad for the hospitality.

Q: Making any introduction for the man that I have before me is unnecessary. Only two words are enough. Kostas Arzoglou. K. Arzoglou first of all a big thank you for your time and I will come immediately to my question by saying “Let's talk about theater” since this sector is very familiar to you. So my question is simple. Finally, is there good and bad theater Mr. Arzoglou? Good and bad actors?

KΑ: Firstly, hello. Of course there is good and bad theater. Of course there are good and bad actors. But let’s separate them a bit. What do we mean by good and bad theater? Is theater made by a vulgar comedian bad theater? And when a troupe plays Shakespeare or Brecht, is it good theater because it refers to Shakespeare and Brecht? I do not think that there are these divisions. Instead I believe that there is another vertical segregation that defines the theater and the performances and the actors and directing and generally the “product”. The vertical separation is not about theater genres. I believe that there are very good variet shows while we underestimate them. But there may be a show out of “the bottom of the barrel” in Shakespeare or Sophocles. Therefore, the divisions should be made with regard to how well each kind of theater is. Let’s look a little deeper. I believe that our theater, the theater that we do, does not correspond to public expectations. I remember my father who was a simple employee and while I did not have anything to do with the theater then (even I was getting a scholarship in America for psychiatric studies), and my mother who was a housewife, taking me to see “the diary of a Young Girl” or “6 persons ask for an author” or “the diary of a madman”. What did this simple man have to do with all these plays? What was that calling him? I just think that the theater and the show were generally as a continuation of their life. Today it is not. I believe the imagination of older people is not like the imagination of young people anymore. And there has come the rift.

Q: So you think that it is the lack of imagination that led to this gap between the theaters of then and today?
KA: Absence of artists. And this concerns all levels. Both the actors and the directors and also the writers. Lack of texts. Lack of communication. So I think at some point us, the older ones and without exception, got sweetened by the impact of the public and we liked it but unfortunately we stayed there. That is in absolute terms if someone could see it, I think that we are no longer like the opera that has 3,000 public and that is all. That is it has some members who go there. Notably, there is this popular resonance that existed in the theater. I am saying that slowly or very quickly we’ll get there. We will get to the point that shows will be attended by 3,000 people and that’s it. But where are the rest 4,000,000 residents of Attica? Where are the 10,000,000 residents of Greece? This does not mean, I repeat, that we should go back. That is if we start this story about how nice it was in Avloniti’s and Vasiliadou’s and Logothetidi’s era, we do anything. No, I do not think that we should go back. These all impressed, they are played again and again on TV and that’s it. Essentially doing theater means trying to lure the viewers into a story foreign to them. That’s what Shakespeare, Sophocles and Aeschylus and Ibsen and Chekhov did. And some people say:
“Yes, but why should we be concerned with the problem of the three brothers of Chekhov”? But the question is not whether we regard the problem of the three brothers. The question is what “material” is made of. On the opposite, the task of theater is the magic of being able to take you in such a story that you can recognize the “materials” as intimate. Essentially watching a foreign story. Somehow we think of Oedipus for example that it is a universal issue, which is wrong. That he searches his identity etc. None of them. It is too extreme. Nobody has slept with his mother and no one has had children with her. But the “materials” from which this story is made up, which comes from Homer and was created afterwards by Sophocles, are recognizable. The viewer identifies a part of himself. Seeing a story that is foreign to him.

Q: Recently I heard something and I want your opinion about it. Since you mentioned Chekhov and also other great writers. I heard about Gogol, about the “Diary of a Madman.” And I heard from a person who is in the industry of theater. That these were good, but only for the era that they were written in. And that such projects do not fit today and they should not be played or if played they must be modernized. What is your view about this?

KA: Half - half. What I mean. Taking Gogol or Hamlet and dressing them up with blue jeans and playing with a TV-like immediacy is foolish and futile. On the other hand, playing Hamlet or Gogol the same way that they are always played is also unnecessary. I think that the look and the imagination of the modern viewer call for other things. Either the creators are able to find them or not and go home. There is no worst thing for the viewer than knowing the result in what is to be seen. He always needs to be amazed and surprised convincingly. I've seen actors that in order to show us that they are drunk, which we already know, they stagger and fall from wall to another and from chair to another chair. I have not seen that happening in life. Never. On the opposite, a drunken person tries to walk straight not to get caught. Why, then, belittling so much the viewer like he did not understand since he already knows. You know something. I believe that theater is something like architecture. That one should play with what the audience already knows. Or what it feels. The actors who are trying to show us how well they play what we already know are useless and futile actors. The objective is to confirm what the audience knows or suspects by almost doing nothing. This is the real interactive theater. Interaction does not mean writing on a piece of paper who the killer is and succeeding. This is not involvement. The participation is an “architectural building” which includes the audience. Entering into the mind, the senses and the nerves of the audience.

Q: A question that I want to make is about the theater directing and whether it is different from the film directing or not. I'm asking this because in the minds of some people these two coincide. Like the one who knows theater directing can simultaneously direct films and vice versa. I do not know if this is the case and I expect you to tell me about that.

KA: First of all I want to say that they have nothing to do with each other. On the contrary, several times the film directors say the expression “this is very theatrical, and I do not want it so theatrical”. Nothing to do with each other. The diagonal lines that a theater director should work with are different from those of television or cinema. Those of TV and cinema may look alike, but theater directing has no relation whatsoever. What can I say now? It's very technical. First of all the so-called “pillar” that is set between two persons conversing should never exceed one third person, ie “axis” behind him. It cannot be done. Always in front of him. On the contrary, for cinema this is for example the so-called “travelling”.

Q: How much directing have you personally made, Mr. Arzoglou?

KA: About 60 and I have played about 70 roles in my career. (Smiling) That covers forty years.

Q: Do you have a directional work more in your heart than the others?
KA: Inside me, improvising if I may say so, “M.Butterfly” stands out for me as an actor and many other things of course like “Dancing in silence” for example and as a director I would say the “Ghosts” by Ibsen and the comedy “Santa Claus is pure grime”. It is translated from a French version and I put it on the “Store” theater and it was amazing. But apart from that, I also enjoyed myself.

Q: Has a theater director to be also an actor?
KA: No, but he must have played. Necessarily he must have played. For indeed we suffer from directors who have never put on an acting dress. I think therefore that both the directors and stage designers must have a physical memory of something. It cannot be based on visual memory only.

Q: Sometimes I recollect the past based on what I've watched on theater and cinema. I would even say that my very favorite is Dimitris Horn who was your teacher Mr. Arzoglou. However I will be a little tight because I heard something and even by a well-known actor who said: “Horn was good but only for his era”. And I do not hide that I felt a little bothered. Eventually am I wrong when I say that when people talk like that about such people who left such a mark behind them, it might be a “sacrilege”?

KA: Not only you are not wrong, but also the man who says that Mr. Horn or Mrs. Paxinou, who was also my teacher, are “antique”, needs understanding and simply he does not know what he says. What I mean by this, to go a little deeper. The acting of Horn or Paxinou or others might be a little finite. But the communication that they succeeded with their audience is enviable. Can anyone that today believes that Mr. Horn is “antique” have this kind of communication or even more with the new media? If he cannot, then he needs understanding. Not only that but he also needs education. The objective therefore is not to make “modern stuff” but have no communication.

Q: Now that you said “modern”, I will move to another topic to ask you something specific. Sometimes we see in places such as Epidaurus, modernized plays or “plexiglass” as people say. Does that fit in Epidaurus?

KA: It is possible to fit if it’s very convincing.

Q: Who makes it convincing?

KA: The directing line and the actor. You know something, discovering “plexiglass” and trying to imitate with it the table of wood, is wrong. The plexiglass itself, the new material that we have at our disposal, submits another form. So the question is: “Are the actors ready for this other form?” That is, to have a structure of plexiglass and playing like it's a palace that Oedipus will come out from is the most “kitsch” thing that I can think of. It's like going to a remote village and meeting a bakery with a sign saying, “Rustic Bread”. Of course it’s going to be rustic. Thus, placing a trendy sign outside and still selling the same as before, that for me is the definition of “kitsch”.

Q: Mr. Arzoglou, finishing, a critical question. A young person comes and tells you: “I want to be an actor/actress. And not only that, but also I want to succeed because I love it. At the same time this huge competition scares me, though. Should I start? Should I enter this process during this difficult period?” Your answer to this.

KA: I would tell them not to start. And the more they would be insisting the more obstacles I would present. You know why?

Q: Would you do that on purpose to see how committed they actually are about dealing with theater?

KA: Exactly that. And to insist on it. Because no matter the obstacles, those who really want it they will overcome them. Otherwise if a girl or a boy would tell me that they want to be an actor because they simply saw an actor on daytime talk shows and the liked him, that doesn’t mean anything to me. And it shouldn’t mean anything to them neither. That is with the first or second obstacle they would quit. Well, let’s present the obstacles from the start because anyway they are true and if they really want it they will make it.

Q: Mr. Arzoglou, finishing I want to thank you a lot for your time. And also I would like to tell you that everything you said was so useful and beneficial that really took the form of a small seminar. And may we meet again at some point and you tell us new things.

KA: Thanks a lot and I feel shy for the kind words that you said both at the beginning and at the end because I feel that even if everything I said may have a value, for me it's something natural. This is the way I live, I think, I breathe.

ΕQ: In the same way it is natural and spontaneous for me to talk like that about you, and I am not trying to praise you at all since we all know who Kostas Arzoglou is. So we keep in mind that in the future we will meet again.

KA: Thank you very much and I am always available to you.