Thodoris Katsafados. (Text in english)
"Because the viewer has a very infallible instinct. They see what has been done with suffering, with work, with preparation and they receive it."
An interview that the famous actor gave us in the premises of the National Theatre, after the appropriate authorization was given to us.
Q: Well, dear Theodore Katsafados we are at the National Theatre and before the interview I would like you to tell us in what part exactly of the National Theatre we are now.
TK: This is the central walkway up to the galleries leading to the new stage.
Q: These beautiful murals we see along the corridor were made by whom?
TK: These murals were made by Ziller and during the 60s they were plastered and hidden unfortunately. Meaning that during my 25 years of work here I had never seen them. But with the restoration that was made when Mr. Kourkoulos was the director, this revelation was made and many of them were painted from scratch using the photographs we had as a reference. As a result they are restored exactly in the form of when they were first made. We are talking about an excellent job. And this is why the new stage is named Nikos Kourkoulos, because Kourkoulos really did a great job. On the other side there is the events hall. An equally wonderful room.
Q: When we say “events hall”, what exactly is going on here?
TK: Here meetings take place, for example in the early years of the construction of the National Theatre kings came here from the gallery and here took place the welcoming, some kind of a reception. Now we use it also as a rehearsal space and recently Peter Brook came to speak and made a very nice lecture here. So this is a place mainly for conferences, for speeches, for rehearsals etc.
Q: And since you said “kings” we should say that the National Theatre was once called...
TK:“Royal Theatre”. Like the “Royal Garden” is now called “National Garden”. We should also say that for a long time the National Theatre was closed and had been a place to accommodate refugees. So for a long time refugees lived here after the destruction of Smyrna.
After this short tour we begin our discussion with the famous actor.
Q: Theodore, first I want to say that as one moves around the premises of the National Theatre it really leaves him in awe. But an actor, as I have heard by many, either he plays at the National Theatre or at a neighborhood theater, must always give his all for the one opposite to him and honor the viewer.
TK: Of course. Listen, the space here can thrill all of us actors and especially me because I was here for many years and I have memories of my personal and my artistic life here. I got in as a young kid and stayed for 25 years. And from this alone I can tell you that it has a personal emotional charge. But of course as you said the audience should be respected in any space and play. Even in a room. The viewer comes and honors you with the ticket and with his presence and you have to give your best. Of course, for the National Theatre I will not be able to be objective and I do not know if what I say applies for all the actors and all the directors or viewers. It is my very personal opinion that we were always doing a very important work. Of course there are some exceptions. I won’t say that the plays were always important. There were wrong choices, there were moderate performances. But here we do theater. And the actors here, now and before, have the National Theatre as the first line of other options that can be either television or cinema. Because let's not forget that our work is part of our livelihood. I consider myself very lucky that I’ve been here for 25 years and I'm still here. Because we should not take for granted that I should be here, and not someone else. It's luck. Of course I worked for it. Certainly I had patience and it was my choice, after 10 years in the free theater with good progress, to come here 30 years ago and start almost from scratch. For example, before I came to the National Theatre I played in “NTA” with Manos Katrakis. A very important role next to Katrakis. I was also in the theater of Crete. In the semi-public theater of Crete back then.But it was my choice to come to the National Theatre and play roles and projects that I think I wouldn’t play outside the National Theatre. Because the National Theater has always served and still serves a repertoire that can hardly occur in the free theater. For economic reasons but also because troupes are multitudinous. Major plays such as tragedies and Aristophanes during the summer and Shakespeare, Ibsen, Chekhov and Brecht during the winter are plays with many actors. The producers of the free theater can’t withstand to bear the burden of such a production. The National Theatre can and owes to do it and also does it eventually.
Q: I will now pause for a query of mine that was created from your sayings. At the National Theatre, because you talked about Chekhov and other classical writers, works of classical writers are always staged in a conventional manner or in a more modern one. Or it could be prohibitive to do so when referring to the National Theatre?
TK: The first years, since 1980 that I joined until a few years ago and having seen all the directors of the National Theater, like Alexis Minotis who was then at the end of his term and Politopoulou and Tsatsou and later of course, Kourkoulos and now John Chouvardas, there was a more classic way ofstaging these plays. Directors and actors wouldn’t dare to do something let’s say, by today's standards, “tweaked” or covered. This rarely happened. Now it happens more often like in the free theater. We have influences from foreign troupes coming from Europe and generally we have bigger apperceptions of foreign productions. And directors dare in the National Theatre -it is not forbidden-to experiment and try new things. And in my opinion, although I am a little old and I cannot see with ease adapted or changed projects and performances, when they are done with seriousness, with thought and with documentation I can accept it. I cannot therefore say why not to do them. Let them be done. Both the classics and the major projects have many readings. That’s why they become big projects. No matter how many times a project is played you will always discover hidden new things. And you say to yourself, how come I didn’t see it the first time, how come I did not see it the second, how come I did not see it the third time? I happened to perform in a play many times, for example in “Antigoni”, 3 times with 3 different directions and really every time I discovered within the text and inside roles in collaboration with the director completely new things. And I wondered: why did not I see this in Creon? Now I run rehearsals for the play “The courtyard of miracles” and I played it again 30 years ago here in the same theater - then I had the youngest one, now I play the oldest- and actually while rehearsing we say things and I discover things that at that time I had not heard of. And so I discover things now in Kambanellis that at that time I had not seen. And I think if in a few years the play will be staged again, I will find new things. Do not forget of course that influences today are numerous and viewers are more demanding. Something that could be great 50-60 years ago due to the acting or the directorial factor, today might mean nothing. Like what we do now, after a few years, they mightnot mean anything. But what I say now, as I said before, is that everything that is theater made should be done with suffering and seriousness and not easily. If we were to erase a word from the text, we have to think long. A suit that we will choose for the actor to wear for his role, we would have to think a lot. Do not effect for the effect. Do not do tricks to impress the viewer so airily. Because the viewer has a very infallible instinct. They see what has been done with suffering, with work, with preparation and they receive it. Just as they receive what is done with ease.
Q: You talked earlier about the “Courtyard of Miracles” in which you will play now at the National Theatre. But with thisparticular play something amazing occurred. Can you tell us about it?
TK (with a big smile): Yes of course. Well, when I started at the National Theatre 30 years ago the first show I played was the “Courtyard of miracles”. I played during the summer in “Wealth” (Plouto) by Aristophanes and in the winter I played in the “Courtyard of miracles”. My character was the youngest in age. And now after 30 years I am asked to perform the same play but this time my character is the oldest one. And it is a wonderful coincidence. Because I admit that sometimes even now during rehearsals that show comes to my mind, those rehearsals, and those actors back then. We are talking about very shocking memories and emotions. I told you that all these years here in the National Theater have engraved my life. I have played in 60 -70 projects and I always remember the roles, the partnerships, the beautiful moments and the mishaps. So the theater is very connected with my life. It is a thrill and an honor. An honor! Because there are too many colleagues and even talented colleagues who did not have that luck. I am sincerely grateful when I look back and evaluate my life and my work and I feel only joy. I am blessed to have played these roles and “performed” these authors and have worked with almost all the directors. It is impossible for me not to remember Solomos, Voutsinas, George Michailidis, Kostas Bakas and many others.
Q: At this point I will take you a little back to refer to something that you already mentioned earlier, the great theatrical “DA” where indeed might have occurred something even more shocking than the “Courtyard of Miracles” . Tell us about it.
TK: This did not happen in the National Theater, but ultimately I don’t know what we call “coincidences” and if they exist
because I do not believe in coincidences. There is a “fate”. There is an unreasonable life guide and if you let yourself in this flow of things, there come some events which we call coincidences and you wonder how it is possible? About the one you mention, I played in “DA” with Katrakis for two years, in the Browdway Theater, and we did three years of touring in the province during the summer. In this project there is a hero who is 40 years old and remembers himself and no one on stage is “alive” apart from this man in his forties and heremembers his father, remembers his mother, remembers himself, remembers his first boss, remembers his first woman. All roles are memories. Well then I played the hero himself at an early age. The kid. And after 20 years I played again the same project with Petros Fyssoun in the role of the father and weperformed it again in the same theater with the difference that now I was on the same stage but playing the role of the son in an old age, resulting to remember myself on stage when I was playing the same role at an early age. And it really was a mess because while playing the scene I recalled Katrakis andmyself playing 20 years ago, the memory of his son.
Q: So, a few things cannot be expressed in words right?
TK: No, they cannot be expressed in words. And many times we want to say something and we end up saying something else, but as I said before I feel very lucky because after all I did not have a past nor of education ,nor of culture nor of family tradition. Not only I didn’t know the writers I mentioned before, but also what theater is. Between the 60’s – 70’s while I was growing up in a village, I had not even watched cinema. And when I was in Ano Glyfada, which was a village back then, I did not know which way Athens was. And actually throughthis work I discovered both writers and entire worlds. This work shaped me and cultivated me. I don’t mean that it educated me, but this research I do every time I play a writer and I try to find what other he has written and what else he has said, it illuminates me as a person in my life.
Q: Theodore Katsafados, in conclusion at this point I want to thank you very much both for what you said, but also for your hospitality in the wonderful space of the National Theatre.
TK: I thank you very much and I'd like to tell you that what I say, not knowing of course if the world is interested in, but it is my truth either it is clear or tangled. Truly I speak as I would speak to a friend of mine and I want to tell you that the theater for me is my great love. It is a love that never ended and I can tell you that as the years pass this love of mine with this job flares up. When I'm on stage I think that the whole world is mine. There are times, such as for example a few years ago I was playing the messenger of Hippolytus in Epidaurus and 7,000 people were watching. During the monologue and while describing how Hippolytus was killed with his chariot etc, in the climax of the monologue and even before I finished, people started applauding. I had fallen down and at that time I was thinking that if for 99 reasons I should not do this work, this moment alone deserved what I did. Colleagues were asking me how I felt and I said “as if God touches me”. And in“Bacchae” and in the National Theatre and when people come backstage to greet me, these emotional and beautiful moments cannot be replaced with anything. And ultimately I will say something very simple and very realistic. Let us notforget that through this work I lived and I made my family. So why should I complain? And although this era is very difficult, I am personally very fine with what I have done so far. The only think that makes me grieve, it stresses me and upsets me, is the children and the future generations. What will my child and children of the world do with everything that is happening now around us? Personally, I am not concerned about myself. Okay, I will “push” the time a little more and I will survive in my personal and in my theatrical life. My child and the children of the world. This is what burdens me.
Thank you very much.