“Stable collaborations help you to better understand methods, participants, aesthetics, expressive means”
Guiding a team to a shared goal is clearly one of the most challenging yet fascinating professional experiences you can have, says actor and director Christos Sougaris, drawing parallels between theater and football.
“Some professionals will sooner or later take on responsibility for a group of people – as a football coach or, in theater, as a director,” he points out, adding that unlike in football, in theater you can apply to acting what you have learned from directing, to get improved, more productive results.
He also believes that every performer hides within himself a director – though some choose to bring that director out and others to keep this aspect hidden.
He also draws parallels to his own trajectory in theater. “I grew up at the National Theater of Northern Greece and, after an extremely fruitful period there, I moved on to more ambitious paths – more competitive ‘championships’, one could say.”
His inaugural performance at Onassis Stegi; the world premiere of ILIAD at the Athens Festival; ”Journey” with the participation of teenage refugees at the National Theater of Greece; his first time directing at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus and the Athens Concert Hall are all career snapshots that confirm just how beneficial it was for him to seek out new experiences.
In spring 2022, he took over as Head of Artistic Programming at the NTNG, alongside the new Artistic Director of the organization, Asteris Peltekis.
“Personally, I will do everything in my power to ensure that the Theater functions as a serious European organization, working with the best and most important artists of our time both from Greece and from abroad,” he says, and points out that for this new team, there is but one priority: good theater.
He believes that the NTNG ought to redefine its relationship with the city’s theater-loving audience and invest in approaching productive youths, an audience of more than 100,000 students. “In time, we will discern the particularities of this audience segment,” he says.
After all, for Christos Sougaris, the theater is not about people monologuing on a stage but conversing within space – audience and performers alike. “Every exchange requires from its parties physical, emotional, mental and mental participation. How engaged they are depends on the quality of the involved parties; personally, I am interested in audiences who feel.”
Though he belongs to the “television generation,” he has stayed away from it. He does not declare himself opposed to the medium, but to the terms of television production and, even more so, to its aesthetics. “My involvement in a television production would not be about the medium but how I could participate as a professional.”
After all, as he says, he does not like to put water in his wine. “The personalities I look up to pursued their dreams with passion, were defeated many times but were then vindicated. Personally, the only water I can stand in my drink comes from the ice cubes. Anything more breaks down the structure.”
Following the same logic and because, as he points out, “theater is too serious a matter to waste your energy here and there,” he prefers stable collaborations, as evidenced by his long-standing relationships with Rigas and Livathinos.
“Stable collaborations help you to better understand methods, participants, aesthetics, expressive means. It is not a matter of safety but of operation,” he stresses and brings football back to the discussion. “Those great footballers flourished in one, at most two clubs. No great footballer has ever jumped from club to club, unless it was at the end of his career. Stable cooperation is a blessing, as long as it does not result in institutionalism.”
Another constant collaborator of Christos in recent years is the acclaimed composer Stefanos Korkolis, with whom they staged at the Athens Concert Hall and at Thessaloniki Concert Hall Iakovos Kambanellis’s “Backyard of Miracles” – for the first time as a musical.
“It’s one of my favorite plays. When we accepted the proposal of the Athens Concert Hall, Stefanos and I decided that basing a piece of musical theater on a play by Kambanellis – something never done before – was an ideal venture for both of us to enjoy – he on a musical and I on a dramaturgical level, as it is an adaptation and thus requires writing skill, but mainly on a directorial level. This is because my ventures ought to please and excite me first and foremost.”
For directing Ajax and Oedipus the Tyrant by Sophocles, he received the Karolos Koun award. To Christos Sougaris, a distinction holds as much value as the quality of the people who award it, as well as the level of the other candidates. He also notes that one’s impression of an award changes once they’ve received it.
For this man of the theater, what makes a director great is the purity of the act, and what makes an actor is the “humidity” of the performance. “Nothing upsets me more than bad performance, whether by a director or actor.”
Though he may have bad moments, he will still enjoy them “because they are mine”; yet, when we discuss making amends, he goes back to football metaphors. “I watch my previous performances to study the mistakes I made, just like a football coach will watch losing matches to avoid making the same mistakes in the future.”