Her plays, even though internationally acclaimed, maintain a certain Greek identifying feature to their core

Natassa Sideri

The persistent power of tradition

Text: Dimitra Kehagia
Natassa Sideri

“It is a wonderful feeling to earn an award for something you wrote. Even the fact that you are given an object that you can hold in your hands gives a tangible touch to a procedure otherwise cruelly immaterial.”

Playwright, writer, novelist and translator Natassa Sideri has an out-of-the-box take on the notion of awards, following the prize she won at this year’s contest of contemporary Greek theater writing held by Germany’s Regensburg Theater, in collaboration with the National Theater of Northern Greece, for her play, Desmotis.

“Carpenters work with wood, painters have a canvas, but writers are always empty-handed. On top of this, the issues of visibility and networking are always present. However, especially in theater, awards should be considered nothing more than a first step that will serve as a springboard for the play’s journey towards the stage. This is the only way for the play to be tested and for the playwright to evolve, to improve or at least write again,” she points out. She goes on to add that the decision to provide incentives to theater groups for the staging of the plays that have won state awards is to the right direction. On the other hand, provisions should be made for the staging of the awarded plays at the state-run theater scenes.

Natassa Sideri is an awards’ veteran, as her debut play On the Bridge ranked first at the contest hosted by the British group Origins, in 2013, before making a tour all over England, in various theater stages. Her sophomore play, Τhe Island of Immortality, was no less traveled, topping the theater play contest held by the Ronald Duncan Literary Foundation before reaching the UK stage, in September 2014, directed by The Certainty of Chance Theater Company.

In June 2015, her one-act play, Battle of the Titans, received praise within the framework of the National Theater’s Writing Studio, and was presented on the stand of the “Nikos Kourkoulos” Stage, while in 2019 she was bestowed with the Debut Prose Writer Award of Anagnostis (Reader) magazine, for her collection of short stories, Dominant Naughty Thoughts.

The secret of her success, according to her, lies in the lack of hesitation when feeling the need to cut lines from the text. The political turmoil in the summer of 2015 – Greece’s public debt, the negotiations, the ambiance of uncertainty, the naughty debtors and the kind-hearted creditors or vice-versa, depending on the country, the newspaper, the worldview – served as a jumping-off point for her work Desmotis, focusing on the notion of debt in the wake of the diplomatic duel between the governments of Greece and Germany, she goes on to say.

One of the main sources of inspiration for Desmotis was a conversation she had with visual artist Alexandros Kaklamanos, through which she conceived a figure bearing a resemblance to Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, Jesus, and Prometheus Bound. It was at that point that she first visualized the image of Nifos. Later on, when she started to write, she added new elements such as self-sacrifice, as a means of resistance towards an authoritarian power, the sealed secret that needs to be kept at all costs, as well as other features directly alluding to Aeschylus’ tragedy.

Desmotis will celebrate its world premiere in June 2022, at Regensburg Theater. “It is common knowledge that no theater play ends in its last page. An opening, besides a new start, is also a closure. Given that I had completed the play in 2015, one can easily assume that it’s a long-awaited closure for me.”

Natassa Sideri takes delight in watching her text evolve on stage, while taking a close look at the rehearsal process, without ever interfering. “On the contrary, I seize the chance of totally dismissing the illusion of control,” she explains. Moreover, she is fond of the actors’ questions, often revealing the errors and the misfires of a text. “This is the very essence of “workshopping”, the first on-stage test drive carried out in the presence of the writer, a widely common habit in the countries featuring a solid contemporary theater production.”

Her plays, even though internationally acclaimed, maintain a certain Greek identifying feature to their core. “With no intention of misleading us to any suspicious metaphysical paths, certain things, such as drawing inspiration from your native tradition, is not really a matter of choice. You may choose to get past it, to move towards other thematic directions, to spice it up a little by enriching it with foreign ingredients, but it seems impossible for me to simply override it. Even unwillingly, tradition will find a way to claim you.”