Last spring found Eleni Efthymiou amidst the rehearsals for the opera A Cloud in Love. Nâzim Hikmet’s fairy tale, accompanied with an original score by Sophia Kamayianni and a libretto by Eleni Zafeiriou, was supposed to premiere in mid-March at the Alternative Stage of the Greek National Opera. However, this premiere was not meant to take place.
“Children’s choir Rosarte takes center stage at the performance, and since schools were the first to shut down, we were forced to put the rehearsals on hold, just two weeks prior to the premiere. At the time, we thought that this would last for a month tops, but the events proved us wrong,” mentions the talented director, musician and actress. “The same show is scheduled to be concluded in October 2021 – a year and half after its original planning. No-one can predict what will have happened by then, but we do hope that a work crafted out of love and passion will find a way to reach out to the audience.”
In any case, Eleni Efthymiou has her eyes set high, way higher than Covid’s epidemic curve. “I am wholeheartedly determined to pursue my art. My upcoming works are already under way, even if they are dancing to the beat of a drum made up of vague planning, postponing and precariousness. Through my work, as well as through my active participation in collective struggles, I will keep on making a stance for a better society.”
The coronavirus shock, closed theaters, social distancing and cancellations are putting the theater world to the test. “Theater professionals, and artists in general, are among the ones to be hit the hardest, since state authorities – despite putting on a show for the sake of impressions – have not provided any real support” points out the 34-year-old director.
“Way too many artists have received no financial aid, and are currently living at the threshold of poverty. The repercussions suffered by small-scale art ventures and theaters are, for the moment, unfathomable. Theaters, despite having conformed to every health safety protocol (masks and distancing for both the actors during rehearsals and the audience during performances, temperature-testing, tracking of cases, maximum capacity reduction to 70%, gradually devolving to 50% and finally to 30%), are the most hammered by the measures imposed, as they are forced to summarily drop the curtain, while any thought of re-opening seems out of reach for the time being. Theaters were unfairly targeted, as they were never proven to be a massive contagion focus, as in the case of the means of public transport. The second lockdown takes us, yet again, down a spiral of uncertainty, with no sign as to when or how we’ll be able to present our work to the public. We are all faced up with the same risks, but not all of us are adequately equipped to cope with the repercussions. It goes without saying that this course of action will leave the less privileged devastated, taking a greater toll on the “inquiring”, “experimental” and “restless” forms of art, rather than its most popular aspects. Culture is a basic necessity and if societies were more culture-orientated, they’d be better armed against crisis such as this one.”
Due to the Covid pandemic, many artists and theaters turned to online performances. In Eleni Efthymiou’s opinion, the Internet remains an uncharted territory as far as performing arts are concerned. “In my view, its range and possibilities are yet to be seen. New forms of artistic expression will be revealed, new ways of triggering people’s imagination and hope will come to surface,” she points out. At the same time, though, she acknowledges the dangers arising from the idea than an online screening of a theatrical play could substitute human contact and the collective viewing experience. Ever since the ancient times, theater venues have served as a meeting point of social interplay and collective interaction. This purpose cannot be fulfilled through an individualized viewing on a computer screen,” she explains. “On top of that, during the new lockdown we might once again see many people hosting online theater performances for free, without paying any fees to the artists. I suggest that all of us who have put on so much work for these performances should seriously reconsider under which terms we decide grant screening rights, especially if we take into consideration that these shows are not made to this purpose, therefore their online screening might be damaging for us as artists.”
What will we let go off and what will we give birth to, in the field of theater, when this dystopia finally comes to an end? “This deprivation will give rise to both new solutions and new needs”, according to Eleni Efthymiou. “We’ll come up with new ways and venues for theater to exist, while complying with any kind of measures necessary, and the need for intimacy, contact and immediacy will be reignited. As much as we may have adapted to a contact-deprived way of life, we cannot discard our instinctive need for conviviality. Maybe we’ll end up reevaluating theater and human relations. Let us remain optimistic, so that we could have a path to walk on in the future.”