When I set up the scenes in my novels, I always theatricalize the volume of my material, it means, balancing situations with theatrical laws – since the theatrical movement of the characters dominates within me.
The few plays that were performed in theaters, I say, were probably not my most representative. The works that I think represent me, I have never seen them on stage. And the play without the stage means nothing. Even the author himself has difficulty evolving without the help of the stage. You have to be detached from the passion you gave to write the work, to wrestle with the characters you created, learn from them, to make your next work even better.
But I didn’t have that luck. And I always remember Alexis Solomou’s words. It was when I had given him the “Small Cage” to read in 1965. He wrote to me then: “… Along with your own ideals, Chekhov, Tennessee Williams, Jean Genet, and Pinter began their career, unnoticed at first, to suddenly illuminate the theatrical sky with a new light. Like you, however, there were many others, who did not conquer the large public. Who knows what your luck will be in our weird theatrical reality …”
Thirty years later today, I no longer know what I could have done if I had been given the opportunities or if I had made the best use of those opportunities. But I feel I may have done nothing more than I already did. Works have their own fate, just like people do. And always the works of literature, small or large, exist in their own solitude, whatever their fate may be.
So, before I even wrote poetry or fiction, I had written theatre – from my youth when I was still living in Lemnos. Once I found a letter that Angelos Terzakis had sent me, dated April 13, 1960. I had not yet seen a single play. It was long after I started taking the boat to Athens, to take divisional examinations at Panteion where I was studying “by correspondence”, but I was actually in Athens to see a couple of performances at the Art Theater.
Terzakis wrote: “… your play has many virtues. I like the fever that inspires your dramatic conception and has something of Pirandello’s … ” In his letter, he mentions that the play was called “The crazy one”. But no matter how I searched I didn’t find it on my papers.
My first play on stage was “The Rafts”, in 1969, at the Rialde Experimental theatre. A play belonging to the Theater of the Absurd and was received with a warm welcome from critics and the public.
In 1971, in the heart of the Junta’s regime, my play “Electra’s Dance” was staged at the New Stage of the National Theatre, a play depicting the military regime. Censorship had characterized it as “anarchist and dangerous,” and Dionysis Fotopoulos had dressed Aigithus the tyrant as “the colonel.” But this work was written only to present the absurd regime. In addition to this, the National Theatre also staged my single-act play “The Glass Box”. And then, I think of some important opportunities that were presented to me and I missed. Like, when my works were approved at the Paris Odéon and Madeleine Renaud wrote to me: “The artistic consultants left your plays in my office for me to read them as soon as I returned because they found them interesting… For the moment I have only read the “Small Cage” and I found it very interesting… ”Or, like when Samuel Beckett wrote to me that he had found “The Glass Box” interesting and had sent it to Zan Lui Barreau himself.
My professor at the Sorbonne, Charles Antonetti, while I was still studying with a scholarship from the French government, had taught “The Glass Box” at the University and then published it in the theatrical magazine “Education et Theater”.
At that time there was an interest in my projects. Director Jean Gilibert had asked me for written permission to stage my “Antigone” to the Antony Theater in Paris, and André Barsacq to stage the “Small Cage” to the Theater de l ‘Atelier. And he wrote about “Small Cage”: “This work, in my opinion, is almost perfect: it has a very interesting stage structure and a dialogue on the difficulty of existence that for the first time I see it expressed in a poetic and clear language at the same time.” I could not take advantage of all these opportunities. But it seems that my luck was missing.
In Greece, things were more difficult. It’s always harder. Some of my plays had been featured on NRT Radio: Electra’s Dance, Paper Moon, Antigone or the Nostalgia of Tragedy, The Blood of the Resistance, The Red Rose, Nights of Solitude, The Roadblock and more.
Some of my other works have been featured on NRT’s television show “The Theatre of Monday”: A civil servant, Paper Moon, The Glass Box. And a few of my works have been staged in other theaters: The Rafts on the Rialde Experimental Theatre, A game with time in Christos’ Frangou Vergi Theatre, and Bidding you farewell on Zeriga theatre. Giorgos Christofillakis staged my play I am a weeping star in Masks Theatre, directed by him and with music by Costas Liakouris. It’s a play consisting of seven stories of daily life, dominated by the power of the lost, its power over Time.
My plays were also staged abroad. The Glass Box was presented in Buffalo, New York, as part of the First International Women Playwrights Conference in 1988. And then, at the Second Conference, three years later, Bidding you farewell was featured in Toronto, Canada.
In Belgium, on a semi-state theatre, my play Antigone – Or the nostalgia of tragedy, was staged in 1971, translated into Flemish and directed by Berten De Belles. The same work was presented at Hayward State University, California, in February 1996, after an introduction by Professor of Drama Rhoda Kaufman and directed by Professor Edgardo de la Cruz. Excerpts from the play were presented at the Fourth International Women Playwrights Conference, June 1997, in Galway, Ireland from the University’s theatrical team.
How i came to write for the theatre of the absurd
Writing this text, I searched within myself to find what it was that drove me to write for the theatre of the absurd, to find out for myself the paths my soul took to get there. Because by then, in 1966, when I went on a scholarship to Paris, the works I was writing were based on traditional principles, such as my youthful Paper Moon and the Small Cage, which landed me the French scholarship, or some other, that still exist in the silence of Time.
But then I realized that I had to go back very far, since my childhood because before I initiated myself, as a writer, in the theater of the absurd, I had lived the sense of the absurd. As a child during the Nazi occupation, I experienced the fear as I came in contact with the absurdity of a wide human extermination. My childhood years have marked my whole life and my work. This trauma, distorted by time and memory, by the myth of fantasy, this transformative function that is the defense of the mind against the absurdity of life, I carry in all my books. Once they were in my dreams. Dreams that transformed that traumatic reality in a miraculous way. And I, for years, have been plunging within them to find the breadcrumbs of my life, to find the symbolic meaning of each transformation. Today I believe that a large part of our truth lies in our dreams.
From this mental process – dreams and self-analysis of the traumatic experience – I have learned that surrealism is a triumph of reality. We exist on parallel levels, in parallel realities, where one emerges from the other, fragments of memory and dream, flashes from our lives.
Well, my own theatre of the absurd, the plays I wrote (even the surrealism that exists in my novels), came out of that “transformative function” of myself. With raw material as a starting point such as the ruins of my neighborhood in Lemnos, with broken shells and grooves filled with blood. The fear of brutal reality, which as a child I had to overcome using as a weapon the transmutation and the mythization of this reality, as it was with dreams.
Since then I know that dreams have a catalytic power. They penetrate into reality and disintegrate it. That is why, I say again, I personally believe that most of our truths lie there: in this metamorphotic, surrealistic function of ourselves.
So when I arrived in Paris, I was ready for the theatre of the absurd. Of course, I was helped by the works of Beckett, Ionesco, the philosophy of these works, as well as the existential philosophy of Sartre and Albert Camus, Artaud’s theatrical contemplation, and the lessons at the Sorbonne with Bernard Dort and Henri Gouiller. I remember the first work I did in Sorbonne was a speech on “The Modern Tragic Element in Samuel Beckett’s Works, in juxtaposition with Ancient Tragedy”. It was that moment when I reached my personal demystification. The metaphysics of the world and the levels of existence, the tragedy of the existential self, all lead to the certainty that man is tragically alone on earth, standing before his own destiny naked, faceless and disillusioned.
My own existential time
This perception had led me to my own existential time. It was the moment when I was experiencing vertically the concept of existence, as a cross-section in the consciousness. For in order to reach the experience of the absurd as a fundamental law of life, one must have experienced the nakedness of life, the metaphysics of speech and things, to realize that the relation of time and space is a function of one’s own perception, that we are alone in the center of the world, that destiny is ours, and that we cannot escape from it, that it is a trap. And then we realize that we are trapped in this unknown metaphysical trap.
From this point on begins the transformative function of thought: Surrealism. And the theatre of the absurd is surrealism of situations, as poetry is surrealism of speech. That is why the theater of the absurd offers no preconceived emotions but draws from the viewer’s personal experiences, bringing him in front of his own truths, his own existential terror.
So when I arrived in Paris, almost right off the deserted cliffs of my island, I experienced this emergence of psychic plains from my traumatic childhood, and I felt ready to write for the theatre of the absurd. And the first one I wrote was the Glass Box.
The absurdity of authority
When I returned to Greece from my scholarship in Paris in 1968, I experienced closely, as an employee of the Prefecture of Attica, the fear and irrationality of a crushing authority by the dictatorship. And then I wrote my novels, Paper Faces, from which the play Bidding you farewell came out.
Those novels brought in my mind “Kafkian” states. At that time I was reading Kafka’s books, I needed them because that mysterious and absurd atmosphere was so familiar to me. He was familiar with me, and he fascinated me. The fear I was living within the Prefecture had awakened another fear, that of my childhood. And when the book was released, critics said that I was influenced by Kafka, that I was imitating him.
But no one can imitate Kafka, nor can his novels influence anyone creatively unless there are similar “Kafkian” states within oneself.
In all the plays I wrote in this genre, there is the concept of a trap, but also the meaning of faceless unknown and crushing authority. In Bidding you farewell, the whole universe became an unknown metaphysical trap. And the threatening authority dominated all levels of agony. The first form of the play, written during the dictatorship, was entitled The Interrogation. Then it was again redefined and named Red Rose. Finally, when I was asked to stage the play in 1986, it took its final form and was presented with its latest title.
Today I would say that it is a poetic, existential work, that only partly belongs to the theater of the absurd, due to the fact that: The stage is “floating” in the dark universe – even though it has all the features of an interrogation room. And then, the characters do not come on stage without being socially incorporated and without history, but with their memory gone, which makes them passionately seek out a story of their own, to make it their own.
As for the game of transformations, I would say that this in part belongs to the theater of the absurd. I would also say that it starts with the subconscious transformations that the person experiences in dreamscapes or because of some irrational fear. After all, these plays cannot be interpreted by rational rules, precisely because they operate out of logic.
However, in this play, as well as in the Glass Box and The Rafts, the absurd acts as the fundamental law of life. There the human being naked, conflicted and alone, walks marginally into the denial of existence and seeks its cosmic truth. Or this is what I wanted to give theatrically.
Thoughts from my Diaries and an account of my theatrical work, December 1997
When the two theatrical volumes have published