Theodoros Terzopoulos gives classic themes a contemporary treatment

Hailing from Greece, the birthplace of theatre, as a youngster, Theodoros Terzopoulos was deeply influenced by Bertolt Brecht’s philosophy that theatre should be socially relevant and deal with society’s real problems while fusing the functions of instruction and entertainment. Later, he was taught by the legendary German theatre director Heiner Muller. These experiences helped him as he laid the foundation of Attis Theatre, giving us some classic plays. These include tragedies like Bacchae by Euripides, Antigone by Sophocles, Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus, and contemporary plays by leading playwrights including Brecht, Jean Paul Sartre and Samuel Beckett among others.

Apart from a known director, Terzopoulos teaches acting in theatre academies, institutes and universities, and his book, The Return of Dionysus, has been translated into many languages. As the Chairman of the International Committee of Theatre Olympics since 1993, he has been leading a global movement to unite the world community through stage. “Many say theatre is a part of life, I say, life is a part of theatre,” he remarks.


On “Encore”, the conclusion of his acclaimed trilogy

The trilogy’s theme is conflict. In the first play Alarme, the conflict is between two queens, that is Elizabeth and Maria Stewart, so there are two women. The second, Amor portrays conflict in the society through a man and woman, who clash because of economic crisis, losing their identity and becoming lumpen. Encore, the conclusion, is again a man-woman strife and is erotic. The two try to connect and communicate but they can’t build bridges. This coming together is not just at physical level but also emotional and mental levels too.

On why can’t they unite

It is because of the times we live in, which is technology driven. Technology is creating a barrier between the two. In modern times, two persons may sit across each other yet there are far away, there is a barrier between them because of technology. They are busy on mobile or i-pads or tablets or computer and don’t communicate like real people but instead prefer virtual reality.

On conflict being the essence of theatre

Conflict is the main principle of theatre. The basic surmise of theatre is dialogue and that means that I will speak, you will reply and so on, leading to provocation. So dialogues in a play result in conflict. If there is no dialogue leading to conflict then theatre will cease. All the time there has to be an argument, a counter-argument. So theatre is established on conflict and actors are conflictive. Human beings must be conflictive and not passive. Unfortunately, technology makes them so.

At one level, conflict is essence of life as it helps one grow and progress. It culminates in thinking and exchange of views, triggering creation. The trilogy is unusual and Encore among the three is the most unusual because the text is in poetry and not theatrical or dramatic form. Dialogues are poetical and the poetry is dark. The two protagonists reflect this through graceful body movements, facial gestures and voice modulation, conveying the essence and nuances of the conflict.

On basing “Encore” on Thomas Tsalapatis’ poem

Thomas wrote this poem specially for Encore. I had asked him to, by briefing him about two individuals who do not communicate. And he then wrote the poem. Thereafter, we had discussions and after watching the rehearsals, he went on to revise the poem. The poetry weaves the plot of the play.

On the method of acting devised by him

It focuses on freeing the actor of the trapped energy and voice, aiming to reconstitute the lost unity between the word and body. It involves performing a sequence of dynamic physical and vocal exercises to cultivate diaphragmatic breath control through the practice of in-body concentration. What is taught is function and control of breathing, self-concentration techniques, releasing of the voice and its modulation, activation of resonators, rhythmic interpretation of ancient Greek tragedy and classic texts and increasing energy levels. I have devised many exercises for unity of voice and body. Moreover, I insist participants to read extensively on varied subjects like philosophy, science and art, etc to have a wider horizon and open mind.

On the vision of Theatre Olympics

I started Theatre Olympics in 1993. After meeting several leading international theatre personalities, like Heiner Muller, Tadashi Suzuki, Robert Wilson, Min Tanaka, Ratan Thiyam, K. N. Panicker, Suresh Awasthi, and others I realised that each region’s theatre tradition is isolated and unique. These traditions need to be bridged to bring cultures closer. Through Olympics, we create awareness about a country’s theatre while bringing reputed international works there. This exchange leads to collaboration, innovation and creativity.

Indian theatre tradition like Greek dates back to centuries and is vast and varied. This Olympics will make us aware of works by Rabindranath Tagore, Girish Karnad, Habib Tanvir, M.S. Sathyu, Mohan Rakesh, and others. Thus revealing the depth of Indian traditional and contemporary theatre traditions and its folk arts. We hope like Russia, Japan, South Korea, China and Turkey, Olympics in India will herald a new era of theatre.

Olympics aims to bring back big texts like Shakespeare, Bertolt Brecht, Henrik Ibsen, Moliere, August Strindberg, on stage, which at present is dominated by post-modernism. These classics are timeless, provoke contemplation and birth of new ideas.

On preserving traditional theatre traditions

We should never ever give up on traditional forms because that is our heritage evolved over centuries.

Over the years I have directed several Greek plays AntigoneBacchaePrometheus BoundEpigoniOedipus RexHeracles and others. I present these classics by connecting them to today’s audience. For example, for Promethus, I brought in Greek civil war (1946 to 1949) in which my family participated. I incorporated my memories in the play. The original play is verbal and the costumes ancient Greek. I made the characters modern and simple but did not change the text or story. The characters are same but I changed their feelings, movement and body gestures. It is essential to uncover the varied dimensions of a classic with a contemporary touch.

There are similarities between traditional Indian and Greek theatre. So one needs to take from traditional forms like Kathakali or Chhau and classics of Kalidas and Bhasa and epics like Ramayan and Mahabharat, legends, mythologies and present them in today’s context.

On theatre’s future

Theatre is not merely about watching a play. It is an experience to create strong feelings and memories. As part of life, theatre is education. Brecht described theatre as pedagogic. It must add value by focussing on issues of concern. And all this needs to be packaged and presented aesthetically.

Theatre is unique and despite other mediums, it will continue and flourish. Theatre is vivid, live and energetic.