Yannis Moschos embarks on an artistic expedition to Australia

The Artistic Director the National Theatre Greece wants to spark a collaborative wave between Greece and Australia

The National Theatre of Greece’s ‘Goodbye, Lindita’ – a wordless meditation about the rituals surrounding the death of a young woman – had just completed its run at the Adelaide Festival.

The work of the 20-something Athens-based theatre-maker of Albanian heritage, Mario Banushi is as Yannis Moschos — the 53-year-old artistic director of the National Theatre — said “one of his children.”

The reviews were good, for a play that received acclaim across Europe. Nicholas Routley for Australian Stage wrote: ‘This wordless play has the pace of a symphonic adagio, starting in what might be late afternoon, traversing the night with its nightmares, and ending the next morning.’

The National Theatre of Greece, built in 1891 and designed by Austrian architect Ernst Ziller, was part of an active attempt to ‘Europeanise’ Greece. Italian, Austrian, and German architects sought to build a new Athens born of Eurocentric imaginings.

It now has five stages, the Main and New Stage at the Ziller Building, the Marika Kotopouli Stage and the Katina Paxinou Stage, where the Experimental Theatre is based and the Rex Theatre.

Moschos was in Australia to build bridges. We met in Melbourne’s CBD, and in Melbourne, regardless of summer, the temperature had dropped to 17 C.

“What’s with the weather?” he asks.

Generation Lost by Grigoris Liakopoulos. Photo: National Theatre of Greece

I try to explain the strange Melbourne weather patterns and tell him it was only 35 C yesterday, but there’s no point. We talk over crispy pork at Supper Inn.

‘Goodbye, Lindita’ has done well. It’s a sound basis from which to begin discussions about the future.

“Everybody told us it was very well perceived, and they were very pleased with the Adelaide Festival.”

Opening up to the world

Moschos has a Ph.D. in theatre studies from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. He has directed and translated numerous Greek and international works and is also an expert in Ibsen.

He decided to go out of his way to meet his peers in Melbourne and Sydney.

In Melbourne, he met people from the Malthouse Theatre and the Melbourne Theatre Company.

“I met the Sydney Festival, Sydney Theatre Company, Belvoir Theatre, Griffith Theatre, and the Greek Community in Sydney. I’ve seen everyone, almost everyone.”

It is one of the few times that an artistic director of a major theatre company in Athens has gone out of their way to meet peers in Australia.

“It’s crucial for me that we connect with the countries abroad and Australia, which is a fascinating country.

“Greece has strong ties with Australia because of the many Greeks that have immigrated to Australia.

“It’s essential for us to open possibilities for a presence in Australia. That’s my goal in general, and Australia is part of it.”

Goodbye, Lindita’ – a wordless meditation about the rituals surrounding the death secured great reviews across Europe and at the Adelaide Festival. Photo: National Theatre of Greece

Moschos is a new leader who took over the helm of the National two years ago, and ten years ago after the Greek Financial crisis. The arts played a significant part in the nation’s economic rejuvenation and path to openness.

Pre-crisis, most of the arts in Greece focused on Europe. Like those who built the Ziller National, their gaze was on Belin, London, and Paris—not Australia.

The crisis ten years ago and the failure of the Charlemagne Europeans to help Greece revealed the emptiness of a European promise.

Greece’s leaders and creatives are now looking east and south again, as they did thousands of years ago.

It would have been unimaginable to have a play by an Albanian theatre maker on the main stage of the National 20 years ago.

“I know what I’m trying to do,” says Moschos, “We must speak to different people and peers abroad. I’m trying to open many possibilities. I want us to dream big.”

Moschos’s mission is to regularly bring a production of the National to Australia. He wants to investigate collaborations.

“So, there are two ways: bringing the National Theatre’s production to Australia to tour every year and collaborating with other theatres.

“I want Australia to be connected artistically to Greece”.

The National: a mirror to a new Greece

The National is still producing repertory; however, Moschos is also excited about non-text-based performances and “reimagining the ancient classics to suit our times.”

“Our experimental stage that’s open to different kinds of experimenting, and I am also interested in going beyond text-based theatre.”

Like ancient times, theatre has again begun to expose the cracks and issues in Greek society.

The European-borne fantasy of a halcion ancient past, or a breast-beating ethnocentrisms of pre-crisis Greece are over.

“The National Theatre is re-examining Athens, for example. It is making classical plays relevant to the present and opening its critical perspective of Greece.

“There are works about young people, migrants, and LGBTIQ communities.

“We have our programme, and we are the National, so we must cover a lot of fields. There is a diversity of things.

“We do everything from classical plays to contemporary work, devised theater, experimental forms of writing, we try to cover as much as possible.”

The main stage of the National Theatre of Greece built in the late 19th Century – reimagining Greece as European. Photo: Thomas Gerasopoulos

He raves about our National’s youth stage, which is for “children, teenagers, and young people who can work on a variety of productions or workshops.”

“It is the future,” he says.

Two new productions that have recently premiered at the National focused on modern Greece, ‘Generation Lost’ by Grigoris Liakopoulos and ‘Cloudburst’ by Vasilis Vilaras.

‘Generation Lost’  which began in late March, asks, ‘Who are the Millennials? Are they a self-centred or a lost generation?’

‘Generation Lost’ is about a generation in Greece—who may not have experienced war, occupation, or exile, like other generations of Greeks—who have seen their hopes ruined and driven to ‘existential disillusionment, convinced that things can only get worse.’

This group devoted their youth to mastering foreign languages and acquiring qualifications but confronted the reality of the worst economic crisis in half a century, rendering their skills seemingly futile.

‘Cloudburst’ is about being queer in Greece following the restoration of democracy in 1974.

The play by Vasilis Vilaras examines the feelings of LGBTQI people of that period through letters to the revolutionary magazine ‘the first public forum in Greece devoted to the queer experience.’

Personal testimonies mix with the individuals’ experiences on stage, becoming the material of ‘confessions and disclosures’ while unashamedly seeking the right to visibility.

The testimonies are by those who suffer from the dismissive behaviour of parents and relatives, from bullying and violence.

Cloudburst by Vasilis Vilaras is about being queer in Greece following the restoration of democracy in 1974. Photo: National Theatre of Greece

There is always the redefining of ancient Greek theatre, which the National does well, like ‘Hippolytus’ by Euripides in last year’s Epidaurus Festival.

This audacious production, directed by Katerina Evangelatos, explored the clash between human will and divine power, set in marshland, a metaphor for a dystopian landscape of human existence.

Moschos wants to “dream big” in collaborating with Australia but knows the importance of beginning small.

“I hope that we achieve bigger productions and collaborations, but we have to start with a small bite, an intimate bite.”

He says he wants to explore residencies at the National by Australian theatre makers and work towards collaborations.

He is also keen to engage the Greek communities in terms of financial support and as audiences.

“I am interested in Greek Australians, the first, second and third generation; it is very touching to see how they deal with identity in Australia and what it means for them.

“What is Greek identity as a living culture in Australia, and what does it mean to be an Australian citizen? How do they negotiate their Greekness?”

One community he says is no different across the globe is the theatre community, which he says is “the same.”

“It’s amazing. It felt like home. They face the same issues over funding, over subjects and sustainability.”

Moschos fell for Australia. He was fascinated with the “diversity of cultures and the openness.”

The auteur will no doubt devise something that strengthens the bond between the Australian and Greek theatre scenes.

Moschos’s gaze is fixed on the future of performance and the ancient and contemporary Greek craft of theatre.

The National Theatre now has five stages, the Main and New Stage at the Ziller Building, the Marika Kotopouli Stage and the Katina Paxinou Stage, where the Experimental Theatre is based and the Rex Theatre. Photo: Thomas Gerasopoulos