An interview with Leia Vitali

  •  Author: Karanatsis Christos
  •  Published on: 19/08/2015

by Christos Karanatsis 


What if we are all immigrants, possible perpetrators and victims of fear and violence up until somebody shows us love?

That was the thought that was spinning in my head just after I met and spoke to playwright Lia Vitali.

Mrs. Vitali’s new work entitled Night at the Freeway is on every Monday and Tuesday until March 17 at the Aggelon Vima theatre venue and it was the main reason for this interview during which Mrs. Vitali spoke, among other things, about an idea of hers that was conceptualized this year, the challenges playwrights face and the characteristics of modern Greek theatre plays.

Falling under the title “Season Festival of Greek theatre plays of the 21st Century: Six Crimes in search of a Writer” this festival is Mrs. Vitali’s dream that finally, after many years, came to life and she hopes that it “will become a sort of a tradition - a place where there will always be room for contemporary Greek plays".

The plays participating in this festival, as she pointed out, "are inspired by contemporary Greek life. They were all written very recently and I happened to discover them myself. They also had this sort of connection with noir which was our theme for this year ".

I then asked her if she felt that the festival will continue to have a specific theme in the future. "Our aim is not necessarily to have a thematic umbrella", she replied. "We're in search of good plays, ones we can promote".

So what are the characteristics of Greek theatrical writing in the 21st century, judging from the ones participating in the festival, which make them worth the time and attention?

"First of all a very strong connection with the contemporary world whether it is a political play, or let’s say a psychological one. All with very distinct elements about how today’s man is and sees the world”.

I was then tempted to ask her if what many researchers say is actually true, that in recent years Greek dramaturgy has gained strength after a period of foggy vagueness. Her answer luckily lacks generalizations and dogmatism.

"Let me tell you something that I, personally, and several others believe. There was a creative boom in Greek playwriting when Karolos Koun was alive. Many young writers had originated from his Greek Art Theatre. Then, when he left us, interest in playwriting waned. Of course in the meantime there have been some very interesting voices. In recent years, playwrights themselves have started taking their lives in their hands, in absence of supportive cultural institutions. So gradually with the audience’s love and their confidence in Greek playwriting, there will be other voices even stronger than our own that will get to the point where they could travel abroad. You know contemporary plays that come from abroad are not all as good as we think. In these cases, promotional mechanisms and support of these works and their author play an integral part in how we view them. Mechanisms we sadly don’t have in our country".

What she said inevitably took us to our next topic. What could be the main issues contemporary Greek playwriting faces. "Maybe for example," I said "a problem occurs when characters speak, quite frequently, in the same way?"

"In contemporary Greek plays this is a big problem but I feel that exercising in writing will help us get over it" she said and added: "One rule I always have in mind is that a character can’t speak, express himself or use the same pauses as another character does. He is a fake then. I was always interested in finding the personal voice of each character and the place he’s coming from".

Feeling that I may have used my question to lead her I made a hypothesis: If we accept that Greek playwrights are no less capable than foreign ones surely there must be other factors that affect their writing negatively.

"There was a period here in Greece and abroad, that we were very preoccupied with form. Within the context of globalization theatre tried to find mutual codes so it could exist on every stage and these codes took it beyond speech. But theatre above or beyond speech, in my opinion, is an art without substance. I think once we go past postmodernism, we outgrow ‘form for the sake of form’, we will be able to listen to society again and rediscover realism. Theatre may not change the world, but its immediacy is a very powerful weapon that , if anything,can to some extent awaken people and affect their way of thinking".

Lia Vitali isn’t only the writer of Night at the Freeway but also the director of the show. So we discussed how "dangerous" can directors become in regards to the way they deal with playwrights’ work.

"The truth is that I don’t direct all my plays. Sometimes I feel that I want to pursue an integration with my projects, which is achieved through directing, through looking deeper into things. Some directors deconstruct play texts leaving nothing behind. It is important to know as an artist how to reconstruct. In some rare cases it happens and it is interesting, but it needs a lot of work, inspiration, courage and not everyone can do it. This has led many playwrights to the point of hesitating to even write. And as a result theatre people and the public can lose their trust towards contemporary Greek plays”.

The Night at the Freeway is a political play inspired by life in modern day Greece. Is violence and cruelty two really very familiar components of Greek society?

"We must start from what violence really means. So when we say "violence brings violence" it is not just a saying ... How do we educate our children at home or at school? What will happen if I do not teach my child that all men are created equal? If I open a window where my kid will not be able to recognize the other and fear him/her/it?

I write inspired by the lives of some people.  While looking deep inside these people with violent behaviors, I heard a voice saying:"I  am in need, I have wounds, nobody taught me how to love". This of course does not mean that I justify these behaviors. But I can see that if a man was humiliated in his life and  did not get the love  he should have, and actually hasn’t even learned to love, how to win love and show it, it makes sense to feel hate, to want revenge. When we create humiliated people they can easily become victims of groups and organizations that we all know who they are and what they do".

The last audience members leave the foyer and the theatre is ready to close for yet another night. Prior to my departure I asked Lia Vitali what advice she’d give to young playwrights.

"To live and dare to take a chance. A playwright has to do two things: to live before he writes and to have the courage to overcome the superficial, the status quo, fear, self-censorship. Courage means being able to get over yourself. Can you accept the murderer? Can you? Because if for you the murderer is only a bad human being then you shouldn’t be a playwright”.