Economic crisis proves no tragedy for Greek theater

Sun Aug 9, 2015 8:38am EDT
 
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By Lefteris Karagiannopoulos

EPIDAURUS, Greece (Reuters) - On a stiflingly hot summer night, the ancient Greek amphitheatre of Epidaurus is packed to capacity for a performance of a 2,400-year-old play by Aristophanes -- testimony to Greeks' enduring love of theater despite years of grinding economic crisis.

While cash-strapped Greeks forgo the cinema and other luxuries, theater ticket sales are booming -- even if theaters struggle to cover their costs and actors often go unpaid.

Greeks can often catch echoes, even in ancient drama, of their current tribulations -- and Aristophanes' comedy of political intrigue "Ecclesiazusae", or "The Assembly Women" -- in which women take control of Athens and set up a communist-style government -- is no exception.

The main female character is dressed as the fiery leftist speaker of Greece's parliament, Zoe Konstantopoulou.

"Times are more difficult financially, but I would never abandon the theater. It's a form of cultural education. One can't replace that," said Maria Tsilibi, a teacher, one of the 20,000 people who flocked to watch "Ecclesiazusae".

"It's an important part of our history."

The very words "theater", "tragedy" and "comedy" are Greek, harking back to Athens' golden age in the fifth century B.C. when dramatists such as Aristophanes, Sophocles and Aeschylus used venues like Epidaurus to explore the human condition.

"I have reduced my spending on cinema, drinking, parties, but I still haven't cut down on theater," said student Spyros Giannakakos. "It is part of our national pride; we can achieve 'catharsis' through it and this is what we need today."   Continued...

 
Spectators are seen before a performance of Aristophanes' 2,400-year-old play "Ecclesiazusae" (The Assembly Women) at the ancient Greek amphitheatre of Epidaurus, southern Greece August 1, 2015. While cash-strapped Greeks forgo the cinema and other luxuries, theatre ticket sales are booming -- even if theatres struggle to cover their costs and actors often go unpaid. Picture taken August 1, 2015. REUTERS/Lefteris Karagiannopoulos