Savas Patsalidis is a Greek professor who, in addition to his academic work, taught for many years at the Art School of the National Theatre of Northern Greece. To date, he is the author of fourteen books on theatre criticism and theatre theory, and is currently editor-in-chief of Critical Stage, the online platform of the International Association of Theatre Critics. He spent a full week in Budapest to gain as much experience as possible at the 10th Theatre Olympics. We talked about these, and also first impressions of Budapest, the responsibilities of theatre today and building of the National Theatre.
– How did you feel in Hungary? What were the first impressions about the 10th Theatre Olympics?
– Budapest is one of my favorite cities. It always gives me great enjoyment to visit the Queen of the Danube, with its awe-inspiring architecture, thermal baths, caves, delicious cuisine, and certainly the rich theatre tradition that dates back to the 16th century. Especially now, with Theatre Olympics, I had more reasons than one to come back. For many people, this is a once-in-a-lifetime event. I am really happy to be part of this lucky audience. Grateful to the staff of MITEM who made this visit possible.
– In general, what do you think about that jubilee of Theatre Olympics? Have the main aspects, has the focus been changed since the beginning in Delphoi in 1995? Why should be organized this kind of event in 2023?
– For the international theatre community Theatre Olympics, at least in my mind, is as important as the Olympic Games. That said, I cannot think of a better event to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Imre Madách, this great Hungarian dramatist. I loved the motto chosen by the organizing committee to be the emblematic slogan of the 10th edition of Theatre Olympics: “O Man, strive on, strive on, have faith; and trust! (from The Tragedy of Man by Imre Madách). Like an actor anguishing on stage over the trials of life, Madách’s words encourage us to move on against all odds and have faith in others in order to survive the challenges and obstacles of contemporary life. We live in a state of constant crisis, and cultural events like this are necessary more than ever.
Since the first edition of Theatre Olympics at Delphi, many things have changed: theatre has changed, aesthetics, and orientations have changed, audiences have changed, however, what has remained unchanged is the very spirit and goal of this mega event: to bring people together, to share, to discuss, to dream, to reflect, to question, to plan, to celebrate the achievements of human artistic endeavors, pretty much the way Olympic Games celebrate human beings’ athletic achievements. I cannot think of another theatre event that can do it better. It is a unique event. Unmissable.
– How many performances could you attend at the Olympics? Have you visited only Budapest, or did you have the chance to attend programs of other Hungarian cities as well?
– Given the huge program and its impressive variety, I am sorry to say I have not seen much. I watched everything that was staged at the National Dance Theatre, and the stages of the National Theatre, this absolutely amazing theatre structure with its spacious interior, excellent acoustics, and impressive exterior. What a wonderful architecture, what an imaginative concept with the ark’s prow looming over an artificial water surface carrying tradition to the present! And how tellingly the theatre’s external environment functions, in more ways than one, as a perpetuation of the building’s concept. An all-embracing environment, imaginative, impressive, and functional. A most emblematic building to host the 21st-century of Hungarian theatre. I wish we had something as impressive back home.
Overall, I think the idea of opening up Theatre Olympics beyond Budapest was really great. It gave people not living in the capital the opportunity to see what is going on around the globe. Usually, the bulk of theatre events, at least in Europe, take place in the nation’s capital or a large city. The countryside is left without much theatre life, and this is unfair. That’s why I said that opening up Theatre Olympics was a very wise decision.
– To the audience, what else do you recommend from the remaining programs?
– My God, with hundreds of high-quality shows, it is really hard to choose. Among the shows I have seen on other occasions, or shows I am familiar with, I strongly recommend:
Bros by Castellucci. Back home, in Greece, audiences were split. Some liked it some found it lacking compared to his earlier work. Personally, I loved it. It has power, energy, and lots of things to say about the politics of surveillance today.
I have not seen Stories from Mahabharata but I am familiar with the Indian epic and the work of John Kalamandalam. Those who are interested in finding out more things about Kathakali theatre, this is a show to see.
Emma Dante is one of my favorite Italian artists. I say yes to her moving, tender, nostalgic and very humane Blackcaps’ Tango. Magic that springs from a trunkful of memories.
Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod always find ways to pleasantly surprise their audiences. Calderon’s Life is a Dream really fits well into their stage language that loves to move from the real to the surreal, from the realistic to the expressionistic.
Any Heiner Goebbels’ performance is a unique experience, an inviting combination of music, theatrics and installation. Everything that Happened and Would Happen is a telling example of his dramaturgy. Ageless. Still mesmerizing.
Knowing very little about Tibetan ancient culture, The Story of Noble Dakini Nangsa Obum could be a good start.
– You are from the most important and maybe the most ‘ancient’ country of theater history. What can be the essential mission of theater nowadays? What is the responsibility of the theater creators?
– To go past the limits of the expected and the known. To take risks with things we do not know. To help us get rid of the cliches that make up our life. To raise questions rather than provide answers. Answers indicate closure. Questions indicate futurity.
All and all, the main mission of theatre is to enrich us as human beings by showing our insufficient knowledge of the world. In short: to make us more humble (and curious) vis á vis the mystery of life and human existence.