Go Deeper

The Madness: Interview with Theodoros Terzopoulos of Greece’s Attis Theatre

Posted July 27th, 2013

“Madness is the core of Ajax.

Theodoros Terzopolous, photo by Johanna Weber.

Theodoros Terzopoulos, photo by Johanna Weber.

Theodoros Terzopoulos is a highly acclaimed director specializing in ancient tragedy and he is bringing AJAX, the madness to the 2013 Fringe Festival (thanks to the show’s co-presenters The Wilma Theater and its artistic director Blanka Zizka). Theodoros was born in the village of Makrygialos in northern Greece, the mythical birthplace of Euripides—so right away he had old school thespian cred. In 1982, he founded Attis Theatre in Athens, one of the most original experimental theater companies in Greece. AJAX, the madness takes on the mania of the Ancient Greek hero at the center of Ajax (or Aias) by Sophocles, and is performed by three actors trained in the intensely physical and immersive style of Attis Theatre. This correspondence interview was conducted in May of 2013.

FringeArts: Why is the show title AJAX, the madness? And what made you choose this story to explore?

Theodoros Terzopoulos: The performance focuses at that incident of the tragedy when Ajax, in a state of divine madness, slaughters the flocks [sheep, cattle, etc.] of the army, believing that he is killing instead his enemies that did injustice to him. The narration of that incident concentrates the issue of rage, of “mania,” which is a kernel and fundamental issue in Ancient Greek tragedy. Nevertheless, Attis Theatre and me personally are mainly interested in working deeply in the core of each tragedy. Madness is the core of Ajax, like bacchaeia (the trance) is the core of Bacchae and lament is the core of Perses. I am mainly interested in the kernel condition, the state, than in the personae of each tragedy.

From AJAX, the madness, photo by Johana Weber.

From AJAX, the madness, photo by Johanna Weber.

FringeArts: What’s the process of creation in such a work?

Theodoros Terzopoulos: The performance has many elements of a visual art performance. It literally embarks on the set installation that I designed. We could say that it is a spoken installation. The main idea was to use the classic kothornoi, the shoes, that the actors were standing on in Ancient Greek theater, also as troughs (the pots where the animals eat), as coffins, etc. Kothornoi have many symbolisms and change [into] many forms in this performance.

We did not start working on the performance with free improvisations, but with a very particular idea, based on a triptych. The first actor performs the monologue bearing the pathos and the “mania,” through the rules of tragedy. The second actor interprets rage through the elements of a satiric drama. And the third one interprets it through the norms of comedy.

FringeArts: What is the relationship between ritual and madness?

Theodoros Terzopoulos: Madness in this performance is not random and chaotic. It is stylized and monitored through a minimal way and a ritual timing. The performance has the character of a ritual, with pathos, but also with sarcastic and comic elements.

More madness, photo by Johanna Weber.

More madness, photo by Johanna Weber.

FringeArts: How did you decide which words from the text to use?

Theodoros Terzopoulos: We used those words, where the Messenger depicts the state and action of Ajax to slaughter the animals of the army. All these were based on a classic and rhythmic translation. We were interested in the direct, vivid yet simple depiction.

The performance focuses on Ajax’s state of rage and on his collapse, when he comes back to senses and realizes his actions. We leave aside all the other incidents. The reason is that we would like to point out the paranoia of war and the addiction to unnecessary violence that creates into human soul. That particular incident undermines the notion of the war hero and depicts a bloodstained hero.

Thank you Theodoros, we look forward to seeing the show!

AJAX, the madness
Attis Theatre, directed by Theodoros Terzopoulos
at The Wilma Theater, 265 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107

Dates: September 5 at 7pm, September 6 at 8pm, Sept 7 at 8pm