Lara Johnson-Wheeler: What was it about theatre that intrigued you or compelled you to join in?
Christos Loulis: It was the fact that I could busy myself with something very serious without taking myself too seriously.
LJW: Do you find out more about yourself through acting?
CL: Yes it changed me. I was someone else before I became an actor, it’s like a second birth.
LJW: In the Bacchae, transformation is a major theme. I’m interested in how that happens on stage.
CL: In this particular show we want to make it look like a ceremony, not actually the plot of the play - it’s a parable. When one gets visited by the spirit of God, this isn’t pleasant. It hurts you, it’s painful but you can’t do otherwise. It’s the only way you can deal with what’s coming to you in your life. If we look back in our lives, we can spot little things and moments where we became someone else and became more aware of our whole self and these moments were not always pleasant. Most of these moments were of struggle, strife, and pain.
LJW: How much are you drawing on personal experience for this production?
CL: Oh, not much. It’s not psychological. We carry ourselves, it’s us.
LJW: Watching the rehearsal - obviously the dialogue was in Greek so I could only understand what I could see from the physicality - but I could see there were elements of psychological stress involved in the way the cast was interacting.
CL: Yes, because we want to reach the moment all together, there’s a goal and we want to reach it together. It’s a hard moment; it’s hard as an actor, as a person to do it. We’re trying to do justice to the moment, that’s the hard thing.
LJW: Tell me about the cast. What it’s like to work together?
CL: Beautiful. They’re beautiful. Most of them have worked again and again and I will again and again. It’s my first time working with the director [Aris Biniaris] and I have always loved his shows and performances. He’s very talented and unique. When he leaves the stage there’s a pool of sweat. I like his power. He’s not one of the directors who can say or elaborate words in very special meanings and theoretical notions about this and that and this. He goes, ‘We wanna be like a pool and then the snow comes in!’ - he talks like that. I love that because he doesn’t tell me what to imagine or how to feel.
LJW: I asked Aris about the process working with you and he said he thinks about the parameters and the limits between the actors and what he’s doing as a musician. The actors are able to improvise between the boundaries that he has set.
CL: Yes, you cannot improvise if you don’t have a framework. This is how you become free, you set the rules and then you improvise. Music is a very good framework. The text, also.
LJW: I noticed an inherent rhythm because the actors are responding so heavily to the music and what’s happening. How has having such heavy music changed the way you move on stage?
CL: Oh, a hundred percent. The play is the battle between harmony and chaos. If Apollo is the God of the lyre and harmony, then Dionysus is the God of drum and beat. They always fight each other. If you want to do it musically then the beat is very essential. The beat is what comes in to break it. The play finds us in the moment when the beat comes in, rushes in, to dismantle everything. This takes over all the movements in our body. You can’t speak without living it in your body. You saw us, we’re still in the process of learning it, making it ours. We’re in this very physically.
LJW: It’s often acknowledged that the classics affect contemporary Greek culture. I feel this play inverts that, and I want to ask you to what extent contemporary Greek culture influences how people perceive the classics?
CL: Very nice… I haven’t thought of it. Mostly in the last ten years, what you describe has become more and more present. When it happened 15-20 years ago it was a scandal. Us Greeks, we have the privilege of having ancestors who did all these things. But all these things they did were so big, marvellous and spectacular that they are putting us down and we cannot do anything new. We always have this burden of having this ancestry and this heritage. So now we look at other people, what you do, what other people do, what the rest of Europe does, what the rest of the world does. Now we’re starting to criticise and to look at it through the lens of modern times. We are trying to remake the question - it’s very difficult and very delicate. I don’t know where it will lead us.
LJW: Do you think that the Onassis Cultural Centre is opening that dialogue?
CL: Of course, because they’re not operating to make a box office hit, we have the ability to call certain young people that we think they are the future to give them presence. Their role is very important because right now we have no other means for young artists to be prioritised or helped by the state. The state doesn’t help young people.
LJW: Finally, I want to compare the idea of being on stage to today, being shot by Nick Knight. Transformation on stage is physical, it happens with props, you change your movements. I want to ask you the difference between that and being styled in the fashion you’re wearing today; Margiela, Gareth Pugh.
CL: I don’t think there’s a difference, I think that fashion is art. When you put on fashion there is someone you have to be. There is somewhere you have to go to, there is someone you have to meet. There’s a thing with fashion and with art. You’re at your apartment and you put on fashion and the minute you walk on the pavement that fashion is dead. Same as art.
LJW: You don’t think that fashion has the ability to translate into the everyday?
CL: It has, but it has transformed itself into something it never expected itself to be transformed into.