Returning to the Source of Ancient Hellenic Theatre
Art began with me in my childhood as music, but quickly turned to poetry as an active dialogue between the spirit that lived within me and the phenomena I would encounter in the world around me.
If it evolved into theater, it is out of what would come repeatedly to sever that contact in my life —human violence— and my need to address its origin directly with its agents, the individual and the group.
That need is also what made the martial arts and meditation a central part of my life and artistic practice. Shotokan Karate from the age of 18 under Masters Okazaki and Kawazoe most notably, was the basis for work with my body which eventually led me to an understanding of the origins of movement as meditation in action through karate and as ecstatic dance through butoh under Atsushi Takenouchi, Yumiko Yoshioka and Masaaki Iwana.
For the same reasons, spiritual disciplines informed the development of my theater practice from the beginning: Buddhist meditation and yoga training and mantra in the Kagyu, Nyingma and Dzogchen lineages under various lamas from the age of 33, Orthodox Christian Hesychasm also since my discovery of the teachings of the Church Fathers in my adolescence, Evagrios, Gregory of Nyssus and Dionysos Aeropagyte. The convergence of my contemplative experiences with my theater practice as an actor and director led to a personal approach to actor-training rooted in perceptual, sensory, corporal and cognitive principles elaborated in the tradition of Stanislavski which I first learned at the Actor’s Studio. Some of my teachers there were Arthur Penn, Paul Newman, Al Pacino, Frank Corsaro, Ellen Burstyn, Estelle Parsons and David Gideon, among other life members.
For a second generation refugee of one genocide, one civil and two world wars, there is the deeper question of the forms and extent of being which these agents manage to secure. In this way I have come to understand that the more we seek to secure for ourselves an existence, the more we vindicate the means over the ends, the faster we fall to ruin. Examining and revealing this state of affairs is the story of theater, since the early Greeks, and the development of insight and compassion both its purpose and highest form, which is presently reaching its most extreme political and historical relevance in the present-day dissolution of the moral, linguistic and social fiber of the modern Greeks, and with them the entire European and Western constructs.
Out of the parallel evolution of these practices with my training and teaching of Stanislavski-based acting systems, there emerged a perception of Stanislavski’s contact with a perennial tradition running through the art of the actor that tied back to the origin of theater in Ancient Greece, and which is the basis of my system of actor training. This connection has led to the present focus of my work in theater as a contemplative art-form belonging to the perennial tradition as elaborated by Guenon, Schuon, Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Coomaraswamy among others in our time. More particularly the theater to which I wish to contribute is a Θέατρο του Ύψους, a “theater of the heights,” or of the depths —it amounts to the same— according to the definition first given by Longinus. Reviving the integral means by which our ancestral theater sought to accomplish its purpose —its poetic, musical, acting and movement systems— and restoring its ends will renew our contact with these lost dimensions and give us the vital access we need to a divine order that escapes the terms of our present social contract.
My work also relies heavily on my artistic and scientific training in mathematics and linguistics, and aims at developping the scientific aspects of theater reseach as a form of inquiry into fundamental natural and human laws. This divine order to the Ancient Greeks was an order of Beauty, of Truth and of Justice that were its defining parameters. It had in other words implications in the realms of perception, thought and behaviour originating in scientific principles, of a moral order tied to a higher sensory realm. It is out of this order that Stanslavski developped his system with a level of rigor that shows all the characteristics of scientific method. His students in turn, Chekhov, Vakhtangov and Meyerhold, each developped aspects of that order according to their particular leanings while maintaining the integrity of the whole. My own system seeks to make evident the interdependence of agency, perception and logic through the actor’s craft as an exemplary human activity, and to demonstrate that the tighter their articulation in a performance, the closer t brings us to this higher order. Theater at its origins in Ancient Greece, like music and dance and architecture, unlike today, emerged out of a single science which I am committed to reconstituting from its disparate pieces in my work... Dionysos playing with his toys at the feet of the Titans, he to was fascinated by the laws tat governed the phenomena of hs world: a rhombus, a mirror, a human doll. His childhood too was marked by fascination and violence. Archemides as well, along the beach, with his circles in the sands.
My latest work, project Imalis, was conceived as the vehicle for this objective, to restitute the full moral and spiritual implications of Ancient Theater craft, and recast its social contract from a higher order of reality. Since 2004, after seven years of research and practice, the primary causes, the system of rules, the structures, means and devices that formed Ancient Theater began to present the characteristics of an artistic tradition in the fullest sense of the term, but also as a highly evolved and coherent scientific discourse. Before its collapse with the corruption of the political and social system with which it had emerged, Greek theater as a system of inquiry had reached an exceptionally high level of rigor in its knowledge and application of scientific principles and method reaching across the physical, social and psychological principles realms. The role of music and mathematics in the language of Ancient Theater and its importance to my research into the science of drama as a theory of agency based on the model of Ancient Theater led to my meeting Dimitris Lekkas in 2007 who taught me the principles of phonology of Ancient Greek.
I have written for both the stage and the screen. I never considered myself a playwright though at 46 I am not too far from my dream of composing plays in the way of the ancients, in verse, in other words, as a form of poetry. Through Imalis my goal is to accomplish just that by my 50’s and help others do so as well. I wrote my first play at the age of 41, titled The Return of the Phoenix, as an experiment in theater as a unifying language in Greek, my mother tongue, English, my native tongue, and French, my intellectual tongue. It is a historical play in epic oratorio form based on the assassination of Greece’s first elected Governor. Mixing naturalist, ritual and epic performance, the play’s staging as a site-specific cathartic performance in the building of the first parliament of Greece in the city of Nafplion, where Kapodistrias was killed in 1829, caused intense political controversy and a powerful audience response. In a shining Parisian salon at the height of eloquence the political elite of the day plot and play until dawn, while in the dull street outside St Spiridonas Church failed heroic figures trace their prescribed movements communicating only through song. In the play, violence like the clear light of insight emerges from between two juxtaposed realities at sunrise on the fated hour. Irony gives place to regret.
Since 2002 I have been developing my performance training system working mainly with non-professional actors through theater workshops which I have run out of the NPO House of Neuse, which we created with Nicholas and Anne, independently and in partnership with various public theaters in the Prefecture of Argolis. These same performers participated in various plays, including The Return of the Phoenix, Electra, and Oedipus Rex. Awaiting the opening of a new chapter in community theater work with the mounting of Imalis, that period closed with the winding down of this activity and its groups in 2008, to make place for the ever-increasing demands placed on me by my research begun in 2004 on the staging of Ancient Greek plays in their original tongue. New collaborators gathering around this effort were Dimitris Lekkas in 2007, one of the most erudite linguists and musicologists of the period and a talented composer, as well as Kostas Papachristodoulou and his choral group Byzantine Voices, one of the top cantors and teachers of psaltic in Greece.
I arrived in Greece in 2001. To make a living here I have worked out of two family run businesses, one with my brother Nicholas in real estate and renewable energies, the other with my wife Anne in event-planning, based largely on abilities gained from my work in production and building construction in New York while studying at university. After graduating the Actor’s Studio MFA program in 1997 with the title of Working Finalist (one step from Life Member), I made a decent living in New York City working for various companies as a freelance video director and creative consultant while continuing to hone my abilities as an actor and director. I was a member of The Lark’s famed Bare Bones Production and New Play Development groups from 1996 to 2000 as an actor, director and reader. During that period I produced and directed twenty odd productions ranging from Shakespeare to Chekhov, Strindberg and Genet to new playwrights with various groups and theaters across the city, most notable amongst these being Circle in the Square, Downtown. I also directed two documentary films for television, one a pilot that never aired and another for ZDF/3Sat for the series Foreign Children.
Prior to the Actor’s Studio, I lived and worked in Paris off two prestigious research and exchange fellowships earned at the end of my study at Harvard University’s Divinity School in Early Buddhism and Early Christianity, the first as a researcher of the French Government and the second as an Exchange Fellow at the Ecole Normale Supérieure and the Université de Paris VIII, St. Denis. These allowed me to work on the relationship between art, religion and political systems, especially the historical emergence of new art-forms and spiritual practices alongside the political and philosophical struggle to conceptualize consitutional architecture, natural human right and self-determination and religious reform. During that period our medium-length film with Partho Sengupta Trajet discontinu (No Let Traveler) was produced by the FEMIS earning many awards as Best Film, Best Script and Best Actor from the Actors’ Jury at the Festival d’ Angers in 1993, among others. This was again a drama of communication and violence centered on the friendship between two people who do not speak one another’s tongue, a Kashmiri illegal immigrant and the old French village woman in whose home he seeks refuge. Other film projects of that period included an adaptation of Beckett shot on video, and several production and best script awards from the Nino Cerruti Foundation, AFI-SACEM and others.
In 1991 I finished my Master’s degree at Harvard University in World Religions with area concentrations in India and Greece for the Early Buddhist and Christian periods, with disciplinary methods in the arts, linguistics and anthropology. Here again my interest was focused on comparing spiritual practices belonging to the perennial tradition and gnostic approaches of direct perception of the divine and their relationship to healing and social reform. Harvard is also where I first began my explorations in performance mainly in film at the Carpenter Center. An important influence on me at the time was my contact with the director Miklos Jancso.
Prior to that I received my scientific training at the University of Rochester in Mathematics and Physics while working full-time as a researcher at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics.
I live happily with my wife outside Nafplio by the seaside with our first son Timoleon who is 28 months old. Our daughter Katerina is 14 years old. I love to swim in the sea and collect herbs in the mountains of Greece.