Long queues formed again in central Athens on a recent October afternoon. But for once they weren’t leading up to an ATM machine, or to a national insurance or tax office. They led to the ticket office of the Greek Art Theater, where something very appealing was on offer: they were selling 2 tickets per person for every performance of the winter season, for the astounding price of €3 each. All the performances had to be booked in advance, with a choice of convenient dates.
3,500 people lined up around the block, even crossing over to the next street, to avail themselves of this. Men and women, young and old, all waited patiently, sometimes for hours, holding the program they’d printed out and discussing available dates. Many had a book in hand to help pass the time. The theater had never anticipated such a response – there was an overflow, and they had to apologize for not accommodating everyone.
The Art Theater is not the only one trying to adapt to the crisis. Many other venues are offering reduced tickets of €10 or less – usually they go for around €20 – as well as special offers for the unemployed.
The crisis has certainly affected the theater, but it has not cowed it. On the contrary, there’s a reckless feeling in the air, a notion that ‘In a crisis one must advance, not recede,’ and ‘We’re not going to make any money anyway, we might as well have some fun.’ The public is sometimes invited to enter venues that until recently functioned as night dives or warehouses, where they might have to sit in velvet chairs or perhaps on wooden benches.
I went to a play downtown, in a basement under a bar, where we sat on plastic chairs and the props consisted of an old sofa, a lamp and a bit of carpet. The audience was warmly enthusiastic about the comedy on offer, which was admittedly very funny, with great acting. Before and after, everyone went for a drink. My sister even attended a show where the performers ‘acted’ the props, turning themselves into trees and furniture!
In contrast to that, there are lush productions, such as those in the superb Badminton Theater, where a children’s play about Theseus involved fantastic sets. Theater district neighborhoods are resounding with the music and laughter of rehearsals, as all the most popular musicals, including Mamma Mia, are being put on with casts of talented young Greek actors.
In 2014 there were more than 400 shows on. I haven’t seen this winter’s program yet, but at the moment there are 91 performances on, spread around 58 theaters. Usually there’s something for every taste: comedy, farce, drama, Ancient Greek tragedies, stand-up, Shakespeare, musicals, performances for children, puppet theater. Also political satire, plays in verse, plays involving dance, and monologues.