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The Reception of German Theater in Greece

Establishing a Theatrical Locus Communis: The Royal Theater in Athens (1901-1906)

Michalis Georgiou

The author examines the vigorous reception of the German theater in Greece, a phenomenon that took place along with the process of establishing in Athens, in 1901 the Royal Theater. The multiple aesthetic, social and political forms of this phenomenon provided a "locus of contact" with the German culture and accomplished a function, regarded as the instrument for the development of the bourgeois theater in Greece. This happened through the work of theater practitioners and intellectuals, as well as through the transfer of institutions, theatrical plays, and scripts of direction instructions, decorations, and props. The performances staged were the iceberg in the process of this reception, as they provided a strategy toward the revitalization of the Greek theater, realized in a productive way.

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5. The Dispute over Thomas Oeconomo, the Conflict of an Epoch

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During the period from 1902 to 1906, Oeconomo’s activity went well beyond his primary obligations as director, as stated in the bylaws of the Royal Theater. His transformation of the director’s position in the way it was transferred from Germany in a position that increased his responsibilities resulted in his characterization as the “real theater manager”566 and the “soul of the theater”567 by the newspapers. His professional activities challenged older traditions, in which the success of the production was measured by individual character portrayals, and gradually, he faced opponents in the public sphere because of his innovative activities and the responsibilities he undertook. A columnist of the newspaper Estia, for example, characterized him as “Caesar”, “Napoleon”, and “Czar”.568 In particular, a conflict over the quality of the initiatives he took emerged in the public sphere concerning his “leading” of the Royal Theater and the actors, as the outmoded theatrical system of the author-teacher, the actor-teacher, and the “star” actors, which was felt to be threatened because of Oeconomo’s innovative work, provided serious attempts to put him aside. He was accused of overriding the Greek playwrights by not allowing them to pose their opinions about their performed dramas and they depreciated his directing abilities, asserting that he unequivocally followed German direction instructions in his productions. The use of the demotic language in translations and German repertoire riled conservative circles in Greece, which sought to reduce Oeconomo’s and Chatzopoulos’ theatrical activities. Moreover, more intellectuals expressed the desire...

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