Crisis and Turkish serials hit Greek stage
For the wider Greek public he was Achilleas Lambrou, the insolent, intelligent, leftist corporal in the 1984 film “Lufa ke Parallagi” (Escape Duty and Camouflage), one of the best anti-militarist comedies in Greek cinema. The film satirizes the difficult years of the Greek junta (1967-74) through the hilarious experiences of a group of soldiers doing their military duty in the newly founded TV channel of the Greek Armed Forces.
For others, he was once the husband of a leftist heroine of student resistance during the same period, who is presently serving in the European Parliament. But for theater lovers, Yorgos Kimoulis – now in his late fifties – has been one of the most talented actors of his generation, outspoken to the degree of arrogance and admirably capable of defending his leftist views against anyone who would call him an anti-capitalist “utopist.” Over the years, we watched him master difficult roles of a classical repertory that ranged from ancient tragedy and comedy through Shakespeare, Gogol, Chekhov and Strindberg, to contemporary dramatic roles like his latest in the play “The Interview” by Theodore Holman. Yet bad fortune struck him Feb. 1, when the Greek Public Prosecutor for Economic Crimes issued a warrant for his arrest for debts to the state amounting to around 200,000 euros. Until this article went to publication, Kimoulis remained at large. According to media reports, police could neither find him in his theater nor his home. Apparently he is trying to collect the money to pay his dues, mainly unpaid taxes.
The news about Kimoulis broke out almost the same time as a similar story hit headlines: another charismatic actor of the same generation with a similar background in theater and TV, Costas Arzoglou, confessed that he may lose his home – the bank had already sent him the date of the confiscation order – as he cannot afford to pay the installments of his mortgage. Like many theater actors, he was financing his theater work by working on TV serials. These are now being rolled over by cheaper Turkish productions and on top of that, he has not been paid for three years of work at one of the biggest channels. “They can take all except my talent,” he says. Only two weeks ago, another actor in his forties, who had made his name mainly from TV serials, committed suicide as he could not cope with financial difficulties.
Our preoccupation with what happens at the top has diverted our attention from the more innocent victims of the economic crisis in Greece. And one of the most vulnerable ones are the actors.
The statistics tell a dramatic story. Out of the 4,000 registered actors in Greece, almost 80 percent (some claim more than 90 percent) are now unemployed or partially employed with minimal or no salary. About 250 actors work in state theaters and about 1,000 in the 200 or so theater troupes. And of course, this is work per season.
The drastic cuts provided by the austerity packages on Greece imposed by the “troika” of Greece’s creditors hit the state central and regional theaters, which saw a dramatic reduction of their subsidies. The ones that did not close have to choose plays with smaller casts in order to cope with the costs.
Cheaper Turkish serials and low advertising revenue in the TV sector closed the door on Greek actors who thus lost their main source of income. A new type of actor has been born, the one who is willing to participate in any performance without payment, just to remain in touch with the sector.
Nobody knows how long the austerity period will last in Greece. People are just trying to cope with their immediate needs and commitments. So do the actors, as they try to keep themselves linked with the stage. But still, there is a good side to this. The blow that hit the Greek theater as we knew it up to now has left the door open to new, young talents who have entered the stage determined to show their skills.