Ioanna Katsarou

Ioanna Katsarou is Eclipses Group Theater’s artistic director and founding member of Aktis Aeliou Theater, awarded Best Regional Theater in Greece by the Greek Critics Association. She directed the Eclipses presentation, Hercules: In Search of a Hero, which recently had a limited engagement at the Abrons Arts Center in Manhattan.

Ioanna is a member of the Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab 2017. Her selected acting credits include Clytemnestra (Classic Stage Company), Cassandra and Queen Atossa (La MaMa and St. Ambroise Festival Montreal) and Phaedra (European Delphi Festival). Ioanna has performed in more than 25 productions and directed more than 15 plays, including Farewell, which was named Best Poetic Monologue at the 2018 United Solo Festival. You can learn more about Ioanna and Eclipses Group Theater at www.egtny.com.

QG: Tell us about Eclipses’ recent production of Hercules: In Search of a Hero.

IK: Hercules: In Search of a Hero was developed through a great team effort. We started working on this piece with the cast and the crew last September, and for around five months we rehearsed, developed the show and held 16 successful performances in Queens and Manhattan. From a personal standpoint, it was one of the most challenging things I have ever done as a director, and I knew that this performance would also challenge audience members and critics. I find it extremely exciting that our show raised questions, started conversations and generated productive feedback from the audience and the media about two plays by Euripides that are almost unknown to American audiences.

QG: What’s next on the horizon for you?

IK: I’m currently working on two new projects. The first one is Eclipses’ next project. This May, we will present the second Greek Play Project NY, a series of readings of contemporary Greek plays in collaboration with Dr. Irene Moundraki of the National Theater of Greece, which will be produced again at NYU under the auspices of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture, the Consulate General of Greece in New York, the A.S. Onassis Program in Hellenic Studies at NYU and The National Theater of Greece. The second project is a new comedy by Penny Fylaktaki, which I’ll direct at the Greek Cultural Center in Astoria in April.

QG: You must have had many extraordinary experiences in your theatrical career, dealing with issues around creativity, dealing with people, and dealing with other people who create. It seems there must be both crises and moments of glory. Can you enlighten us a bit about that?

IK: When you do theater, you always and constantly challenge yourself in the areas you mention because creativity and communication are at the core of the theater process. One feeds the other. Directors, actors, set designers, costume designers, lighting designers, musicians, sound engineers and many others come together, work together and create together. When all these artists give the best of themselves and work together as an ensemble, then this is a moment of glory for me. I’m fortunate that I’ve had many of these happy moments in my career— moments when creativity blooms in the rehearsal space and everybody feels a part of this co-creation.

But there are times that things don’t work well and there is a lack of communication and eventually lack of creativity in the rehearsal room. Then you doubt yourself, you doubt your strength, and you doubt the meaning of doing theater. But what I realize now after many years is that these moments of crisis have pushed me to make the boldest and most courageous decisions in my life.

QG: What’s new and exciting about theater these days?

IK: I can’t define anymore the word “new” in an era when the new becomes old in a second. I believe that we are in a transitional period, when art generally tries to find new paths and new forms, but doesn’t do so successfully, as the “new” is becoming commerce or a fad for consumers. That is one of the reasons that the 21st century has not yet produced a big art movement such as those we had in the 20th century although, at the individual level, we can find some very talented artists. I think we have to replace the word “new” with the word “authentic,” as the latter has to do more with the meaning of sincerity and innocence. For the theater art, which is based on live experience, the challenge is double, as virtual reality, social media and market globalization create new conditions in the arts industry. How will young theater makers react to that? This is the question.

QG: Talk to us about our favorite topic: Queens. What do you love about Queens, and where do you see Queens going in the future? What kinds of stories does this borough lend itself to?

IK: I love Queens, and I love my neighborhood in Astoria, but what I love most is the vivid, multicultural community of Queens. When I walk in Astoria Park next to the water and gaze at Manhattan from a distance, I am aware of two different New York realities. Queens is the home of many immigrants, workers, middle-class families, students, teachers, artists, young couples, and ordinary people who struggle for a better future for themselves and their families. I feel I’m a part of their community, and I feel connected with their reality and their stories. What is happening now is that Manhattan, which is the financial center of the city, is expanding toward Queens, and that will eventually affect some very unique neighborhoods in our borough.

QG: Tell us about Eclipses – how was it formed and why?

IK: In the beginning, we created EGTNY as a platform for our first project, The p-Roject, based on Aeschylus’ play The Persians. Very soon, we realized that there weren’t many Greek American theater organizations that create work for a broader audience, not only for the Greek American community. From the start, the group’s concern has been to develop a vivid artistic dialogue between the two countries. We focus on producing plays that have a Greek theme or subject matter but address the broader American audience, too. In many of our productions, we have worked with artists from different ethnicities and have collaborated with other American theaters and organizations, such as La MaMa theater and the director Zishan Ugurlu, La- Guardia Performing Arts Center, Abrons Arts Center, In Scena Italian Festival, St. Ambroise Festival in Montreal, and more.

QG: What excites you about Eclipses?

IK: In January, we organized a party celebrating Eclipses’ eight years of existence. When I was preparing the presentation of the group’s history and a summary of our past productions, I realized how much this group has accomplished all these years: how many artists have worked and contributed their talents and their ideas to our projects, how many collaborations with established theater organizations in New York and Greece we have accomplished, how many sponsors and volunteers have supported us, and finally, how many audience members have watched our shows. That realization revealed to me the exciting opportunities that Eclipses has to grow more artistically and accomplish even more in the future.

QG: Where is Eclipses going?

IK: We’ll try our best so that Eclipses continues to advance its mission statement and work further as a cultural bridge between Greece and the United States. One of our main goals is to establish collaborations with more theater and cultural organizations here and in Greece, and create bigger and more ambitious projects in the Queens area, New York City and abroad. Queens is our base and will continue to be our home as we set these plans into motion.

—Annette Hanze Alberts

This column was originated in July, 2013 by Nicollette Barsamian.

  
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