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A unique type of folk theatre that is being carried on in 21st century Zakynthos




Zakynthiot actor and director Kostas Kapodistrias is one of the few people who know Zakynthian “Omilies” very well in theory as well as in action, since he is a ground-breaking personality in their performances, in the villages of Zakynthos. Together we discussed a lot about their history, and, mainly, the present of “Omilies” in 21st century Zakynthos.

         To begin with, I would like to ask you how the tradition of Zakynthian “Omilies” is being revived over the last few years.

         We have to go back to the 60’s. The Medieval and Folk Theatre Convention which took place in 1965 in Zakynthos with the initiative of K.Porfiris, is the stimulus for the revival of this tradition. It was a scientific and artistic event for the local society and many more as drama scholars, researchers, local scholars and many others took part in it. By the way, I want to note that, at first, Porfyris and the other people who took the initiative wanted to me it “Folk Theatre Convention”. However, because at this time everything “folk” was considered suspicious, linked with Left-wing politics and the –then illegal- Communist Party of Greece, they named it “Medieval and Folk Theatre Convention” so there would be more participants such as D.Romas and more. The term “Medieval” gave the term “Folk” a wider meaning.

         Then it was interrupted by the dictatorship. Two more conventions were held in the first years after the fall of the junta, and in 2000 we had a “reboot” with the “Ten Days of Renaissance Folk Theatre” which took place in Zakynthos. I insist in these convention because they are a milestone. In these, scholars, researchers, artist but also a wide public met and involved in the marvel of “Zakynthian Omilies”

         What about today?

We try to boost this tradition with plays, meetings and conventions. Because today, folk theatre does not have the same stimuli as it used to have, inspired by oral tradition and everyday life. The main source of inspiration today is television (in the 60’s it was the Greek films). There are always, of course, stimuli but the main thing is how they would be embedded and transformed into folk creation. Nowadays, where information come and go, the folk expression is subdued to information rather than vice versa. We want to keep a balance in this. The folk theatre should take advantage of the stimuli and also we need to bring folk creators and scholars together. One danger is the degradation which comes from television while the other is the academicism. We want none of them. We want the expression of people, without any foreign elements such as degradation or academicism, so it would work properly and be fruitful.

         Tell us, which is the procedure in which an “Omilia” takes place nowadays?

Around Christmas, the folk troupe is gathered in the village. The same thing happened in earlier times with the guilds. Nowadays this happens in the villages where a very special creation takes place; More than ten villages perform “Omilies”

They gather in a café or a community center or a school and they discuss what would they perform. Sometimes they prefer older “Omilies” such as “Chryssavgi” or “Krinos and Anthia” that newspaper “Avgi” is republishing today. Some other times however, we deal with contemporary plays. This year, for instance, in the team that I participate, we are performing an “Omilia” entitled “Tis listas ta kamomata” (“The troubles of the list”) which has to do of course with the Lagarde list; everything that people discuss in the cafés (influenced by what we see on TV of course-this is inevitable) we transform it into theatre, with the people’s speech. Satire, after all, is the weapon of the oppressed and we see nothing but oppression these days.

First, we have the first idea. If there is a new play, someone can introduce it as a whole or, if not, they can bring some verses and then people can add some more and we customize into a play. This is an absolutely folk creation. The plays are performed in the first Monday after the Carnival (Clean Monday). In case the weather is bad the performance takes place in the last Sunday before Easter- we can also do that. “Omilies” had taken place before, and this is a basic ingredient of the Zakynthian Carnival and its most unique element.

What is your role in these groups? Could we say that you are the director?

No way! Even though I am a professional director, in the case of the “Omilies” I wouldn’t consider myself as such! The whole procedure and the roles are different! The guys here call me “teacher”. With a contemporary sense I would consider myself as someone who encourages them. Let me explain what I do; when I see that the whole thing is about to turn into a skit, I try to bring it down to its roots so it would be about our ancestry and the roots of the genre, along with everything we know about our tradition. And that’s why we need science and research for.

One last question. What’s so special about “Omilies”?

They are the only kind of folk theatre. It is a type of theatre that begins in the 17th century influenced from Cretan theatre as well as Commedia dell Arte- let’s not forget that back then, Zakynthos was a crossroad between the East and the West. And in the creation of this mixture, this special genre of theatre, the spirit of the island plays an important role. Zakynhian people have a high satirical intellect. As a friend of mine, who is an architect and came for the first time in Zakynthos, once said: “Whenever I may go, I see the types of Commedia dell’ Arte, on the road- with flesh and bone!” You can see, per se, the mentality and the function of harlequins in some people when you walk on the roads of Zakynthos.

According to many drama scholars, with Zakynthian Omilies, we have the passage from the Cretan theatre to the contemporary comedy. We have many well-known playwrights (with the most known being Dimitrios Gouselis who wrote “Hassis”) but also collective activities. All three activities coexist, and this is unique. Recently, actually, with the help of the municipality and other local faculties, along with Academy of Athens, we try to incorporate “Omilies” in the Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO. This is going to be another step closer to keeping alive and designate this unique type of our local folk theatre which comes from the 17th century and goes on until these days.

This interview was taken by Stratis Bournazos for the newspaper “Avgi”