The Most Important Theater: putting children first
An interview with Elpida Minadaki, author and playwright
From 1896, when the well-known playwright Gregorios Xenopoulos published a volume of plays entitled “Children’s Theater,” and 1972 when actor Xenia Kalogeropoulou established the famous “Children’s Stage” and revolutionized children’s theater in Greece, to current productions, the genre has been a treasured part of the Athenian theatrical stages. Author and playwright Elpida Minadaki discusses her latest play, The Fantastic Trip of the Red Umbrella, and gives us an insider’s look to children’s productions nowadays.
What prompted you to get involved with productions for children?
I always loved theater, especially for children. The fact that I’ve been writing stories, since I was a little girl, and attempted different types of writing such as scripts, lyrics, etc was a strong motivation to go for it. The children’s reactions to my book The Fantastic Trip of the Red Umbrella had been so encouraging that I decided to produce and write a theatrical adaptation. The famous painting The Birth of Venus by the great Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli was a good reason to tell a story that would combine art and mythology. Also, the Greek goddess of beauty Aphrodite (Venus) is loved all over the world. She represents pure beauty inside and outside. That is a concept I wanted to convey. So, I tried to write a story about art, mythology, and friendship in an educational and entertaining way, enriched with music and songs by the awarded composers Areti and Ioanna Spanomarkou and the exceptional direction of Giorgos Dourgoutis. Rena Tsouri and Melani Marheine, two great actresses that I am very happy to cooperate with, are starring in the play. And of course, we are extremely happy to have the children participate on stage.
Taking into account how, nowadays, technology reaches—is readily accessible and highly influences—the younger generations, do you think children can still perceive “art” through a book or a play?
Nowadays, children get exposed to a lot of information through technology, and this helps them “absorb” a book or play easier. They get into the story faster and perceive all the meanings very easily. At the same time, they are smart and demanding. They want interesting stories that are not only entertaining but offer added value and knowledge. And they like stories that they can share with others.
It has been long argued that theatre, beside schools, can be another medium through which children can develop morally. What are the messages you consider important and are trying to convey?
Theatre imitates life in a fantastic or exaggerated way, of course, but it is a vivid setting where kids are influenced, educated, and also laugh and escape from everyday routines. A good theatrical performance should pass along several messages about high values, friendship, virtues, and other social conditions children can identify. That is why the performances need to have high-quality standards and be approved by the Ministry of Education to make sure they are appropriate and educating.
The Fantastic Trip of the Red Umbrella introduces children to the concepts of art and mythology, but also to contribution and solidarity, since part of the proceeds is offered to the non-profit organization “Skopos Zois.” How important is it to instil children with compassion and kindness in this day and age?
Children are the future, and this is the most important part of making our art: we have to provide them with all “good materials” to build their personalities and make them useful human beings. Art is all about expression, improvement, and contributes to the mind, soul, and heart. Theatre is a means to achieve all that. “A good influence makes better people.” With this concept in mind, I always try to combine a book or play with a good cause, to teach children about sharing in a non-didactic way. So, in this case, we joined forces with “Skopos Zois” to offer part of the profits to the socially vulnerable groups of the city of Athens.
What do you find are the greatest challenges in the specific industry and what, if anything, could be done so that the productions are better integrated within our educational system?
The greatest challenge is to approach the children’s world. To make them love theatre and get them carried away in our stories. The ministries can support more effectively not only financially, but by suggesting several theatrical productions of educational value to schools. It will enrich the educational system and raise the level in the field of children’s theater.
What works should we be looking forward to in the future? Any “dream” project you would like to pursuit?
I have plenty of dreams, but I always go one step at a time. The sure thing is that I’m always looking for good stories that will make my heart fly so I can make children fly with me. After all, if you can’t find a way to remain a child yourself, you won’t be able to understand their wonderful world. A world that has a lot of things to teach all grown-ups!
Children’s books by Elpida Minadaki:
- A Little Bag Named Litsa (Λίτσα η Σακουλίτσα) by Ocelotos Publishing https://issuu.com/ocelotos/docs/litsa_sakoulitsa
- The Fantastic Trip of the Red Umbrella (Το ταξίδι της κόκκινης oμπρέλας) by Kedros Publications https://www.kedros.gr/product/8249/taxidi-kokkinis-omprelas-ston-pinaka-gennisi.html
- The Ballerina that Didn’t Dance (Η μπαλαρίνα που δεν χόρευε) by Filyra Books https://www.ianos.gr/events/elpida-minadaki-i-mpalarina-pou-den-xoreue-ekd.html
All photos are courtesy of Ms. Elpida Minadaki & Skopos Zois