27/3/2013: “Illegal theatres” in Athens
Surprisingly, today, on the International Theatre Day, Athens finds itself faced with a novel cultural threat: the City of Athens decided, without fair warning, to shut down 35 of Athens’ most vibrant performance spaces with the excuse that these spaces do not have a “theatre license”. Even though many of these spaces are not and do not want even want to be called “theatres”.
Among a shady war between unions, big production companies and a jaw-dropping legal void (the theatre laws currently in use in Greece date back to 1937, when Greece was under a dictatorship), these 35 spaces, whose number will undoubtedly rise in the coming weeks after the City of Athens has finished with its “sweep” of the city’s cultural map, face the real threat of going out of business, leaving many professionals unemployed and the city significantly poorer in regards to cultural production.
The hard facts: there is no law in Greece which allows a performance space to function legally and safely away from the label of “theatre”. Most of these performance spaces barely fit 50 people, and even though their managers have secured their spaces with all the adequate measures as dictated by the Fire Department and the Health and Safety Board, their business will be shut down. Without a fair warning. Without suggestions as to how they can improve their spaces. Without time to react.
Additionally, the acquisition of the notorious “theatre license” is not only a highly costly business, but requires architectural features almost extinct from the city for many-many years. And fundamentally it requires for a specific spatial distribution of auditorium and stage that most of these spaces do not have. These spaces where created for Greek artists to experiment and work in free, flexible architectural formats and establish new and refreshing artistic signatures.
The crusade against performance spaces landed like a comet in Athens; nothing like this has ever happened before in the capital of Greece. The managers of the spaces in question formed a Group of the Performance Spaces of Athens in order to combat these irrational and hasty measures. It is our belief, already seconded by public opinion, that any closing should be put on hold and that the law immediately undergoes the necessary adjustments that will reflect the current reality of the performing arts.
The result, should the City of Athens has its way, is one: the gradual, yet definite deadening of an already crumbling city, where crime, corruption, trafficking and drug trading has reached astronomical heights. The performance spaces in Athens which have cropped up across town in the past decade created a fascinating network of cultural production and interchange, with some truly miraculous results, both artistically and financially. Some of the best performances in Greece were conceived and performed in these “illegal” spaces. To shut down these spaces equals an act of censorship, puts a stop to the free, evolving and fruitful cultural production, and brings the Greek performing arts to a monolithic state of repetition and stagnation.