As the lockdown became an all-encompassing reality in Greece in late March and April, the possibility of any form of summer entertainment seemed remote, if not impossible.
Needless to say, workers in the arts and organizers were crushed. The more pessimistic among them went so far as to say that we would have to wait until the summer of 2021 for any cultural relief.
In late March, however – and with cautious optimism – the artistic director of the Athens and Epidaurus Festival, stage director Katerina Evangelatou, said that the company was making every possible effort to put on some performances, at least when conditions allowed them.
“We are here, working non-stop to reimagine and redesign the festival with the smallest omissions possible,” she said.
Her optimism was rewarded, and Greece’s successful handling of the first wave of the pandemic allowed the festival (which is also celebrating its 65th anniversary this year) to go ahead at the two ancient theaters of Epidaurus (the small one and the large one) and at the Roman-era Odeon of Herodes Atticus beneath the Acropolis in Athens.
Highlights so far have included such as Aeschylus’ “The Persians” in a production by the Greek National Theater, renowned violinist Leonidas Kavakos performing a solo tribute to Bach, and a concert by popular Greek singer-songwriter Monika, with more to come.
There have been changes and restrictions, of course: The number of shows is much smaller than usual with just 17 against an average of 80 a year, the capacity of the theaters has been limited to 45%, there are no intermissions so as to avoid crowding, artists do not perform encores and all the ushers are equipped with gloves and face shields.
The festival has even created an informative and humorous video posted on its Facebook page to inform audience members about what they can expect this summer.
Featuring Kora Karvouni in the role of a “cultural flight attendant,” “passengers” are instructed to:
“Arrive at the theater 90 minutes before the performance. Catch up with friends you haven’t seen in a while. If we see an acquaintance, say hello from a safe distance. A safe distance is 1.5 meters at least. Keep your mask on until seated. This is a cushion. We sit on it. Please don’t move it left or right, up or down, and don’t lie on it to get more comfortable. Finally, there are hand sanitizers in every area. Please use them. Should you have any questions, the festival staff are at your disposal. Thank you for choosing the Athens and Epidaurus Festival and we wish you a great experience.”