Interview with Mr. Haris Romas, actor and Executive Regional Councillor responsible for theatrical and musical events:
“Culture is the opposite of fear. It is love.”
1. Mr. Romas, tell us about the importance of culture as motivation for visiting destinations, friendship of peoples and peace.
The majority of people on the planet dream of travelling – in fact they dream of long-distance travelling. The main reason is that people want to escape from their everyday life and routine. This is achieved when they marvel at new landscapes and images and when they learn about different cultures. The truth is that a culture may feature a lot of things, not necessarily good. In other words, it can even feature barbaric traditions and customs. Yet we tend to use the word “culture” and the adjective “cultivated” to identify events, situations, characteristics and people that make a society function in an orderly or even ideal way. Based on this positive aspect of culture and aiming at achieving it, the motivation of a “cultivated” traveller, in addition to curiosity about the unknown and the different, is the quest for world friendship. And, of course, a precondition for world friendship is world peace. Or vice versa!
2. What is the level of cultural productions, theatrical education and international film productions in Attica?
Attica is at the forefront (and this is not a figure of speech, nor is it proportional to its population) of the creation of theatrical and musical performances. Indicatively, in 2019 more than a thousand theatrical and musical performances in theatres, music stages and bar theatres were created and presented in Attica, according to the established magazine Athinorama. In other words, a few more than those presented in New York, which is considered the metropolis of the world! I do not claim that all these performances were of high artistic value and taste, but it is still an indisputable fact that Greeks, and especially the residents of Attica, want to express themselves through theatre and music. Having said that, some of these performances are of very high artistic value even at international level. There are choices that follow a classic art form and style but there are also completely innovative suggestions that surprise us (more often than not) positively. Theatrical education is at a fairly good level, mainly due to some inspirational teachers who do great work (even on their own) in some of the many drama schools found in Attica. These teachers give the right motivation to young people, urging them to explore the art routes so that they (or some of them) become active artists with a strong imprint. Cinema, on the other hand, as we all know, is an industry that requires a lot of money in order to make a large and significant production. Efforts are being made, some of which are inspiring and impressive, but there is no mass production. I believe that the state should continuously and uninterruptedly help with funding and tax reliefs. As for foreign productions, which can be shot in the country and especially in Attica that offers incredible landscape diversity, a huge coastline, mountains and hills, the most beautiful and emblematic ancient monuments and also facilities for any kind of film and even post-production, must become an aim of our country. They will benefit our economy to a great extent, bringing foreign exchange and helping promote and enhance tourism. My advice to the government is to consistently provide incentives in order for our country to become a film country. Given that art works under the principle of communicating vessels, I believe that foreign productions will also give rise to domestic production. Finally, I think that the visual arts industry needs a lot of help. New Greek artists emerge frequently, whose amazing work is admired abroad. We should not seek the export of artists but the import of art investors.
3. How do Attica’s theatrical scenes, festivals and cultural events in general win over the international audience, and what are their advantages?
The great asset or, in other words, the privilege of our country on the world’s theatre stage is of course the performances of ancient Greek tragedy and Attica comedy. The greatest ambassadors of our country are Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes. It is no coincidence that great younger writers were inspired by the ever-living masterpieces of ancient Greek tragedy and wrote their own great works, which in turn gained a prominent place in the international repertoire. Let me indicatively mention “Antigone” by Anouilh, “Phaedra” by Racine and “Ismene” by Ritsos. The Athens & Epidaurus festival always features performances of ancient Greek drama and comedies by Aristophanes in its programme. Thousands of foreign visitors have enjoyed such performances in the jewel of Attica, the ancient theatre of Herodes Atticus, the famous Herodion. Let’s not forget the wonderful museums of Attica that are becoming more and more comprehensive, specialised and technologically advanced. Museum tourism is a great part of the promotion and the economy of Attica.
4. Through which actions does the Region of Attica support culture?
The Region of Attica, and specifically the culture department, operates upon two axes. It finances events both in collaboration with its 66 Municipalities, in the festivals they organise, but also in festivals created exclusively by the culture department for the development of culture (such as the Eleonas festival, that emphasizes on ancient tragedy workshops). The aim is to offer remarkable shows to the citizens in order to be cultivated and entertained, but at the same time to support, through artists and other workers, culture through funding. The second axis is the most long-term and forward-looking actions that will leave a strong imprint on the next generation who will continue our work. An example is the festival of Modern Greek works planned by the Region of Attica. It would have already been implemented as an institution if we had not been prevented by the coronavirus pandemic. We intend to organise it every July at the Attiko Alsos open theatre, the beautiful park that belongs to the Region of Attica. Let me point out that last summer, the Attica Region hosted in this theatre a week of free performances featuring the play “PERSES” by Aeschylus, directed by Dimitris Lignadis, in collaboration with the top stage of the country, the National Theatre of Greece. The show was a huge success and was attended by the maximum number of audience allowed by the health measures. Following this action, in addition to our collaboration with the National Theatre, we are thinking of presenting a performance of the Municipal Theatre of Piraeus in collaboration with this specific theatrical organisation this summer.
5. What is the role of educational activities, conferences on theatre, music, literature etc, but also Greece’s international distinctions in the dissemination of the multifaceted cultural identity of Attica?
We are definitely interested in the multidimensional cultural identity of Attica, which is why we participate or financially support any conference or meeting that guarantees the participation of international actors. We plan a meeting in a wonderful place in Sounio dedicated to our great poet Odysseas Elytis with many distinguished Greeks and foreigners from the field of literature and culture. His poems will be read by important actors, parts of his texts will be dramatised and at the end there will be a concert with songs that have his verse set to music. It goes without saying that his work will be analyzed by experts and that there will be subtitles throughout the event.
6. New technologies contribute decisively to the emergence of the modern cultural map of Attica. In what ways does the Region of Attica utilize the vehicle of technology to attract foreign visitors and how important are the digital possibilities for cultural tourism (digital performances, cultural material on the internet etc.)?
The Region of Attica was the first to present performances and concerts through live streaming, during the difficult summer of 2020, the summer of the coronavirus, as it was named. This was done, of course, for reasons of health safety, in order to avoid many events, performances and concerts with large crowds of people, but at the same time not depriving our citizens from the enjoyment of art. However, already since the winter of 2020, the culture department has begun to explore the utilization of the enormous potential of technology for the promotion of the cultural development of Attica. Thus, we created (DIS)PLAYING ATTICA, a programme with six recorded concerts of the Athens State Orchestra, filmed in six emblematic locations of Attica. The concerts are shown on the YouTube channel of the Region of Attica, already recording many views, and are of course addressed to our foreign friends as well. Besides, the main motivation for this action was the tourist promotion of Attica. We intend to continue with other respective concerts of high standards in special locations. We also want to create a digital programme to promote every beauty of Attica entitled “I love Attica.”
7. How is security ensured in theatres and cultural events during COVID–19?
I mentioned before our collaboration with our National Theatre in the theatre of Attiko Alsos, which belongs to the Region of Attica. We formed a large group of people who guarded and enforced the health measures. All measures were strictly followed, and I believe that this action of ours was a model of proper operation for every event and festival. Since we did not have the possibility of such extensive security for all venues, we decided to present live streaming events and we were the first to do so, like I said before. We continue to provide cultural events in this context and with the help of technology but, I must admit, my longing is to return to normal, to control the pandemic and to see culture flourish without fear. Culture, after all, is the opposite of fear. It is love.”
8. You have lived your whole life in Athens. Which are your favourite neighbourhoods in Attica and which places would you recommend to the foreign visitor to discover?
Apart from the parts of old Athens such as Plaka, Thissio and Monastiraki which are the most popular tourist attractions (and rightly so), I love the area where I live, Halandri. It has a wonderful city centre and beautiful nightlife, with elegant restaurants, traditional, sparkling clean tavernas and many bars mainly around the central square of Agios Nikolaos. I also love Avdi Square in Metaxourgeio, also full of wonderful tavernas and bustling cafes. Another place, where I have a country house and therefore I know well and love very much, is the border of the Region of Attica on its west side, the beautiful town of Kineta. Its beaches are very clean and the sea water is crystal clear. The foreign visitors I have hosted are always enchanted. I also distinguish Sounio, Kavouri, Vouliagmeni, Marina Floisvos in Alimos, Agia Marina (towards Saronida) and, going back to the city centre, the charming square of Agia Irini and the aristocratic Kolonaki.
9. How would you comment on the slogan of the Region of Attica “Attica – Greece in a Snapshot”? Why would you tell your friends abroad to visit Attica?
“Attica – Greece in a snapshot” is, I think, a very attractive slogan. We are of course considering other new slogans that are equally representative. As has become clear from my previous answers to your questions, I love Attica. The dream of foreigners when they come for tourism to Greece may be primarily to visit the Greek islands, but they are not well informed about the wonderful beaches of Attica. With the completion of the works along the Attica Riviera, we will make sure that the coastal side of Attica is highly promoted. But let us not forget that the trademark of world culture, the Acropolis, is also here. And it’s always here for all visitors to admire and be inspired by the ancient Greek beauty and the ideals that accompany it.
Photography: Panos Giannakopoulos