Performing Arts

Dr Andri Constantinou

There are indications of theatrical activity in Cyprus in ancient times but there has been very little research into the theatre of that period. Four ancient theatres have survived. These theatres date back to the Hellenistic and Roman eras and are situated across the island, at Salamis, Soloi, Kourion and Pafos. A religious drama from the Byzantine period, called The Cypriot Cycle of the Passion has been preserved but it has no connection with a stage performance.

'Laterna Ftohia kai Filotimo', by Alecos Sakellarios, Satirion Theatre production (2005)'Laterna Ftohia kai Filotimo', by Alecos Sakellarios, Satirion Theatre production (2005) Art space of Limassol Theatre Development Company (E.TH.A.L.) 35 Years Stage Creative by the Theatrical Organization of Cyprus (THOC) 'The Last Homecoming', directed by Corinna Avraamidou (2008) 'Matias the 1st', by Alki Zai, ETHAL Childrens Thratre (2007)

We have clear evidence of theatrical activity from the second half of the nineteenth century. During the last years of Ottoman rule, few and far between performances by Cypriot amateurs and Greek touring troupes took place. After 1878, when power was transferred to the British, the number of foreign companies visiting Cyprus increased, more amateur theatre groups were established as associations and there were quite a number of school performances of ancient drama. During the last decades of the nineteenth century the first examples of playwrighting appeared in modern Cyprus, mainly on historical subjects. The first landmark in the history of theatre in Cyprus was the completion in 1899 of the Papadopoulos Theatre in Nicosia, an impressive theatre building, by Cyprus standards, built on the model of large theatres in Europe. Unfortunately, the theatre was demolished at the end of the 1960s.

Dramatics were also developed at the beginning of the twentieth century by groups of Turkish Cypriots. Initially the Turkish Cypriot theatre was based on traditional Turkish theatre, i.e. performances such as Karagiozis and popular forms of impromptu comedy, but later followed models of the western theatre. The first modern work was staged in 1908 and was called Vatan Yahut Silistre [Homeland or Silistria] by Namik Kemal. 

A milestone in the theatrical life of Cyprus was the Pafitiki Epitheorisi [Pafian Revue], staged in 1918 in the small town of Pafos by the pioneers Sotirakis and Kostas Markidis. It was clearly influenced by the Athenian revue. The production went on tour to other towns and two more versions were performed in the following years. These performances signalled the passage from non-artistic amateur theatre at national or charity events to theatre interested in art and entertainment, and in this specific case in satire. The Revue later flourished in Limassol and Larnaka, while it was Nicosia’s turn in 1938, with the Mousiki Skini Lefkosias [Nicosia Musical Stage].

*The presentation of the Greek Cypriot theatre is based on research by the author and on the relevant bibliography. We refer to the Turkish Cypriot theatre in short parenthetical paragraphs, due to the fact that the sole bibliography in Greek consists of articles in the magazine Epi Skinis [On Stage] and chiefly in the Theatre Diary of 2009 of the Limassol Theatrical Course dedicated to the subject of the Turkish Cypriot Theatre. Relevant information was drawn from the article of Yasar Ersoy in the publication in question.

In the years between the world wars, the theatre of labour associations and organisations left its mark, while in the 1940s and especially during World War II, Cypriot theatre began to acquire more professionalism. The theatre companies Lyriko [Lyric], Neo Lyriko [New Lyric], Enosi Kallitechnon [Artists’ Union], Orpheas and Prometheas, with the collaboration of directors from Greece, such as Angelos Vazas, Adamantios Lemos and Kostis Michaelides, marked a short-lived climax and contributed decisively to the development of the theatre.

As far as playwrighting up to 1960 is concerned, not only poetic dramas but also realistic plays on social issues were written, whilst interesting examples of satire also exist. Other notable works include those of Evgenios Zinonos (O Dikigoros [The Lawyer]), Tefkros Anthias (I Dimoprasia [The Auction]) and Demetris Demetriades or Dorian (O Apogonos [The Descendant]). Reference should also be made to the plays of A.A. Georgiades-Kyproleontas (Mia Nychta sto Hani [A Night at the Inn]) and I Zoi en Tafo [Life in the Tomb]) and Loukis Akritas (Omirioi [Hostages]). However, the greater part of the plays written during the period between 1940 until 1974 consists of works in the Cypriot dialect on subjects derived from rural life.

One of the first examples of ethography is I agapi tis Marikkous [The Love of Marikkou] by Kyriakos Akathiotis (1938), performed many times by professional and amateur troupes.

Cypriot ethography often contains music and songs and the spectacle often includes traditional dances. The first example of this type of comedy is To Oneiro tou Tzypri tou Lefkariti [The Dream of Tzypris Lefkaritis] by Kostas Harakis with music and songs by Achilleas Lymbourides. With this performance in 1951, the Kypriako Theatro [Cypriot Theatre] embarked on its course and went on to develop rich activity until 1961. A key figure was the popular comedian Nikos Pantelides. In the 1950s Kypriaki Skini [Cypriot Stage] and Enomenoi Kallitechnes [United Artists] also appeared, led by Vladimiros Kafkarides, and there were also some performances of operas. These theatre companies were based in Nicosia while in Limassol groups of experienced amateurs enlivened the life of the theatre under the direction of Keimis Raftopoulos.

Plays in Turkish, including Turkish operetta, were produced during the 1920s and 1930s in the theatres of Beliğ Paşa, Papadopoulos and Magic Palace. During the 1930s and 1940s Turkish Cypriot athletic and rural organisations successfully developed theatre activity.

With Cyprus’ independence, an impressively dynamic period ensued in theatre: many companies appeared and a multitude of productions was produced during each theatrical season. Professional theatre in Cyprus was established and began to mature. Artistic demands increased, a lot of actors pursued theatrical studies and almost all of them could make their living from acting. The companies which decisively contributed to the development of the theatre in Cyprus during the first years of independence were the Theatro Technis [Arts Theatre], the OTHAK [Organisation of Theatrical Development in Cyprus], the Theatro RIK [Theatre of the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation (CyBC)] and the Peiramatiki Skini [Experimental Stage].

'The Last Homecoming', directed by Corinna Avraamidou (2008)'The Last Homecoming', directed by Corinna Avraamidou (2008) Art space of Limassol Theatre Development Company (E.TH.A.L.) 35 Years Stage Creative by the Theatrical Organization of Cyprus (THOC) 'Matias the 1st', by Alki Zai, ETHAL Childrens Thratre (2007) 'Laterna Ftohia kai Filotimo', by Alecos Sakellarios, Satirion Theatre production (2005)

The Theatro Technis (1961-1962) was an effort to rejuvenate theatre by very young actors, including Nicos Charalambous and Stelios Kafkarides and the director Thanos Sakketas. OTHAC (1961-1968) began with ambitious plans and a demanding repertoire and was the first theatre group to receive a state subsidy. Its first director, Kostis Michaelides was followed by Yiorgos Filis. After 1964, OTHAC turned to revue, Greek farce and Cypriot ethography. In 1969, the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation founded a theatre company that was known as the Theatraki tou RIK [Little Theatre of CyBC]. It was supported by personalities such as Andreas Christofides and Evis Gavrielides. Through the dynamism of those who inspired it, the homogeneity and the zeal of the team and its bold repertoire, the company introduced high artistic standards to the Cypriot theatre life. Jenny Gaitanopoulou and Despina Bebedeli made their mark as leading actresses at the Theatraki. The company broke up in 1971 following the foundation of the THOC [Cyprus Theatre Organisation]. A major contribution was made by the directors Nicos Shiafkalis and Vladimiros Kafkarides during the 1960s with the companies they founded and the performances they staged. Peiramatiki Skini [Experimental Stage] (1972-1974), founded by the young actors Costas Charalambides, Lenia Sorocou and Eftychios Poulaides left its imprint through productions of pioneering work in small spaces and an emphasis on the art of acting.

As regards playwrighting following Cyprus’ Independence, plays referring to the recent Anticolonial struggle of 1955-59, such as O Anaxios [The Unworthy] by Rina Katseli, and previous periods of Cyprus’ history started to appear. The main volume of plays was ethographical and mainly musical ethographical comedies. The most important representative of ethography was Michalis Pitsillidis, who introduces social issues in this tradition. A particular case was that of Michalis Pasiardis whose work moves on the fringes of ethography but is imbued with poetry. From independence up to the foundation of THOC in 1971, a plurality of writers produced work for pure entertainment, ethographical comedy, revue and political satire. Some examples include Demetris Papademetris, Marcos Georgiou, Achilleas Lymbourides, Sotos Oritis, Anthos Rodinis, Savvas Savvides, Michalis Kyriakides and Andreas Potamitis. Other playwrights also tested their abilities with different forms and subjects. Examples include the polymorphous work of Panos Ioannides and the polygraph Eirena Ioannidou-Adamidou.

The Turkish Cypriot professional theatre company called Ilk Sahne [First Stage], was founded in February 1963. In 1965, First Stage enjoyed the subsidy of the Turkish Cypriot Communal Chamber and was renamed Turkish Cypriot First Stage Theatre. The theatre group attracted a regular and devoted public. In 1971 the troupe Altun Sahne [Golden Stage] was founded, which also performed plays in the Turkish Cypriot dialect, such as the play of Kemal Tunç Alikko ile Caher.

The Cyprus Theatre Organisation (THOC) was founded in 1971. It is remarkable that Cyprus acquired its state theatre just eleven years after the declaration of independence. The first director of THOC was Nicos Chatziskos. In December 1972 the direction of THOC was taken over by Sokratis Karantinos, under the title of instructor-director. Karantinos supported THOC in its first steps with the confidence he showed in Cypriot directors and his devotion to the art of theatre. During its first three years, the Organisation shaped its identity despite the many difficulties faced, and consolidated itself. From 1972-1975 Iakovos Philippou served as managing director of the Organisation, while in 1975 Evis Gavrielides was appointed as its director, a position he held till the end of 1988.

In the years following 1974, the repertoire of THOC took on a political dimension. At the same time, THOC also gained prestige in Greece, mainly through the tours with Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage in 1977, directed by Heinz Uwe Haus and Euripides’ The Suppliants in 1979, directed by Nicos Charalambous. The Suppliants made an excellent impression and in 1980 was the first production of THOC at Epidaurus. The Organisation has participated to date with twenty-seven productions in the Festival of Ancient Drama of Epidaurus, with many successes to its credit, while Cypriot directors have made suggestions of their own with regard to the interpretation of ancient drama.

In 1976 the Children’s Stage of THOC produced its first play for children. In 1989 Andy Pargilly undertook the direction of the Organisation. Other directors include: Christos Siopachas (1995-1998), Andy Pargilly (1998-2007) and Varnavas Kyriazis (2007-). The New Stage of THOC was founded in the 1990s. The first attempts for the foundation of a second stage had already been made in 1976 with plays from the modern repertoire. The Experimental Stage was inaugurated in 2001, extending the repertoire of THOC and offering nowadays a space for alternative productions and new playwrights.

During the first years following the coup d’état and the Turkish invasion, theatrical activity in Cyprus dwindled to that of THOC and of groups performing revues. At the end of the 1970s, theatrical groups began to make a dynamic appearance but were short-lived and at the end of the 1980s theatrical activity began to stabilise. The enactment of subsidies, following the activation of the THOC Development Sector contributed to this. This activity began to shape Cyprus theatre in its current form. In 1986 members of the Kafkarides family and close collaborators founded the Satiriko Theatro [Satirical Theatre]. In 1987 Andreas Christodoulides founded Theatro Ena [Theatre One] and is still its director. In 1989 Limassol personalities founded the Limassol Theatre Development Company (ETHAL). Its Director today is Menas Tigkilis. A similar initiative took place in Larnaka in 1996 with the foundation of the Scala Theatre. Its director today is Andreas Melekis. The Anoictho Theatro [Open Theatre], Theatre Dionysos, Theatre Anemona [Anemone] in Nicosia, Theatre Versus in Limassol as well as a lot of other, mainly young groups operate today, without a permanent base, and occasionally offer pleasant surprises within the theatrical plurality and decentralisation.

As far as the theatrical activity of Turkish Cypriots is concerned, in 1975, the Turkish Cypriot Theatre First Scene was renamed Turkish Cypriot “State” theatre (Kibris Türk Devlet Tiyatrosu). In 1980, following their dismissal for political reasons, four artists (Yaşar Ersoy, Osman Alkaş, Erol Refikoğlu and Işin Cem) founded the Theatre of the Turkish Municipality of Nicosia (Lefkoşa Türk Belediye Tiyatrosu). The theatre company, renamed later on the Turkish Cypriot Municipal Theatre of Nicosia (Lefkoşa Belediye Tiyatrosu), extended the repertoire, undertook the organisation of various related activities (festivals etc.) and worked for the rapprochement of the two communities through collaborations with the Satiriko Theatre. In the 1980s and 1990s, mainly amateur groups were active, such as Theatre Emek in Famagusta, Theatre GÜSAD (Güzel Sanatlar Derneği), meaning Union of Fine Arts), the Private Artistic Company of Morfou and the Company of the Cyprus Chamber of Arts. The Turkish Cypriot Comedy Group attracted the interest of the public by presenting works in the Turkish Cypriot dialect. In the meantime, the Turkish Cypriot “State” Theatre, which was mainly staffed by artists from Turkey, changed its staffing policy and employed local artists as from 1994 an action that was positively viewed by the Turkish Cypriot press. From 2004 onwards it entered into an era of restructuring with an extended theatre company and increased productions every year.

After the coup d’état and the 1974 invasion, many Greek Cypriot playwrights tackled the shock, trauma and changes brought directly and indirectly to Cypriot society by this political blow. Examples include: Panos Ioannides and Rina Katselli from the older generation and Yiorgos Neofytou, Maria Avraamidou and Andreas Koukkides from the next generation. Examples of writers who appeared in the last fifteen years are Evridiki Pericleous-Papadopoulou, with plays that are poetic and Nearchos Ioannou, Antonis Georgiou and Adonis Florides, who attempt to broaden their subject matter with modern issues of Cypriot society.

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