Ancient Greek Theaters Return to Life in Pandemic

Lights! Crickets. Birds. Bats. Action!  The ancient theater of Epidaurus, renowned for its acoustics, has reopened for a limited number of open-air performances, with organizers planning a live-streamed event Saturday for the first time in the Greek monument’s 2,300-year history.Live concerts and events have been mostly canceled in Greece this summer due to the coronavirus pandemic. But the Culture Ministry allowed the Epidaurus Theater in southern Greece and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus in Athens to host performances under strict safety guidelines.  “Only 45% of the seats are occupied, the refreshments areas are closed, there is no intermission, and tickets are only issued electronically,” said Maria Panagiotopoulou, spokeswoman for the cultural organization which organized the events.  “We normally have 80 performances in the summer. This year, it’s just 17. … We kept changing the plans. We planned for a September start, and then we were concerned that all events might be canceled. We ended up with something in the middle. It would have been the first summer without a performance in 65 years.”  Acts from abroad were off-limits due to the pandemic, and the scheduled artists were instructed not to give encores. Stewards wearing surgical gloves and plastic visors keep spectators apart as they clamber up the steep stone amphitheater steps to find their seats.  Just 4,500 of the usual 10,000 seats are being made available at Epidaurus Theatre, a honeycomb-colored stone venue with a shallow, half-funnel shape that allows music and voices from the stage to be clearly heard all 55 rows up.  Surrounded by pine-covered mountains of the southern Peloponnese region, audiences also can clearly hear the sounds of birds and crickets along with the protests of people who were locked out of the theater for arriving too late. Christina Koutra, a musicologist from Athens, said she was happy to make the winding three-hour trip to Epidaurus to watch the season’s first event, a solo performance of Bach by acclaimed Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos. “There is a feeling of harmony here. It’s a sacred place,” Koutra said from behind a face mask as she left the theater with her parents.“Culture cannot stand still. We have to take part and keep it going,” she said.The National Theatre of Greece will be performing “The Persians” by ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus for Saturday’s live-streamed show. 


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