THE BIRDS Directed By Nikos Karathanos, Comes To St. Ann's Warehouse
St. Ann's Warehouse and Onassis Cultural Centre-Athens present the American Premiere of Nikos Karathanos' The Birds, a modern, feast-for-the-senses adaptation of Aristophanes' offbeat and poetic comedy. This vibrant restaging owes as much to Eden as it does to the Amazon, and captures the collective spirit of revolution with a company of 19 actors. Two Athenians, Peisthetaerus and Euelpides, are fed up with their city and the gods who rule over it; they take to the woods, seeking out "birds" to build a utopia in the clouds. This place, called "Cloudcuckooland," is a surreal theatrical cosmos that in Nikos Karanthanos' insightful vision "embraces our inherent need to dream and offers hope for decadence" (Art Forum). Following its sold-out World Premiere at the open air Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus and a subsequent popular engagement at the Onassis Cultural Center in Athens, Greece, it runs for 12 performances at St. Ann's, May 2-13. Karathanos' production brings an atmosphere of joyful sorrow from a severely stricken Greece to a desperately splintered America.
"The Birds has a wild and subversive energy, that reminded me of the original production of Hair, with its hippie manifesto and mélange of colorful ragtag players and musicians as the birds and the gods, including a paralympian as Zeus. Aggelos Triantafillou's music and the awesome sound he and the cast create for the birds stuck in my memory long after I saw this production in Athens," says St. Ann's Warehouse Artistic Director Susan Feldman.
Afroditi Panagiotakou, the Onassis Foundation's Director of Culture, says, "Empowered by Nikos Karathanos' gaze, Aristophanes' birdsspeak of a utopian society, a society that cannot be. They set off our thoughts and emotions about democracy, freedom and equality-a vision that's always worth fighting for."
Aristophanes' The Birds was first produced in 414 BCE, at the heart of the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta, the nearly-three-decade bloodbath that left Athens depleted. Athens had been a nexus of lofty ideals: the world's first known democratic society, teeming with intellectual and artistic excellence. But Aristophanes' The Birds, much like Karathanos' adaptation, was borne of turmoil and transition-a utopian escapist fantasy replete with raucous humor, dance and music.Through the millennia, directorial interpretations have varied starkly: some lean into the play's escapism as apolitical, while others see it as inherently political, and their takes have stirred major controversies (as with the famous 1959 Greek Art Theatre production by Karolos Koun, which was terminated by the Greek government for its leftist politics).
In his production, for which he adapted Aristophanes' text with Giannis Asteris, Karathanos draws on everything from ancient practices to pop culture, music hall to drag artistry, rites of passage to beach parties. He creates what he calls a "weird and outrageous experience" honoring the original while molding it to reflect on contemporary issues-at a time when the Greek debt crisis continues to put major strains on civilians, and globalization and economic strife spark reactionary, isolationist politics across the world. Karathanos references human migrations across the globe-the movements of people with the gumption it takes to change their lives, venture forth and start their worlds anew-as the core of his vision.
"Aristophanes' heroes traveled skywards" to reimagine their world, says Karathanos. "All these years that have gone by, people have never ceased leaving, running, going places. We come to you from the same city as the heroes of Aristophanes; we, like them, are also tired and exasperated with life there. We, like them, are migrants, always in search of our very own, and perhaps collective, 'cloudcuckooland.' We want to speak to you of the people who stand on one leg all the time, who feel foreign and alien in the very midst of their own city among people who fear their difference. We want to speak for those who've been forced, through pain and ill-treatment, to live on borders and who grow wings, every day that passes, so that they can cross the borders and jump the wall, however 'beautiful' that wall may be."
The Birds is performed in Greek with English subtitles.
The cast features Amalia Bennett, Kostas Berikopoulos, Konstantinos Bibis, Maria Diakopanagiotou, Vasiliki Driva, Haris Frangoulis, Galini Hatzipaschali, Nikos Karathanos, Emily Koliandri, Ektor Liatsos, Christos Loulis, Grigoria Metheniti, Foivos Rimenas, Michalis Sarantis, Aris Servetalis, Giannis Sevdikalis, Elena Topalidou, Marisha Triantafyllidou, and Aggelos Triantafillou. The creative team includes Nikos Karathanos (Direction and Adaptation), Giannis Asteris (Translation and Adaptation), Elli Papageorgakopoulou (Sets and Costumes), Aggelos Triantafillou (Music), Simos Sarketzis (Lighting Design), and Amalia Bennett (Movement), and Orfeas Apergis (surtitle translation). Live musicians include Sofia Efkleidou, Michalis Katachanas, Dimitris Klonis, Vasilis Panagiotopoulos, Dimitris Tigkas.
(Photography credit: Kiki Papadopoulou)
Performance Schedule and Ticketing
Performances of The Birds will take place May 2-5 and 8-12 at 7:30pm; May 6 & 13 at 5pm; and May 12 at 2pm.
Critics are welcome May 4 & 5 at 7:30pm for an official opening May 6 at 5pm.
The Birds is co-produced by the Onassis Cultural Centre-Athens and supported by the Onassis Foundation.
Bloomberg Philanthropies is Lead International Sponsor of the St. Ann's Warehouse 2017-18 Season.
About Nikos Karathanos
Nikos Karathanos is a director, actor, and writer. Born in Athens, he graduated from the drama school of the National Theatre of Greece. As an actor he has played the lead role in many performances from the classical and contemporary repertory and has taken part in tours in Greece all over the world. Among other plays, he has directed The Cherry Orchard by Chekhov, for the Onassis Cultural Centre, and Operetka by W. Gombrowicz, Decameron by Boccaccio, Golfo by Spyridon Peresiadis, Syrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand, and Julius Caesar by Shakespeare, for the National Theatre of Greece.
About the Onassis Cultural Centre-Athens
The Onassis Cultural Centre-Athens(OCC-Athens) is a creative hub for artists, audiences and ideas, which hosts events and actions across the whole spectrum of the arts from theatre, dance, music, cinema and the visual arts to digital and hybrid art and the written word. It showcases contemporary cultural expression, supports Greek artists, cultivates international collaborations, explores the boundaries between science, art and society, and promotes lifelong learning for people of all ages. A home for innovation in contemporary culture, engaging both Greek and global communities.
The foundations of the Onassis Cultural Centre-Athens were laid in 2004. The construction process was exclusively funded and overseen by the Onassis Foundation. The design is the work of the French architectural practice "Architecture Studio". The building includes two main auditoria, seating 880 and 220 respectively, which are suited to a wide range of events including theatre and dance performances, concerts, film screenings (multimedia, virtual reality), lectures and conferences. It opened its gate in December 2010.
The Onassis Cultural Centre-Athens produces, co-produces and stages around 40 theatre/dance productions and 60 concerts per season. It produces more than 10 music/theatre/dance festivals featuring international and Greek artists and groups. It also hosts and co-produces an average of three major exhibitions, plus ten or so lectures and conferences as part of the "Talks & Thoughts" cycle and more than 70 educational programmes for all ages per year. In addition, on an annual basis, it plans and coordinates international tours and exchanges for OCC-Athens productions, coordinates or takes part in international networks, collaborates with international and nationwide partners in various ways, and promotes interawareness and interaction between science, innovation and the arts. International partners and venues include Barbican Centre, Théâtre de la Ville, Odéon-Théâtre de l'Europe, Münchner Kammerspiele, Festival d' Avignon, Holland Festival, Vienna Festival, Festival Internacional Santiago a Mil, and more.
Acclaimed artists and theatre groups presenting their work at the OCC-Athens include Akram Khan, Israel Galván, Lucinda Childs, Trisha Brown, Pina Bausch, Robert Lepage, William Kentridge, Robert Wilson, Marina Abramovi?, Alain Platel / Les Ballets C de la B, Christoph Marthaler, Simon McBurney / Complicite, Schaubühne Berlin, Krzysztof Warlikowski, Matthew Barney, Brian Eno, Kamashi Washington, tgSTAN, Joël Pommerat, Ivo van Hove, Costa Gavras, Konstantin Bogomolov / Chekhov Moscow Art Theatre, Rimini Protokoll, Brett Bailey, Jonathan Coe, David Sedaris, Tim Etchells, Romain Gavras, Adonis, Guerrilla Girls, Pussy Riot, Marjane Satrapi, Don DeLillo, Paul Auster, George Pelecanos, Pascal Bruckner, Yasmina Reza, Alvis Hermanis, Guy Cassiers, Simon Critchley, Christian Boltanski, Steve Vranakis, Constantinos Daskalakis, Jérôme Bel, Dimitris Papaioannou, DV8 Physical Theatre, Rosas / Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, Philippe Quesne, Boris Charmatz, Heiner Goebbels, Richard Maxwell, Daniel Fish, Tiago Rodrigues, James Thiérrée and the Berlin theatre company Dries Verhoeven.
About the Onassis Foundation
The Onassis Foundation was established in December 1975 in accordance with Aristotle Onassis' last wish to honor the memory of his son, Alexander. It was created to support Greek society in the crucial areas of education, culture and health. Half of Aristotle Onassis' fortune was the initial funding for the Foundation. Specifically, the 40% of the annual profits of the Business Foundation are given to the Public Benefit Foundation for implementing all its programs and initiatives. The Onassis Foundation has historically supported other cultural institutions; offers financial assistance to universities with Greek chairs, departments or programs around the world; has granted more than 7.000 scholarships and research fellowships for post-graduate and doctorate studies; has established a long tradition of granting educational material and technological equipment to hundreds of Greek schools all over Greece and has diachronically supported Special Education; has acquired the Cavafy Archive (more than 4.600 manuscripts and personal items of the poet) to ensure its openness and accessibility to researchers and to the wider public; has great books' collections contained in The Onassis Library; has completed and donated to the Greek State in 1992 Onassis Cardiac Surgery Centre (OCSC); has created Onassis Cultural Centre-Athens.
An affiliate of the parent Foundation, the Onassis Foundation USA is dedicated to Greek culture from antiquity to the present. By cooperating with educational and cultural institutions in Greece and throughout the Americas, the Onassis Foundation USA promotes cultural relations. The mission is realized through two major initiatives, one cultural, for the general public through its Onassis Cultural Center New York, and the other, academic, for scholars and students in partnership with institutions of higher learning.
About St. Ann's Warehouse
St. Ann's Warehouse plays a vital role on the global cultural landscape as an American artistic home for international companies of distinction, American avant-garde masters and talented emerging artists ready to work on a grand scale. St. Ann's signature flexible, open space allows artists to stretch, both literally and imaginatively, enabling them to approach work with unfettered creativity, knowing that the theater can be adapted in multiple configurations to suit their needs.
In the heart of Brooklyn Bridge Park, St. Ann's Warehouse has designed a spectacular waterfront theater that opened in October 2015. The new Joseph S. and Diane H. Steinberg Theater offers St. Ann's signature versatility and grandeur on an amplified scale while respecting the walls of an original 1860's Tobacco Warehouse. The building complex includes a second space, a Studio, for St. Ann's Puppet Lab, smaller-scale events and community uses, as well as The Max Family Garden, designed by landscape architects Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates and open to Brooklyn Bridge Park visitors during Park hours.
Susan Feldman founded Arts at St. Ann's (now St. Ann's Warehouse) in 1980 as part of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, to help save the National Historic Landmark Church of St. Ann and the Holy Trinity in Brooklyn Heights. For twenty-one years, St. Ann's presented a decidedly eclectic array of concert and theater performances in the church sanctuary.
From Fall 2001 through the 2014-15 season, the organization activated found spaces in DUMBO with the world's most imaginative theater- and music-makers, helping to make the burgeoning neighborhood a destination for New Yorkers and tourists alike. After twelve years (2001-2012) in a warehouse that was located at 38 Water Street, St. Ann's transformed another raw space at 29 Jay Street into an interim home (2012-2015), while the organization adapted the then-roofless Tobacco Warehouse at 45 Water Street in Brooklyn Bridge Park into the new St. Ann's Warehouse.
Almost four decades of consistently acclaimed landmark productions that found their American home at St. Ann's include Lou Reed's and John Cale's Songs for 'Drella; Marianne Faithfull's Seven Deadly Sins; Artistic Director Susan Feldman's Band in Berlin; Charlie Kaufman and the Coen Brothers' Theater of the New Ear; The Royal Court and TR Warszawa productions of Sarah Kane's 4:48 Psychosis; The Globe Theatre of London's Measure for Measure with Mark Rylance; Druid Company's The Walworth Farce, The New Electric Ballroom and Penelope by Enda Walsh and Walsh's Misterman, featuring Cillian Murphy, and Arlington; Lou Reed's Berlin; the National Theater of Scotland's Black Watch and Let the Right One In; Kneehigh Theatre's Brief Encounter, 946 and Tristan & Yseult; Yael Farber's Mies Julie; Dmitry Krymov Lab's Opus No. 7; The Donmar Warehouse all-female Shakespeare Trilogy: Julius Caesar, Henry IV, The Tempest; Kate Tempest's Brand New Ancients; Tricycle Theatre's Red Velvet, the Young Vic production of A Streetcar Named Desire with Gillian Anderson; Mark Rylance's Nice Fish, the National Theatre's People, Places & Things, and the World Premiere of the complete Taylor Mac's A 24 Decade History of Popular Music, including the one-time only 24-hour marathon in 2016. St. Ann's has championed such artists as The Wooster Group, Mabou Mines, Jeff Buckley, Cynthia Hopkins, Daniel Kitson, Emma Rice and Kneehigh, and presented an historic David Bowie concert in 2002.
The new St. Ann's Warehouse retains the best of its past homes: the sense of sacred space of its original home in St. Ann's Church and the vastness and endless capacity for reconfiguration artists have harnessed in St. Ann's temporary warehouses in DUMBO.