Nadia Foskolou is a theatre director that directs in two of the world’s biggest theater capitals: Athens and New York. Thousands of shows make it to the stage in both cities every year. We wanted to know what are the differences and the similarities between them and whether theater has boundaries. Nadia’s work has already proven that it doesn’t.
How did theatre come into your life?
My parents, though people with office jobs, were passionate theatre-goers, so they used to take my older sister and me with them to the theatre, since we were very little. By the age of 8 or 9, I was joining them to almost every show, and was pretty much attending the season an Athenian theatre lover would attend. This family theatre-going left the deepest impression on me forever as a unique celebration of theatre, of family life, and of life in general, and eventually won me over as a career destination later on.
the moment I set foot in the audition room, I knew I wanted to be in that School –and in that city.
Why did you choose the US and New York in particular, in order to study theatre?
The desire to study at a US institution was implanted in me while attending Pierce College, a Greek-American high school in Athens. However, the decision to specifically pursue a Master of Fine Arts in Directing was a rather mature one: after graduating with honors from the University of Athens, I left for Paris, where I earned my first Master’s Degree in Theatre Studies at the Sorbonne, while at the same time graduating from the ‘Florent’ Acting School. It was not until I returned to Athens and started gaining directing experience (including working as an assistant director to Yiannis Houvardas, and attending an intensive directing seminar with Constantinos Arvanitakis), that I decided to pursue yet another graduate degree. By that time I knew I wanted to be a director and American MFAs seemed to offer exactly what I was looking for: a professional program through which I would be able to perfect my carefully chosen craft. When I was selected among a hundred candidates from all around the globe to audition for Columbia, it was love at first sight: the moment I set foot in the audition room, I knew I wanted to be in that School –and in that city. Auditioning for Anne Bogart was such a life-changing experience, that when the audition was over, I thought that it didn’t matter whether I would get into the program or not –my life was changed anyway. I was extremely lucky and honored to be among the five Directing students that got admitted that year.
Does your Greek origin inform your work in theatre?
In terms of my visual and acting vocabulary, it probably does –but I think I should better let this for others to judge. In terms of my materials, I have worked on projects with Greek content that have been proposed to me in Greece, but, although I’ve been making theatre in New York since 2005, it was not until this past summer (2014) that I actually chose a Greek material: I directed Hôtel Méditerranée, a collage piece based on Charles Mee’s play Matisse’s Self Portrait and on Stelios Charalampopoulos’s film documentary Yiannis Moralis, at Between the Seas Festival.
The most striking similarity between the two cities is that theatre is thriving:
What are the differences and similarities of Athens and New York as theatre capitals?
The most striking similarity between the two cities is that theatre is thriving: there is beautiful work done both here and there, in spite of the hard financial conditions, or maybe thanks to them.
As far as differences go, it astonishes me how different the mentality around –and the management of- resources (mainly time and space) is between the two: in New York, every minute spent in a rehearsal space or performance venue is so precious –and expensive! This forces you to take full advantage of rehearsal time. On the contrary, in Athens there is abundance of time and space –which usually results in slow progress in the rehearsal. The measure of the rehearsal period in Athens is the “month”, whereas in New York it’s the “week”.
Shortage of resources is accompanied by abundance of artists. And perhaps this reality is the reason behind the old cliché about New York –that it is a place with great energy. I think that this energy is created by the fact that everybody is conscious of how easily replaceable they are: knowing you can instantly be replaced, you automatically get the best out of yourself –and that also means in terms of your personality, not simply your “art”. It is not by coincidence that I either met or first worked with several of my longtime Greek collaborators in New York (e.g. actors Kalliopi Tzermani, Jasmine Kilaidoni, Dimitris Pleionis, Tina Yotopoulou, Kristina Siapkara, Fotis Batzas, producer Regina Vorria, scenic designer Mikaela Liakata, composer Erato A. Kremmyda, and the late Babis Gousias, among others). And it goes without saying that, thanks to the competitive but so creative landscape of New York, I have formed long-lasting relationships with a series of valuable American collaborators.
knowing you can instantly be replaced, you automatically get the best out of yourself
What motivates you in selecting and directing a play?
I have an unconditional love for the “classics” -in the broadest possible sense of the term. It is not by accident that I chose a “classic” Feydeau farce (A Flea in Her Ear) as my directing thesis production, and that I wholeheartedly said “yes” when the opportunity to direct Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in Athens arose.
The second most important parameter is the people involved in the potential project. Theatre is a team sport. An essential question when embarking on any rehearsal process is: “Whom do you want to be in the room with?”
The third priority component in selecting and directing a play is whether I am able to discern how relevant it is to what is happening right here right now. As Anne Bogart would put it, you have to have something to say, something relevant to the people that would need to leave the ordinary flow of their lives to come see your show.
What are your dreams for the future?
2014 was an extraordinary year since it marked my 10-year anniversary as a director, and I was fortunate enough to celebrate it by directing three new productions (among which one Greek and one world premiere). It turned out that two of these shows got extended well into 2015 –Address Unknown (Παραλήπτης Άγνωστος) at TV Control Center and Bremer Freiheit (Ελευθερία στη Βρέμη) at Metaxourgeio Theatre are still running until the end of May. Therefore, my immediate dream is to reprise the “remaining” production from 2014, Hôtel Méditerranée.
In the long term, all I can wish for is to continue to be blessed with the incredible gift to be able to do what I love.
Nadia Foskolou is a theatre director, translator, and Fulbright scholar working in New York and in Athens, Greece. She holds an MA in Theatre Studies from the Sorbonne University, a Diploma in Acting from the ‘Florent’ Acting School (Paris), a BA in Theatre Studies from the University of Athens and an MFA in Directing from Columbia University.
She currently has two shows she has directed running simultaneously in Athens: Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Bremer Freiheit (at Metaxourgeio Theatre) and the Greek premiere of Kathrine Kressmann Taylor’s Address Unknown (at Polychoros KET).
Other Athens credits include: Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Alain De Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life, Venedikt Erofeev’s Moscow to the End of the Line, Jean-Luc Lagarce’s Journey to the Netherlands, Marius Ivaskevicius’s The Neighbor, Sotiris Dimitriou’s Summer in the Bodies.
Her staging of Nathan Wright’s Peninsula won an Outstanding Ensemble Award at the 2013 New York International Fringe Festival and, after a sold-out run, was selected for the Fringe Encores.
In 2014 she directed Hôtel Méditerranée, a new theatre piece based on Matisse’s Self Portrait by acclaimed American avant-garde playwright Charles L. Mee (world premiere) and on the Greek film documentary Yiannis Moralis by Stelios Charalambopoulos, at Between the Seas Festival in New York.
In New York she has also directed Nathan Wright’s Lake Full of Iron; Sky Full of Hope (Manhattan Repertory Theatre), Anna Forsythe & Michelle Vugmayster’s Opus D’Amour (Baryshnikov Arts Center, Theaterlab), Feydeau’s A Flea in Her Ear, Bergman’s Best Intentions, Chekhov’s Three Sisters, Havel’s Protest (Columbia Stages).
Header image credit:
Peninsula by Nathan Wright: New York International Fringe Festival, 2013. Photo credit: Devlin Shand