the interview by Despina Doukas
Born in Constantinople and raised in Athens, Yannis Simonides is a Yale Drama School trained actor/writer and Emmy-winning documentary producer. He is the founder and director of the Greek Theater (Elliniko Theatro) in New York and of Mythic Media, a performing arts lab. Since 2004 he has performed the Apology, in Greek and in English, at theatres, festivals, universities and communities in the USA, the UK, Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Canada, the United Emirates and Uruguay, and is scheduled to take it on tour in Russia, Australia, Spain and Japan.
You have performed The Apology in various countries around the world. Since these countries offer a contrasting audience, how do you feel all these different cultures have reacted or adapted their ideas to your play, which expresses the philosophical and cultural ideas of Ancient Greece?
Even though many audiences are different they are ultimately not. The reaction whether they were the simple people peasants on the greek islands or the advanced classicists in Oxford and Harvard and whether performed in Spanish or Turkish, the experience has been very close to the same, because the Apology and the thoughts of Socrates is diachronic and as relevant as they were then. They are speaking to us today as well and that’s why they are classicists and so well known. The text has originated in Greece but it is part of the cultural heritage around the world. Classicism is part of culture around the world. When you talk about a difficult journey, you say it was an Odyssey. Classicism is still very much a part of every society.
Do you think that people will have to read Plato’s Apology first before seeing the play, in order to really appreciate the performance?
No. The wonderful thing is to see the play and be interested enough to go back to the text and enjoy it with a different eye.
Since the performance of the play, which was originally written in ancient Greek, will be translated in English, do you believe some of its substance will be lost in translation, and how did you deal with this issue when translating the text?
Even in the longer version of my performance, one half of the text is left out, in order to make the performance lively and enjoyable, yet is very faithful to the original text. The translation is not an adaptation of the text; it truly is a faithful translation. It deals with a historical event, you do lose a little bit here and there, however we have performed this in Oxford, Yale, and the University of Athens and no one has decimated our performance and translation of the text thus far.
You have played so many different characters throughout your career, that many people know and study such as Socrates, how do you prepare to play a character that so many people know worldwide?
I have never thought about it that way. I am not choosing characters cause people know them, they are all characters that interest me. For instance I was approached with the idea of doing Socrates in 2001. I did a reading of it and it was a success. One thing led to another and now we have done over 200 performances of it worldwide. Kavafi has been my favourite companion my whole life and so I perform him. I also naturally fell in love with Makrigianni. My relationship with Homeric work came to me through a relationship with a professor in Sacramento. You can say that these are very well know figures but it isn’t intended that way, all these characters have an ethical background that interest me.
You have accomplished many things throughout your career, and have traveled the world with your works, and won many awards. So what in your opinion was your career defining moment?
I don’t know if I ever thought of any moment as career defining. So many moments have moved me in so many ways. Last Saturday my performance of Makrigiannis at the Hellenic Community Center, which had so many new elements, had a enormous response. I explored new territories and did things for the first time and yet it was not raw it was polished. It was very enjoyable and gratifying for me. To see the audience enchanted by a character so beloved to myself as well, was very moving and a defining moment for me as well. Also, when the city of Athens honoured me as an international ambassador, for the work that I have done was very moving for me. For my own city to honour me was extremely moving to me so you can say that that was a career defining moment.
How do you hope the audience will react to your performance on Saturday and what do you hope they will take with them after watching the play?
I want my performance to act as a reminder because we are in a difficult time right now fighting wars, destroying our planet by environmental abuse, and we are very much in danger in going under financially. The potential of a depression is real. We have thought of ourselves solely and not as fellow men members of our society.This material isabout ethics and how to live your life. We should not focus on how to make more money but how to be at peace with fellow man and society. The state the citizens and the laws are a holy triad. You corrupt one and they all crumble and the whole world goes to hell. Laws had to be respected, and Socrates knew that . He obeys laws because he was a patriot, and knew that the laws held his society together He knew that if they were to bribe his way out of trouble he would be disrespecting the laws of the state and the whole state would crumble. Commitment to develop laws and to obey them they are the backbone of any society. The apology is the most basic things in life that is why it is understood by all kinds of people around the world.
What part of Socrates’ character did you connect with the most?
The humour that I find in him I enjoy immensely. I haven’t met one wise person without that wasn’t funny. I think more than anything it was the child like character which I share with Socrates that helped me connect the most with his character. There is a will to stay innocent and full of wonder in both of us.