Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Martha, Music and Civil Society

Student musicians in the town square.
It is 2am at the annual Music Village Festival of Agios Laventrios, and the local square pulses with life. Students crowd around tables, reviewing tomorrow's rehearsal schedule. Musicians tune guitars and discuss this week's upcoming classes. Proprietors whisk away empty tsipouro bottles, filling tables with local liquor and meze. Around 3 or 4am, someone will strike up an impromptu performance, and the music will last well into the morning.

It is an atmosphere of shared community that Greek performers here have come to increasingly embrace as they struggle with the everyday hardships of recession. "There is a strong need for communities now," says the acclaimed Greek performer Martha Frintzila, who leads a theatrical workshop at this year's festival. "You see it daily that people gather together in their houses; they cook together, they share cars. Now that Greece is under the microscope, people try to bond with one another as they face the world."

Greek musician, actress and theater director
Martha Frintzila.
'One Cuckoo Alone Cannot Bring Spring'

Frintzila has become an increasingly vocal advocate of community-building at a time when corruption, job loss, and distrust have all but destroyed the bonds of civil society in Greece.
Along with her husband Vassilis Mantzoukis, she headlines the Greek rock-band Stacy, and performs regularly at festivals throughout the country. She also teaches at the National Theatre Drama School in Athens, and is the founder of Baumstrasse, an art space in Athens that hosts plays, poetry readings, music rehearsals, art therapy, and event the occasional bazaar. The central theme to much of her work is community -- shared space, shared ideas, shared success.

"Collaboration only forms around large projects, like the Olympic Games," she says. "Projects like this are done to show that Greeks can be united. But when an artist tries to do something himself, generally everyone waits for him to fail." The crisis has helped to partly change this mentality, she notes. "Nowadays, no one cannot succeed alone. People are beginning to understand that 'One koukou [cuckoo] alone cannot bring spring'."

Nevertheless, Frintzila says she has seen the arts shrink in stature a country where the education system prioritizes technical fields such as engineering and medicine. Indeed, for a country that is rich in history and culture, there is little support for those wishing to be professional performers and artists.

Martha and Vassilis lead a workshop this year on the
"Seven Deadly Sins."

 "The problem these days within the country is that people say: 'art is a hobby'. It’s not a hobby. It’s a very significant and basic method of expression." She hopes to re-introduce the dramatic arts to a Greek audience in a way that allows dying art forms to be appreciated once again. Eventually, she hopes to export ancient Greek theatre to the world. 

Music as Community Building
A 650-year old village founded by a monk would seem like an unlikely venue for Frintzila and others to encourage musical collaboration. The streets are treacherous cobblestone; musical instruments are nearly impossible to drag up; there are no buildings that are made to host more than a dozen workshops, and few places save the square are lit at night.

Yet, the town's small size encourages the type of networking and sharing its creators had in mind. The main organizers -- Thymios Atzakas, Kostas Makrygiannakis and Giorgos Lazaridis -- can always be found somewhere in the main agora. Local landmarks such as the high-school and caravanserai serve as workshop venues. Locals make way for the trucks and vespas carting up amps, instruments and electrical gear, while the cafeterias in the square have provided wi-fi for festival guests.

It is an innovative music festival, to say the least -- a unique collaboration between local town organizers, the artistic community, and municipal government. Supported by a grant for the Prefecture of Magnesia Social and Cultural Council (Ekpol), the Municipality of Artemida, as well as arTree, a musical collaborative, Greek Music Village is one of Brokeistan's rare gems; proof that where there is a will to collaborate, there is a way -- albeit uphill and treacherous when done in heels.

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