[MGSA-L] Karagiozis stages comeback through passionate puppeteer

June Samaras june.samaras at gmail.com
Wed Nov 5 20:11:27 PST 2014

Karagiozis stages comeback through passionate puppeteer


 Alexandros Melissinos, below right, is seen with his father, from whom he
inherited his love for shadow theater. Below: the 34-year-old puppeteer.
By Tasos Economou

The shadow theater of Karagiozis has its own special place in the Greek
entertainment industry. World-weary and immortal, the daydreaming hero is
making a comeback all around the country, bringing smiles to children’s
faces. What if the classic Greek anti-hero is competing with Playstation
consoles, computer games, the heroes of Marvel Comics, remote-controlled
helicopters and hundreds of fictional characters? Poking fun at himself,
his friends, the Pasha, the crisis taxes and at the day-to-day lives of his
audience, the barefoot shadow theater figure has been reappearing at public
squares, beaches, fetes and parties, regaining the popularity that made him
an entertainment staple in the first half of the 20th century.

Behind the white cloth, young Greek puppeteers are learning the craft from
the masters and adding their voices and experiences to give Karagiozis a
new, contemporary flair. One of these young players is Alexandros
Melissinos, a 34-year-old from the Ionian island of Cephalonia, who
apprenticed with his father before taking over the small family business.

“I have been puppeteering professionally since I was 14,” Alexandros told
Kathimerini. “Until then I served as an assistant to my father and other

The love that his father, Iasonas Melissinos, had for the shadow theater
was passed down to his son during a different age. Now children take short
reality breaks between the television, cell phone or tablet.

For Alexandros, Karagiozis has been “reborn from his ashes.”

“Just as his light was almost extinguished, he reappeared,” said
Alexandros. “We are again at a time when he is current, modern and
contemporary. He found a way to get back into the thick of things. Maybe,
after the rude awakening by the crisis from a period of false prosperity,
the classic line ‘We’ll eat, we’ll drink, and to bed we’ll go hungry’
resonates with the public.”

Alexandros’s father, Iasonas, explained how the Greek version of Karagiozis
(inspired by the Turkish shadow theater) started to gain popularity in the
early 20th century. “It was a spectacle for adults, performed in coffee
shops. The jokes were very sexual,” he said. “Over time it evolved into a
spectacle for children, and after enjoying almost exclusive status for
quite a while it’s existence was challenged by the advent of television and
later by digital technology, only to come back stronger during the crisis.”

According to Alexandros, Karagiozis is also a brand name.

“His name has power, even though it is sometimes used as a derogatory term
[like clown]. It is so suggestive: He is a hero, an anti-hero, the
archetypal Greek and much, much more,” said Alexandros. “He is an
Aristophanic character who pokes fun at himself first and then at others.
Maybe it is this that gives me the moral right to ridicule people and
situations through the character.”

The fact that young people are taking an interest in Karagiozis is the key
to his rebirth and possibly to his continued popularity.

“Each player’s personality rubs off on the characters,” said Alexandros. “I
have imbued my performances with elements of my own, which are based on my
ideas and experiences. It is a marriage that allows you to stay true to the
character while making it personal.”

Without relying on new technologies but rather a simple white sheet
stretched over a frame, the shadow theater is one of the oldest forms of
interactive theater.

“Its immediacy is a very important element,” said Alexandros. “Using modern
lingo, we would say it’s an interactive performance. It is not static. That
makes the audience part of the show.”

ekathimerini.com , Wednesday November 5, 2014 (10:12)

June Samaras
2020 Old Station Rd
Canada L5M 2V1
Tel : 905-542-1877
E-mail : june.samaras at gmail.com
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