National Theatre Director, Stathis Livathinos, and the Nash equilibrium
In game theory, the Nash equilibrium is a solution concept of a non-cooperative game involving two or more players, in which each player is assumed to know the equilibrium strategies of the other players, and no player has anything to gain by changing only their own strategy.
Going to the theatre can be a lonely sport. At least in some circles, there are many who question the relevance theatre, and the performing arts more generally, can have, in an era of relentlessly updated social media feeds and information overload. Others still maintain that theatre has limited appeal beyond the middle classes, and as such its transformative potential is limited. Yet both of these claims have somewhat become weakened following the events of this weekend, at least as regards the Greek theatre scene.
It all began following the publicity given to a play titled “The Nash Equilibrium”, which was on show at the Greek National Theatre’s Experimental Stage, which only reopened this year, following a change in NT leadership. Said leadership, Stathis Livathinos, decided to cancel the final four performances of the play, following pressure from right wing politicians, the NGO Os Edo, which is an organisation offering support to victims of terrorism, headed by Ms Alexia Bacoyiannis (the niece of newly elected New Democracy leader, Kyriakos Mitsotakis), and the American Embassy (which voiced its discontent in a tweet (!)). All of these groups cited the play’s use of texts by Savvas Xiros, a convicted member of terrorist group November 17, now serving a life sentence in prison, despite being 98% disabled, as the cause for their anger. The play, directed by Pigi Dimitrakopoulou, was a composition mainly made up of Xiros' written account of the time following his failed bomb attack in July 2002, leading to his arrest and those of other members of the group, and Albert Camus' play The Just Assassins (Les Justes), which is set in 1905 Russia, and describes the attempts of a group of socialist-revolutionaries to assassinate the Grand Duke of Moscow. Livathinos cited threats for an ill-defined attack on the play as the reason for the cancellation. Others still have mentioned the withdrawal of sponsors as the main reason behind Livathinos' decision.
There is no doubt that terrorism is, to say the least, a sensitive subject. It is easy to draw parallels between the cancellation of the performances at NT in Greece and the outcry surrounding "Regarding Terror: the RAF Exhibition" [in German] at the KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin some years back (in which case, sponsors withdrew exhibition funding). One is also reminded of a travelling installation by three Dutch artists, one of whom, Chrissy Meijns, had created a work made up of the Dutch flag with the word "jihad" written on it in Gothic script. In that case, the flag was taken down by a man who felt the flag was a sacred symbol and that there ought to be "a limit" to freedom of expression. He was subsequently fined for this act. The extent to which freedom of expression should override all other values when it comes to art lies at the core of this debate, which is repeated across a multitude of settings and time periods.
Returning to Greece, the cancellation of the performances also created a backlash, from the NT governing board, the Union of NT workers, the union of actors, plus many individual artists and concerned citizens, who decried the cancellation as censorship. These groups went on to stage a protest on 29/01 outside of the NT buildings in the centre of Athens. Those who called for Livathinos’ resignation, were not few and far between. They met again on Sunday, 31/01, the date when the final performance of the play was due to take place. The aim of the second gathering was to put pressure on Livathinos, so that the cast and director could enter the NT “Rex” building (home to the Experimental Stage), so that the final performance could take place as scheduled.
And take place it did, not least because the pressure put on the NT by the people who voiced their discontent finally paid off. The final performance of the play (at least for now), was followed by a discussion with the Artistic Directors of the Experimental Stage, Anestis Azas and Prodromos Tsinikoris, the play’s director, Pigi Dimitrakopoulou, its cast and production assistants. The only one absent was Livathinos himself, but his decision to cancel the performances was central to the discussion, which was, of course, very much political in nature. On the one hand, there were those who expressed their sympathy towards Livathinos, their reason being they could not possibly fathom the responsibility he has to bear, not only towards art, but also towards the prevention of physical harm to the actors and the audience. Azas and Tsinikoris stressed that Livathinos was very much in support of the play, from the very moment it was presented to him as an idea, and did not wish to cancel it, but took the decision to do so out of fear for safety and/ or loss of funding. On the other hand, there were those who accused him of censorship pure and simple, and for not doing enough to make his dilemma more widely known, so that the threat(s), real or perceived, could be dissipated. As for Livathinos himself, he joined the first protest on Friday 29/01, lamenting that it arrived too late. He said that, during the time leading up to his decision to cancel the performances, he felt very much alone and unsupported.
Whichever side of the argument one agrees with, one thing is certain: the cancellation and the protests that followed it opened up a dialogue, even an “institutional critique”, one might say, about the role of theatre in the crisis stricken Greek society of today, and the role of cultural institutions in upholding freedom of speech and expression, thereby serving as spaces of exploration and critique. The general sentiment was that these incidents of censorship, whether deliberate or accidental, cannot be allowed to happen again. People demand more from those holding any public office, not just those officials whom they choose as representatives directly. Increasingly, art has come to symbolise those public goods which must be protected, not just from cuts, but from the onslaught of those who see little value in public institutions, full stop. Let the definition of the Nash equilibrium serve as a guide for future action.
Despina Biri is a researcher working in health care and member of the editorial board of AnalyzeGreece!
- Published in CULTURE