A life like a script

by Lampis Tagmatarchis

Grigoris Valtinos. He was born in Thessaloniki. His parents divorced when he was still very young. They leave with his mother to her family home in Xanthi. She was a seamstress. His father left for America. He was a driver. His mom remarried. The stepfather – with whom he had a traumatic relationship – gets a transfer and all three go down to Athens. He was eight years old. Agios Sostis Primary School, Kallithea Boys Second High School. Kremou Street, next to the Alexandra cinema. I met him there before you did. Classmates. Back then, in our joyless adolescence, most of us got lost in the bowling alleys, in the “bad” cinemas, on the first cigarettes, and on the football pitches with bloody knees. In the first flirtations. 1973-1974. The student Grigoris Valtinos proposes to enlighten teachers to put on a play… He is looking for a play without female roles… Arenas gar. Someone introduces him to “Block C” by Ilias Venezis. The first theater stage is the Hall of the Workers’ Home. Davaki Street. He directs, stars, assigns roles to classmates, chooses music… and becomes the “hero” of the school, to portray, years later, many more heroes with great success. The first round of applause. Lights, let’s go.

Is applause common?

You can never get enough applause, because, to be perfectly honest, apart from flattering your vanity, it is also a resounding agreement that what you have finally given, communicated, liked, recognized, and is also beneficial.

What if it is not beneficial?

Then they don’t applaud you. Even if it’s good. If it does not speak to the viewer’s soul, if it has not answered some of their questions, it is not applauded.

And when you hear from below “well done” and a round of applause that won’t stop?

Well, then you say: “Hey man, cool. Everything is fine.”

Before the first performance in high school, what was your relationship with the theater?

Absolutely none.

Have you never seen a theater before in your life?

No never. Never! I bought Venezis’s book from the Hestia Bookstore and said this is it. That is, we are talking about an insolent.

At seventeen?

No, I was eighteen.

Last year of junior secondary school?

I shouldn’t tell you nineteen, because I missed a year. I had to work and went to night school.

Where does such courage come from?

From the ignorance of the danger that youth gives you… And from the tendency, from the impulse, the passion. From the light, you see somewhere and run like a butterfly. It will either burn you or enlighten you or you will break through.

Talent or luck?

It’s a bit like the chicken and the egg. You have to be lucky to have talent.

Could you have had talent and not made it?

Yes.

Could you have made it without talent?

No. Talent, among other things, means work and brains. To put it another way theater: Is a theatrical intelligence that you must have. May your talent produce a theatrical mind and may your mind highlight your talent. When you say theatrical intelligence, what do you mean? I mean making the right emotional choices. And ultimately correct theatrical choices. Because, when the theory is put into action on the stage, it has some codes to go down in the square. You must have the intelligence to understand them using your tools, which are the body, the movement, the voice, and the look. You have to find the way how what you want to say through the role will go down correctly in the square.

Do you believe in luck?

You are lucky if your cell is metabolized by your psyche and your DNA for good. I don’t believe in luck that we wake up in the morning, look at the cup and the papers and say, “God, send me something good.” For this good that I would ask God to do for me, I prefer to become a god myself and work, so that I can achieve it myself.

With which theater performance are you officially baptized?

With Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth, where I played a supporting role.

And how did they choose you?

I was notified. I was informed by Dimitris Tsoutsis, who I knew from school, from the National Theater, who knew Fertis. He told me: “There is an audition going on there. If you don’t go, maybe they’ll take you?” I hadn’t finished the army. I took leave and went. I don’t even remember if I went with the military.

Immediate hiring?

I waited for a long time until Dassin made up his mind. There you can see agony. Wait for your first job to be with Melina, with Fertis, and with the director Dassene and for the answer not to come. Finally came a time…

Great joy…

Well, I went to heaven. Because, believe it or not, I didn’t know anyone in the theater, except my teachers and schoolmates.

From “Sweet Bird of Youth” today on “Da”. How current is this project?

As timely as the feeling is.

What do you think is the best moment of the project?

You never fly away from this project.

The top one?

The highlight of my role is when Da gets dementia and wants to remarry his wife. It’s where it all started. And at the end of the first part, he says to his child: “Here I am with you to keep you all my life”.

What kind of man is Da?

That’s how my mom was. A deeply emotional, sweet person.

Is the script of the play parallel to that of your life?

When you’re young and you’re ashamed that you’re told at school to “tell your father to come” and you know he doesn’t exist when you feel like you’re the exposed child in the neighborhood when they always see a divorced mother, you feel at a disadvantage. I feel exactly how Charlie feels, being Da’s adopted son. He can’t accept that he gets more love from strangers than from his biological parents. He cannot accept that someone threw him away, while the one who picked him up loves him more.

Maybe that’s why you love him more?

Yes. It’s something I know because I missed it. You know more about what you lack than what you have. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to me! For sure. He reacts to what he did not collect. It is the nature of the teenager to react and rebel. He does not have his natural parents. Where to do it? He does it to those in front of him.

What mixed feelings!

The actor is an emotional computer. To produce emotion and to feel it is in itself liberating. You’re doing a mini cleanse.

I can’t understand how it reproduces emotion on Wednesday at 20.00 and Thursday at 21.00. What if one day you can’t cry or laugh?

That’s where professionalism comes in. And the pilot can fly and be a little sick, but he won’t crash the plane.

Since we are talking about computers, is a show a copy-paste of the previous one?

No. It’s another show. You definitely have some constants. You have worked a lot, maybe even years, some feelings, some reactions. You’ve got your study locked up and when it’s show time folks, he says in ‘All that Jazz’, you open it and these things come out.

They flood…

Yes. Many times you “trap” yourself to feel certain things. At least that’s my method.

Is it a matter of technique?

It is also technical. It’s two things that have to work. You must think with the heart and feel with the mind.

How much does the energy of the audience of a performance affect the performance itself?

The audience is half the show. It is the pacing of feeling that must exist between the stage and the square. The breaths, the quiet, the absolute silence, the laughter. The audience is the other hypocrite. In the sense of emotional involvement.

Are stage silences more difficult for an actor?

You have slowly learned by experience and abstraction how you should feel on stage. To feel like an actor, like an artist. Because art is not a simple representation, it is a comment. If it’s not commentary, it’s not art.

Forty-five years to get a comment right?

When you are called upon to condense decades, these decades must be spent both in words and in silence.

Do you think that some of the heroes that you played in the past could be played better now?

You’re never completely happy with what you’re doing. I can confess to you that I have seen myself many times either in a taped show or in a serial and I have said: “How come they didn’t bother to fire me?”.

Have you ever been talking – good time like us – and caught yourself regurgitating lines from roles you’ve performed in the past?

There are no roles that are not left in you. It is not necessary to say the line of the role, you say the essence. The theater shaped me and shaped me. I became a man in the later period of my life. When I decided to do theater and I was forced to study, imagine, read.

Why haven’t you worked in film?

Because I wasn’t called out in movies I liked and I was called out in movies I didn’t like.

What is the role of art today?

The role of art is to keep a candle burning. And the oil is the human feeling and needs. The real needs, not the ones shown in the advertisements.

Is art a form of power?

I would not say that. Art is a very sensitive and subtle thing. I wish the art was a form of power.

Would it change the world?

He could have saved the world!

Have you ever felt like you chose this job to prove something? And, if so, to whom?

Nothing to anyone. The light took me there.

The light;

Yes. I saw that I can illuminate some things that I may not have known existed within me. To have a cellular memory, which was in hypnosis and to understand that through this art I will be able to retrieve them. Art itself would force me to progress as a person.

He made it;

Certainly. But there may have been more humble reasons than light. Sociability, companionship, family, hugs, recognition, reward. Later, all this takes another place in your soul and in your development as a person and as an artist. It might be the start. It could be the fuel. The first can of petrol you need to start your motorbike.

Did your parents make you a star?

My mother more. My father doesn’t. He saw me once or twice.

If every role is a journey, where have so many roles, and so many journeys led you?

In a quiet life. Although I faced heroes with storms, with passions, with murders, with injustices. All this made me understand life more and consequently swim in it in calmer waters.

Mr. Valtine, thank you very much.

Thank you too. May I ask you something too?

Of course…

What was your favorite moment from the play?

When your adopted son, Charlie, yells at his dad, Da, “I want to get rid of you.” And Da answers him: “Why get rid of love? Love is the only thing that remains when everything else is gone…”

Postscript:

1. The plural has been retained as a courtesy to the reader.

2. The undersigned, in the school performance, was responsible for the correct lighting. In the absence of relevant possibilities, he lit by opening and closing the fuses of the electrical panel in the hall, until it burned out.

3. The text by Mr. Grigoris Valtinos and Lampi Tagmatarchis is dedicated to our teachers, our classmates, and M.

 

Photo by: John Vastardis

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