Vassiliki Rapti and her ludics : She beautifully paints her dreams out of her ceilings into verses fueled by her constant interest in the”alchemy of the word”
September 6, 2013
1. Thank you for consenting to have me learn more about you. Can you elaborate a little about yourself? Where you were raised and how you came about creating this wonderful niche for yourself?
Thank you for your interest in learning about me and my interests! I was raised in Greece in the countryside in the district of Thessaly, the place of Jason, Achilles and the Centaurs in Greek mythology. Born and raised in a very small place named Anthotopos (meaning Bloomington from the plethora of blossoming almond trees in the spring) in between two hills facing the Pagasitikos Bay and the mountain Pelion, I was lucky enough to be struck by natural beauty in my everyday life whether it was the gazing of a sunrise or of a sunset or the picking of flowers in the surrounding hills or the seeing of a golden sea of wheet crops in the fields of the area.
The fifth of six girls in the family, whose father was among the Greek immigrants to West Germany in the late 60’s, I had all the components to “invent myself” very early so that I could distinguish myself from my sisters. Play was my refuge, my safety-valve to console myself of being deprived of my father and for allowing me to create a niche for reaching out to him. At the same time, I felt totally free by not having my father all the time controlling me, as it as the case with all my girl playmates. So, I had all the components to rely on play because it was the ground where I could do everything: with the cheapest material, I experienced the most incredible adventures thanks to play.
2. Who would you like to mention in terms of literary/spiritual inspiration-who helped you carve a unique career for yourself?
There are many people and places who/which inspired me and helped me shape my thought at the various stages of my life. First of all, it was my elementary teacher who would encourage me at every step of mine and treated me in a unique manner compared to my classmates and then my literature high school teacher who introduced me to the poetry of the Greek surrealists Andreas Embeiricos and Nikos Engonopoulos when I was 15 years old. I was so impressed then that I ceased wanting to become a chemist—my initial drive–. When I came across the lines by Embeiricos like “Poetry is the development of a shining bike”, it was as if a new world had opened before me and I decided that I wanted since then to deal only with the “alchemy of the word” instead. Then a few years later, I had the opportunity to delve into the poetry of the Greek surrealist painter and poet Nikos Engonopoulos during my studies at the Sorbonne-Paris IV and my life in Paris became a dream come true. I was like Alice in Wonderland, always seeking the marvelous in every corner of this magic city and in every page of the books I would dig into in the libraries of Paris and I would try to reconstruct the path of the famous Breton Circle. Later, I continued to marvel like Alice in Wonderland again when in May 2001 I encountered the amazing personality and the work of the last Greek surrealist Nanos Valaoritis. Since then, Valaoritis has never ceased to inspire me and offer me intellectual stimulation thanks to the open dialogue I continue having with him since 2001. It would have been a great omission If I did not include here my mentor and thesis Advisor Stamos Metzidakis who has worked extensively on French and American Surrealism and has written a seminal article on the surrealist games which helped me refine my dissertation topic and which I developed to become my first book, Ludics in Surrealist Theatre and Beyond (Ashgate, 2013).
3. Where did you first see expressions of surrealism? When you compare surrealism even a decade ago-do you think it is being more accepted now?
As I mentioned earlier, I first saw expressions of surrealism in the landscape of my birthplace and on the ceiling of my home or in my own dreams which I liked to reconstruct every morning when I was a child and to narrate them with extreme care to my sisters, who were my first audience. Then, more consciously I saw them in my school textbook and then in the films of Luis Bunuel and then it became a constant pursuit of mine. I never thought Surrealism was properly received, at least outside the borders of France, its birthplace. Most of the times, it was synonymous to the absurd or extraterrestrial or at best, a joke. Today, it is still confused with these notions, but it has become more accepted and after a period of silence, I see a renewed interest in it in its proper sense. I saw it for instance in its authenticity in the work of Aurélia Thiérrée, grand-daughter of Charlie Chaplin a few years ago at the American Repertory Theater when she presented Aurelia’s Oratorio, a true surrealist delight! You can see an excerpt from that show here to better grasp what I mean: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ASd43ulh16g
4. What is your way of interpreting the world, people, treetops and Windows or even doorways for that matter? Is there a recurrent theme somewhere? Or is it always something new-or a sudden revelation?
This is an interesting question indeed. I would say that I first like offering myself to the game of chance which creates the condition for the daily marvelous in the sense of an a-ha!- moment of the sudden revelation. Once this moment reveals itself, I come closer to it and I interpret it through the one-into-another surrealist game which is the pattern –if you want– to see things in common among the most disparate images or things.
5. What is your primary method of working on the surreal?
I just mentioned a primary method of mine of working on the surreal that embraces chance, games and dream world. In truth, my primary method of working on the surreal is quite common and absolutely romantic: “mad love” for everything that makes me alive and happy, being passionate about the “other.”
6. Tell us all about your major project-your book!
I have already mentioned how the seeds of this book were sown. Let me now focus on its content and its purpose: the book re-examines the much misunderstood artistic medium of theatre within Surrealism, especially when compared to poetry and painting. It reconsiders Surrealist theatre specifically from the perspective of ludics -a poetics of play and games- an ideal approach to the Surrealists, whose games blur the boundaries between the ‘playful’ and the ‘serious.’ I found particularly interesting the “one-into-another” surrealist game which I use as a pattern throughout the book to examine the traces of this kind of game in the works of a wide variety of Surrealist and post-Surrealist playwrights and stage directors, from several different countries, and from the 1920s to the present: Roger Vitrac, Antonin Artaud, Günter Berghaus, Nanos Valaoritis, Robert Wilson, and Megan Terry. You can see more details and the table of contents of the book here: http://www.ashgate.com/default.aspx?page=637&title_id=10931&edition_id=1211705669&calcTitle=1
7. Could you describe a few of your teaching experiences at Harvard?
Well, there are so many wonderful teaching experiences at Harvard. I myself like calling Harvard Yard where I am teaching, the “Yard of Miracles,” because every day there is for me there an eye-opening experience, from the class experience to the events that happen, or the rare manuscripts I find in the libraries. I like the openness of the University and the emphasis on the arts across disciplines. This is one of the reasons that made me teach Modern Greek through the arts and instead of final exams I ask my students to create collaborative projects the nature of which is decided each time in class with the students. The results are amazing and no matter how beginners the students are, they learn the language by using it to express themselves in their unique manner. Surrealism is of course part of my teaching methods when we work collaboratively towards the completion of these projects. After all, Surrealists believed that “poetry is made by all”! One of my favorite year-long teaching experiences was the collaborative poem entitled “At the edge of the moments” we created last semester with my second-semester students of Modern Greek and the Fulbright visual artist and poet Maria Zervos who was a guest in that project. The result was amazing and it was initiated with the use of the surrealist game “exquisite corpse”. The same game I used it the very first semester I started working at Harvard in my class and I can assure you it was the most memorable moment for my students of that class. Let me turn to their testimonia and quote two of my students who chose the surrealist games as their favorite moment from that class: “One of my favorite moments in the course this semester was the class when we played surrealist games. This was an exciting and educational exercise that integrated many different kinds of words. I think that it is a wonderful way to practice new words and I would love to play more games like this in the future!” Another student writes: “Without a doubt, my favorite humorous memory from our class was the surrealist game; my phrase was excellent! ‘το συγκινημένο τριαντάφυλλο θα καταλάβει πολλά.’ Ωραίο! (=The moved rose will understand a lot!). Beautiful!” I could go on and on when talking about my teaching experiences at Harvard. All in all, I would like to stress that teaching at Harvard is always challenging and a path to the marvelous!
8. Is there any special project you are working on right now that you might want to share?
Well, right now, there are two special projects that I am working on: first, a monograph on the theatre of the marvelous of Nanos Valaoritis, which attempts to trace the Greek playwright’s theatrical trajectory that started as experiments with the concept of the surrealist dialogue. Secondly, I am working on a volume on innovative approaches to teaching a foreign language, where games play certainly a central role. Finally, I am excited to run from this year onwards with my colleague Κathleen M. Coleman, James Loeb Professor of the Classics at Harvard, the newly-established interdisciplinary research seminar “Ludics” at the Harvard Mahindra Humanities Center:http://mahindrahumanities.fas.harvard.edu/content/ludics
9. I happened to read in one of your writings about Surrealist Theatre from the perspective of ludics. Could you please educate us on that?
Let me just go to the conclusion of my book and quote from there: “Overall, the primary focus of the book has been to show that ludic theory is a valid path for re-examining and restoring surrealist theatre since the ludic principle corresponds perfectly to the quintessence of Surrealism: the defiance of bipolarities and binary thinking. Finding its best expression in the surrealist game “one into another,” surrealist theatre emphasizes the possibility of the simultaneity of dream and reality on stage, in the same way that play simultaneously works on two planes—that of fantasy and reality. Another important reason for examining surrealist theatre in light of ludic theory is surrealist theatre’s tendency to challenge the notion of rational thinking. Allowing room for nonsense in surrealist theatre is equivalent to acknowledging nonsense in children’s games or the surrealist games. Yet such nonsense, in all cases, ultimately brings us to another kind of sense—one that is tied to the irrational, the marvelous, and the subconscious. More precisely, this new sense emerges from the new concept of dialogue that Surrealism invented, one that eschews mere communication and showcases, instead, the most audacious flights of the imagination in those involved, through the accumulation of surrealist images which are uninhibited by reason. This new dialogue-game is, in fact, one of the major contributions of Surrealism to the stage, as it re-orients it toward a non-mimetic organizational principle, something that is predominant in the contemporary stage.”
10. How does it help having a Greek imagination and sensibility (the answer should be pretty obvious but I am certain you will have something unusual to say).
Well, it does help indeed having a Greek imagination and sensibility but how? Hm!! Perhaps in the way it prepares you still from your childhood to make room in your mind for both the rational and the irrational in the most natural way. I can’t help here but recall André Breton himself who hated the Greeks just because they have said it all! Even for his major surrealist myths he returned back to the Ancient Greeks, to the Minotaure, for instance, who became the title of one of the major surrealist reviews. This natural lack of division where the mundane world and the underworld coexist was a great conquest of the Ancients. Also, having a Greek imagination and sensibility helps in the sense that you come with a rich registry of images and personifications that amplify your imagination.
11. What do you think of the future of Surrealist Theatre and ludics?
It is my hope that surrealist theatre will finally be acknowledged not simply as part of the historical avant-garde but as a vital component of today’s theatre that little by little will dare the pursuit of the marvelous. As far as ludics, I believe it has a long way ahead to fertilize our thought and become a guiding principle in all our endeavors and not only in the field of theatre and performance studies. I am happy to see for instance, more and more institutions and individuals who are concerned with the concepts of play and games such as the Institute of Play based in New York with which I am currently in touch and which pioneers new models of learning and engagement based on the concepts of play and games and game design.
12. Is there anything I missed that you might want to share with the readers?
I wanted to thank you again for engaging with my work and also to please ask your audience for their feedback. As I consider myself a constant player in the game of self-discovery and knowledge, it is important for me to be awakened by different kinds of responses and other players’ contributions. So, for this reasons I would be grateful to both you Tania and your readers for any kind of feedback.