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Loney's Show Notes
By Glenn Loney, April 23, 2007
About Glenn Loney
Caricature of Glenn Loney by Sam Norkin.
Please click on " * " to skip to each subject in this index:
European Theatre Prize XI Awarded to Quebec's Robert Lapage and Germany's Peter Zadek *
In Historic Macedonian Thessaloniki— *
Growing Old—Being Old: *
No-Show Prize-Winner Prof. Dr. Peter Zadek! *
A Problematic Peer-Production: *
The Berliner Ensemble's Peer Gynt—in 2004: *
Paging Robert Lepage! *
Latvian Innovations—Alvis Hermanis Revolutionizes Riga Theatre: *
Belgrade’s Biljana Srbljanovic Explores the Uneasy Recent History of Fellow-Serbians: *
European Culture-Cities Should Take Turns Hosting the Premio Europa per il Teatro! *
Europe-Prize Colloquium 2007: Prizes—Who Needs Them? *
Culture-Venues in Thessaloniki: *
Health Advisory for Visitors to Thessaloniki: *
And now for the Back-story on Thessaloniki & Central Macedonia & Thrace: *
The Jewish Presence in Thessaloniki: *
Is a Pilgrimage to Mount Athos in the Future? *
The Zadek Letters *
European Theatre Prize XI Awarded to Quebec's Robert Lapage and Germany's Peter Zadek
In Historic Macedonian Thessaloniki—
''Historic neigbourhood in Thessaloniki'' folder
Last spring in Turin/Torino, Harold Pinter was the distinguished winner of the Premio Europa per il Teatro, or European Theatre Prize. This year, there were two winners announced: Canada’s Robert Lepage—who works out of an historic fire-house in Quebec City—and the veteran Peter Zadek, currently at Bertolt Brecht’s historic Berliner Ensemble.
This means that—despite the resounding endorsement of the European Union for this impressive theatre-initiative—you do not have to create theatre solely within the expanding boundaries of the EU in order to be nominated for this prestigious prize.
Thus far, the only North American to win the prize is Robert Wilson—who won it in Edition V. But then Wilson has worked widely & often in Europe, less frequently in the United States. This unfortunate state of Cultural Affairs has continued, even though his astounding career was launched at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Notably with Einstein on the Beach—with music by Philip Glass, followed by A Letter to Queen Victoria…
Other winners have included Peter Brook, Pina Bausch, Luca Ronconi, Lev Dodin, Giorgio Strehler, & Ariane Mnouchkine. But giving the award to these remarkable men & women—creative-geniuses all—has been almost in the nature of saluting their long careers in European Theatre. Virtually, Lifetime Achievement Awards…
Initially, there was no mechanism for honoring & encouraging younger, emerging talents in European Theatre. That was soon rectified—but only two years later—so the Europe Prize for New Theatrical Realities is now in its Ninth Edition, as opposed to the Eleventh for the Main Prize.
This makes for a handsome Logo this year: XI over IX. And the Winners are: Latvia’s Alvis Hermanis & Serbia’s Biljana Srbljanovic.
If the innovative playwright Biljana Srbljanovic is not yet well-known to North American audiences, this prize may certainly arouse interest in her work, especially Locusts, shown at the Prize Ceremonies in Thessaloniki in Northern Greece.
As for Alvis Hermanis’ scripting & staging of Long Life, it has already excited critical huzzahs at last summer’s Edinburgh Festival and will surely find its way to Canada & the United States. But considering the welter of thousands of small hand-props & set-props, this must be one of the most difficult shows to take on tour.
Growing Old—Being Old:
Looking back on the four major productions, the staging-excerpts, & several videos just seen in Northern Greece—from the safe-haven of a bench in Manhattan’s Central Park, laptop in my lap—I am again struck at all this year’s prize-winners’ interest & concern in the Processes of Living Life & of Ageing, especially those of Being-Old & Growing-Old.
This made a Resounding Connection for your correspondent. As frequent readers of this site may know, your scribe is now 78-years-old, and counting…
Just before going off to Turin and the Europe Theatre Prize X last spring, he was suddenly & devastatingly struck with terrible pains in the right-knee & foreleg. I feared I would have to cancel my trip—and the opportunity to witness the Canonization of Harold Pinter.
Capricorns are said to be subject to Knee-Issues, but I thought this might be a long-suppressed Fear of Flying, as I have always had sudden attacks of appendicitis, fever-sores, acute-migraines, or stomach-cramps a few days before departure for foreign lands.
[In 1965, I actually had a heart-attack at Brooklyn College Commencement, four days before my scheduled departure for the Major European Festivals. Although I finally made it to Europe—after six weeks of hospital & convalescence—I was never again permitted to write for the Christian Science Monitor: "Glenn, you failed to Demonstrate Christian Science!"]
Customarily, once the plane had landed at Heathrow, Cape-Town, Munich, Bogota, or Bangkok, I was just fine for the rest of the festival-roundup, or the INFOTOTGRAPHY™ photo-safari.
But now I think my Knees really have to do with Growing-Old. This is no longer a problem of Hysteric-Psychology. And I have to thank Serbia’s Dejan Mijac for this insight. He is the director of Biljana Srbljanovic’s Locusts, shown at the four-day conference in Thessaloniki.
Here’s what Mijac has to say about this troubling subject: "From my personal experience, I know that Old Age comes unexpectedly. One day at one moment, I stopped on the stairs. I didn’t manage to run up. Since that moment, I have never managed to run up those stairs.
"In that same moment, I realized that I can’t do all the things that I want to do. That was an event with double-effect—direct & indirect… That means it is not a Process. Old Age is a Condition: it can be latent, and it can have its manifestation. In this play, this phenomenon is the Main Idea…"
But more of that later on. My immediate problem in Thessaloniki was that the handsome modern theatre of the Society for Macedonian Studies has lots of sets of stairs. It does have a tiny elevator, but this stops at only three levels: none of them at actual auditorium-entry levels! Old-Age indeed!
No-Show Prize-Winner Prof. Dr. Peter Zadek!
One of the major attractions for journalists & critics in Thessaloniki was the opportunity to hear panels of Theatre-Experts admire, analyze, & assess Peter Zadek’s decades-long achievements in German Theatre. [Your scribe was impressed that he had studied & directed in Britain during World War II—while Pope Benedict was in the German Wehrmacht & Günther Grass was in the Waffen SS! They both ended up in an American POW camp…]
Unfortunately, after extended arrangements had been made to assemble the panels—which included Volker Canaris, Corinna Borcher, Matthias Matussek, Ursula Ehler, Bärbel Jaksch, & Thomas Meisl—and the programs & catalogue had been printed, the Berliner Ensemble‘s celebrated director Peter Zadek decided he was too busy rehearsing to spend a day in Thessaloniki to receive this prestigious award.
Hearing this bad news, your scribe thought Zadek was punishing the Premio Europa Prize people for making him share the award with Canada’s Robert Lepage. The award had never been divided before. Peter Brook didn’t have to share it with Pina Bausch. Nor Harold Pinter with Sir Peter Hall—who wasn’t nominated anyway…
What is incomprehensible—even for a famous & famously-arrogant German Theatre-Talent—is agreeing initially to accept the award in person & permitting all the arrangements, including panels & production, to go forward.
And then, effectually, to Opt Out! Not only was Peter Zadek not to make an Appearance, be Interviewed, and Accept the Award, but all the distinguished German, Austrian, & other EU Zadek Experts were pulled as well!
All either cancelled or were cancelled. Including the aged poet/playwright/Wagner-regisseur Tankred Dorst—who last summer mounted Wagner’s RING for the Bayreuth Festival. [See Loney Show-Notes Bayreuth-report, Summer 2006!]
Dorst is now in his Eighties, and so is Zadek. I was at UC/Berkeley when I first read about young Peter Zadek & his Innovations… And that was a long, long time ago… Actually, German newspaper-reports about the scandal—a number of which I read the following day in transit in Munich—noted that Zadek is only 80 years old.
As the focus of the festivities in Thessaloniki was on Ageing & Being-Old, perhaps this painful Contretemps was a totally-accidental Demonstration of the Follies of the Aged? Or could it have been planned, all along?
Initially, I was told that there was a letter from Zadek—which I was not permitted to read—that was described to me as Arrogant & Dismissive: "Send the check. I’m not coming. I’m too busy rehearsing…"
Any Anglophone-speaker—familiar with German Theatre, both East & West, over the years—knows that German rehearsals in state-subsidized theatres can drag on for weeks, or even months. Then—when all the life & spontaneity have been squeezed out in endless rehearsals—the productions open to a Culture-Conscious Public who are used to Rhetoric & Rant.
But even dedicated German actors do not rehearse on Sundays. There are Union Rules, after all…
Zadek’s refusal to appear—even for one Sunday afternoon & evening—seemed both quixotic & insulting to the Prize Event. His Berlin production won’t have its premiere until mid-June!
Nonetheless, Thessaloniki audiences did have the opportunity to witness Peter Zadek’s Berliner Ensemble staging of Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt. That was not cancelled, and it certainly illustrated the theme of the Premio’s Prize events. As Ibsen Admirers know all too well, thoughtless, self-centered Peer learns nothing on his long Journey Through Life.
Only the Undying Love of the cruelly-abandoned Solveig saves Peer from the Button-Moulder.
Peter Zadek should be so lucky! There wasn’t much love for him in evidence in the Theatre for Macedonian Studies last Sunday evening!
In fact, in the Peer Gynt Interval, copies of Zadek’s letter and the Premio Europa Prize’s answer to it—two densely-written pages!—were finally distributed to most audience-members. I was given a ticket way up in the balcony, so I couldn’t obtain copies. [If they are sent on to me, I will add them to this report…]
Apparently, Zadek decided he could not come to the Theatre for Macedonian Studies because he was rehearsing a replacement-actor in his production, as the original was suffering from Cancer. Naturally, everyone sympathizes with someone afflicted with this terrible disease, but what about The Show Must Go On?
Especially with a Mid-JUNE PREMIERE, this seemed an odd excuse. Apparently, there had been two Zadek letters. Initially, he was said to have requested that his Award-check be sent to him in Berlin. And that his Prize-winner’s Golden-Plaque be sent on in June, to be presented at his premiere on the stage of Brecht’s Theater am Schiffbauerdamm!
He also suggested that he had little regard for the award—and even less for the European Theatres who had chosen to honor him. He even suggested that they were ridiculous…
Their answering-letter—cancelling the Award & the Zadek-Panels—pointed out the great personal efforts previous winners had made to be present for the Award-Ceremonies. Not to overlook the sacrifices of those who were only on panels or in performances, not actual Prize-winners…
On the evening in question, the Awards-Presentation was scheduled to begin at 7:30 pm. But such events never begin on time—especially not in South-eastern Europe. When it did finally get-underway, almost every man—and the sole woman—at the long table on stage had to have his say about award-winners: Canada’s Robert Lepage, Latavia’s Alvis Hermanis, Serbia’s Biljana Srbljanovic, & even the Absent Zadek.
The esteemed French Critic, Georges Banu, was the effective Master of Ceremonies: charming & informative, but un-edited. No-one seemed to have heard that the Peer Gynt staging would take at least three-hours to run its course.
There was also a Gala-Banquet-Buffet scheduled after the performance!
As the hands of the clock edged toward 10 pm, one of Zadek’s stars came forward, put her arms around Ian Herbert—President of the International Theatre Critics—and begged the famed Theatre Experts to cut short the Verbal Salutes.
I had to get up at 4:30 am to catch an Aegean Airways plane to Munich, so I missed the Gala…
A Problematic Peer-Production:
Peter Zadek’s innovative Peer-Production—Peer, incidentally, is the Norwegian version of Peter!—was premiered way back in 2004. But it is one of those Festival Productions that seem able to tour endlessly.
I actually saw it before at the Edinburgh Festival, so I will take the liberty of recycling that review. The production has lost none of its previous furious Energy & Violence, but it seemed less powerful on the wide & deep stage in Thessaloniki, compared the with Confining Proscenium of Edinburgh’s Lyceum Theatre. The Confinement/Containment contrasted effectively with Peer’s Ever-Expansive Spirit & Ambition!
The Berliner Ensemble's Peer Gynt—in 2004:
Last year  at the Salzburg Festival, Henrik Ibsen's Peer Gynt proved an amazing matrix for an astounding staging by Johann Kresnick, with the ensemble of the Hannover Schauspielhaus. Kresnik is known for "Choreographic Theatre," so Ibsen's actual text was merely the inspiration for some arresting images and actions.
Kresnik's major set-prop was an immense Astroturf-clad mountain, over which romped Peer and some very sexy Trolls. When this Undertaker's Carpet was pulled off the mountain-peaks, they were revealed as the monumental faces of Stalin, Karl Marx, & JFK, among other historic leaders.
When I first heard that Peer Gynt was to be shown in Edinburgh this August—where the Hanover State Opera would also show its Trovatore and Pélléas—I assumed this would be the Hannover Gynt as well. When I called the Festival Press-Office, I asked: "Is this the same production with the green mountain?" I was assured it had a green mountain.
But this vital re-visitation of Ibsen's fable of the braggart Peer is something else altogether. It is Bertolt Brecht's Berliner Ensemble, returned to its glory-days of Elemental Production-Values, Alienation-Effects, & Agit-Prop.
Its green-mountain is only a slight green hump center-stage. In fact, the stage is largely bare, with a few chairs, scraps of furniture, and hand-props rapidly conformed by the actors into ships, coaches, & other requisites.
Staged by the 78-year-old Peter Zadek, this production avoided all the trendy Euro-trashy Post-Modernist sets, lighting, & costumes that are the hallmark of so many other Central European revivals of the classics.
Instead of trying to turn a modern classic into a kaleidoscopic Theatre-Circus, Zadek has done the almost unthinkable: he has—almost—entirely respected Ibsen's plot, characters, text, & vision. Instead of mistrusting the actual play, he has stripped it bare of all Theatrical Artifice—and let it speak for itself.
In performance, the effect is rather like Brechtian Story-Theatre. With the difference that the cast are not clever Paul Sills clowns, showing the story and characters. They LIVE their characters & adventures.
Both Stanislavsky and Brecht would be delighted! When Uwe Bohm's Peer takes his worried, credulous, admiring mother—the heart-breaking Angela Winkler—on a fantasy sleigh-ride, no scenery or props are needed. These two remarkable actors become Peer and Aase.
Unfortunately, Aase dies early on, as Peer goes from folly to folly. He never matures, but he does get older and even more determined to live life on his own terms. Uwe Bohm brilliantly embodies all the changes in Peer as he grows older and slyer.
But Peer learns nothing and, at the end, there is nothing worth saving. The Button Moulder is waiting to melt down his substance. Only the undying love of the abused and abandoned Solveig [Annett Renneberg] may save him…
Indeed, all the actors—almost all of them in a variety of roles—bring Ibsen's moral tale vibrantly, comically, tragically alive on the bare stage of Edinburgh's Lyceum Theatre. What Zadek—who has mounted his share of Modernist stagings—has rediscovered is the simple straightforward power of the playwright's vision, fiercely, truthfully brought to life by wonderfully dedicated and talented actors.
This has also served Zadek's colleague, Jürgen Flimm, very well in staging Wagner's RING for the Bayreuth Festival. Encourage the actor/singers to be the characters and live their lives! The music and the text are all that are needed beyond that. Sets, costumes, lighting—or Novel Concepts—aren't really needed for the Human Essentials to be communicated from stage to audience…
The acting-text of this production is the work of Peter Stein & Botho Strauss. Stein is, of course, one of Germany's most innovative directors, as is Strauss one of its most interesting playwrights.
Unfortunately, Zadek asked Strauss to write a new Act V for Ibsen's drama. The original is short and to the point. Strauss extends this almost endlessly, with his own philosophical variations on Ibsen's Basic Theme. Strauss's ruminations are not without interest, but his revision blunts the original point.
Nonetheless, this is such a powerful production that it MUST be seen in the United States, beginning at BAM. And possibly crossing the country.
Peer's story is something like the American Dream gone very wrong: Self-Centered Blowhard Capitalism—with no regard for the Consequences! Does this sound a bit like a certain Chief Executive? Peer Gynt as CEO of the Free World?
For the record: Although Peter Zadek is one of Germany's most admired and respected contemporary stage-directors, he actually got his early drama training at the Old Vic Theatre School in London. His family had escaped Nazi Germany, so his early years as a director were spent staging plays in English for British audiences!
In fact, Zadek first came to prominence in England. Germany came later…
Paging Robert Lepage!
It was not possible to present an entire evening of one of Robert Lepage’s Festival-Oriented touring-productions. But Lepage did provide some videos and—more importantly—some actual excerpts from previous works and Lipsynch, a Work-in-Progress.
Over the years, Lepage’s Quebec City-based Ex Machina ensemble has won an international reputation. This is hardly surprising, as his individual works are essentially festival-touring productions, often funded by a consortium of festivals.
Having visited his Quebec Firehouse HQ, your scribe readily understood that Lepage could hardly play eight-weeks in his home-town. There isn’t audience enough. Ex Machina needs to be on tour.
Its title deliberately recalls the Deus ex Machina of the Classic Greek Theatre: the "God out of the Machine." What that means is that Lepage often depends on some kind of mechanical contrivance or construction through which to project his unique vision, whether it be a Hamlet or some unusual cultural-concept.
Interviewed for the conference, Lepage pointed out—as he often does—that all his work is a process of discovering who he is. That includes Lepage performing in some of his pieces.
For his audiences in Thessaloniki, Lepage appeared in a curious work: He was lying on the stage-floor, with a row of theatre-seats lying on their backs against a vertical screen. A water-cooler was also lying on its back on the floor.
Lepage’s movements on the floor—projected on the screen above—made it seem that he was able to float & writhe in the air above the theatre-seats. This was a Novel Experience, but it obviously won’t fill an evening in the theatre…
In line with the Premio’s Old Age Theme, Lepage also provided some scenes that powerfully evoked both Age & Illness. He showed a disquieted doctor explaining the risks of operation for a brain-tumor to an afflicted young woman.
Cross-sections of brain-tissue were shown on a screen behind the performers. Then Michelangelo’s famed fresco from the Sistine Chapel of God stretching out his finger to the Naked Adam was projected in full-color.
Suddenly, the left-half of the fresco—featuring Adam—vanished. Only the image of God & His Cherubs, enveloped in his great maroon cloak, remained.
In an instant, the outlines of the brain in cross-section overlaid the fresco: an Exact Match!
Had Michelangelo deliberately planned this Concealed Revelation of the Mind of God vs. the Mind of Man?
Or was this only an Accident: that Robert Lepage made the Connection?
Michel Vaïs—General Secretary of the AITC—curated the major discussion of Lepage & his Work. Especially impressive were the insights of Karen Fricker, an American at Trinity College, Dublin.
Also provocative were the presentations of France’s Ludovic Fouquet and Canada’s Chantal Hébert & Don Rubin—who was once a student of your scribe’s, long, long ago at Hofstra College on Long Island.
To fill the gap left by the cancellation of the Peter Zadek Experts, a small army of Lepage Experts testified on the following day!
Lepage in Edinburgh: Some seasons ago, Robert Lepage was to open the Edinburgh Festival. Unfortunately, some special screw or bolt had broken in the Ex Machina mechanism that was essential to the operation of his production.
No spare, or replacement, had been brought along from Quebec. There was no time to fly one in for the planned premiere that evening. The entire engagement had to be cancelled. Festival Director Brian McMaster was furious.
So you do have to wonder about the Essential Human Theatricality of a work that has to depend on mechanics, instead of standing alone with one or two actors…
For want of a Nail, the War was Lost!
Latvian Innovations—Alvis Hermanis Revolutionizes Riga Theatre:
The Three Baltic Republics have generated their share of Theatre-Geniuses. When your scribe paid an invited-visit to Riga, Vilnius, & Tallinn in 1987—when the Cold War was still hot—Lithuania’s Eimuntis Nekrosius was the Man to Watch.
Now, the Man of the Hour is Latvia’s Alvis Hermanis. Two of his works were shown in Thessaloniki: Long Life & Fathers. Thematically-appropriate, they both deal with problems of the Aged and with Ageing.
Long Life was shown last summer at the Edinburgh Festival—and it will surely have a long life on the Festival Touring-Circuit. It won raves in the Scots capital, as again in the capital of Northern Greece. Here, on Greek soil, Brit Critics—Ian Herbert & John Elsom—were enthusiastic in their praise.
What audiences see are what appear to be five or six tiny rooms, with doors to a communal hallway upstage. Each is occupied by two people, sleeping on couches or makeshift beds. These spaces are crammed with myriads of set & hand-props, supposedly the treasures or essentials of long lives lived under the privations mandated by effectual Soviet Occupation.
These are Old People, living now as they always did, in virtual poverty, going through their day, trying to continue to have some kind of life, even as the clock is winding-down.
What was not evident to a North American Eye—even though both of your scribe’s eyes have seen a lot of Soviet-Dominated Eastern Europe from 1956 to the Fall of the Berlin Wall—was that some of the characters have Issues from those infamous years.
This was brought out in critical examinations of Hermanis’ production during the discussions of his work. But these historic & psychological sub-texts can have meaning only to those who lived through those dark times. They were totally lost on me…
To your scribe—in the absence of any spoken-dialogue—this production looked like a very Old-Fashioned tranche de vie, or Slice of Life, from 19th Century Naturalism. Not exactly a boundaries-breaking Theatrical Innovation.
Nor very interesting, either. Supposedly, the actors actually talked with Old People, and even some of the props are Treasured Items from real Riga Seniors!
Long Life was directed by Hermanis himself: how could it be otherwise, given his Unique Vision?
He also staged his own drama, Fathers, or Väter—with three actors of the Schauspielhaus Zürich ensemble. His original concept was having three actors talk about their relationships with their own fathers, but they are of three different nationalities: Russian, German, & Latvian.
There were also a lot of hand, costume, and set-props in this production as well. Such Naturalistic Details seem to be the Essence of Hermanis’ Visual Style. Interestingly, the effects of two lonely single men eating ritual breakfasts, side by side, in Long Life, were echoed in Fathers…
This sense of Obsession with Details was enhanced by his device of having make-up mirrors & stands at each side of the stage, with makeup-experts dabbing & brushing makeup on the actors when they came off stage, preparing for their next character-bit. Much of this seemed Facially-Unnecesssary.
The actors also grew older, possibly becoming like their own fathers. And the audience got to see the Makeup-Ageing-Process, including the careful application of wigs, taken from foam head-stands!
Considering the widespread European acclaim for Hermanis’ productions, I thought it wouldn’t be long before we’d be seeing at least his Long Life production at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Last night—at Cheek-by-Jowl’s engagement of Cymbeline, I was told that there are no plans to bring Hermanis to BAM.
So there, Europa!
Belgrade’s Biljana Srbljanovic Explores the Uneasy Recent History of Fellow-Serbians:
If Hermanis won’t soon be coming to New York—though he surely will have to have his work eventually seen here & elsewhere in the United States—the Jugoslav Drama Theatre’s fast-paced & provocative production of Biljana Srbljanovic’s Locusts is ready for Prime-Time.
This fascinating drama-carousel of Modern Life in Belgrade was also referred to in our discussions as Grasshoppers—unless I misunderstood, and Srbljanovic has, in fact, written a series of Insect Plays?
In the current production—staged by Dejan Mijac—various scenes feature varied species of swarming video-insects on the rear-cyclorama. Considering most of the selfish, mean, conniving, contriving characters on view, to call them Locusts—devouring all in sight—is almost too generous a label.
This is, however, no dramatic-narrative with Final Closure. Instead, Srbljanovic offers overlapping short-scenes that glide by on a revolving-stage—hence a kind of Carousel—with a Thirties-Something Party-girl as a linkage among disparate groups of people.
Old People are not treated very well in Srbljanovic’s play, but then some of them do not treat other old people very well either.
With the break-up of Marshall Tito’s Unified Yugoslavia—when Slovenia opted-out, it was all over, though the Serbs wouldn’t admit that—a certain kind of Civility & Decency in daily-life also fractured.
Issues of Yugoslavia’s Communist Past, as well as Serbia’s violence against Bosnian Muslims & Catholic Croatians are glancingly noted, but not with any great emphasis.
This play is not an Indictment of those Serbs who were Communist Informers—but it does not ignore the fact that some of those people have survived very well.
The idea that a young girl could join the Fascist-oriented Chetniks of General Draja Mihailovic and then—rejected by them—cross over to the Soviet-oriented Partisans could be a play in itself, but it’s almost only an offstage-footnote here.
When Biljana Srbljanovic’s Locusts is seen in the United States—either in this production, or in an American-mounted translation—few in the audiences will know anything about Partisans & Chetniks.
But those of us who remember World War II all too well also remember Ruth Comfort Mitchell—daughter of World War I Flying-Ace, General Billy Mitchell—as a great supporter of Mihailovic & the Chetniks.
When American sympathies swung heavily in favor of our Soviet Allies, Chetniks became personae non grata…
Nonetheless, you do not have to be a World War II Historian to savour the intrigues & malaise of Locusts.
European Culture-Cities Should Take Turns Hosting the Premio Europa per il Teatro!
In the early years of the European Union, the initiative of naming a major Metropolis each year as a Culture City of Europe not only gave a real boost to Tourism, but it also focused International Attention on the varied Cultural Riches of such historic cities as Munich, Copenhagen, Milan, & Madrid.
After all the major Capital-Cities had had their turn, then Second-Tier Cities had their turns. Your scribe used to make a point annually of visiting that year’s Culture-City. No question about the attractions of Alsatian Strasbourg, but who would have thought that Lille-en-flandres would prove so magnificent?
Goethe & Schiller’s Weimar—after long years behind Soviet barbed-wire & walls—was a Wonder when it was Culture City of Europe. There, as in all the other Culture-Cities, Living Theatre was a large part of the attraction for tourists & art-lovers alike.
Currently, the Premio Europa is awarded in those cities—like Turin & Thessaloniki—that will generously host the events, also providing hotel-accommodations for the scores of delegates & journalists who throng the panels & performances.
Considering the Seal of Approval the European Union’s cultural-affairs chiefs have already bestowed on the actual Premio Europa Prize, why doesn’t the EU provide funds & encouragement each year for that season’s Culture City of Europe to host the Awards as part of the programmed-events?
Last year in Turin was partly funded by the Winter Olympics initiatives—so both Sport & Culture were in the Spotlight!
How about awarding the prize in next year’s Culture City of Europe?
Failing that, Thessaloniki has already indicated it will be pleased & proud to have the Premio return!
Europe-Prize Colloquium 2007: Prizes—Who Needs Them?
As they did last spring in Turin, the International Association of Theatre Critics took advantage of the invitation to attend the European Theatre Prize Awards, presenting a provocative Symposium/Collquium: Prizes—Who Needs Them?
As introduced by President Ian Herbert—founder/publisher of the invaluable London Theatre Record—being on Nominating-Committees, Awards-Juries, or even Voting-Panels can be Time-Consuming & possibly even Unrewarding. This complaint was seconded by South Korea’s Yun-Cheol Kim, who noted how many Korean newspapers insist on having awards and how this eats-up valuable time. [Dr. Kim hosted IATC—and your scribe—last fall in Seoul for an impressive theatre-festival & conference!]
Also discussing the Values & Demerits of Theatre Awards were Olga Egoshina of Russia, Zeynep Oral from Turkey, Manuel Vieites of Spain, and Chicago’s own Jonathan Abarbanel.
Fortunately, all of these interesting papers were provided in print—but there’s no room or time to summarize them here. They may be available on our website: www.aict-iatc.org. [Your scribe is off to Denver & San Francisco for two-weeks—with only two days to complete this report, between planes…]
From various critical comments, it appears that the effects of multiple awards may be rather different in Europe, Britain, & other lands than they are in the United States & Canada. Some critics suggested that receiving an award might create problems in a repertory-ensemble. Or some actors might get an exaggerated sense of their talents…
For those who are interested in how awards are regarded in the various panelists’ countries, it will surely be interesting to check-out the actual papers. Eventually, they should be published…
In the Question/Answer Period, your scribe took the mike to note that in New York—and even on the National-Scene, with the Oscars—just receiving a Nomination is now almost as Career-Enhancing as actually winning one!
This comment won an invitation to come to Skopje—in the Republic of Macedonia—to talk about theatre. And it was followed by an invitation for a potential visit to Zagreb, capital of Croatia, to discuss Theatre-Criticism. This came from my longtime friend & colleague, Sanja Nikcevic, critic & theatre-professor.
Now if my longtime friend & colleague, Prof. Dr. Kalina Stefanova—Vice-President of IATC —could invite me again to Sofia, in Bulgaria, to talk about Theatre & Drama Criticism to her grad-students, perhaps I could work out a three-way visit on one round-trip air-ticket?
[Last time I was in Sofia, she was a bit disappointed that I didn’t see much future for would-be full-time Theatre-Critics in a time of dying Print-Media and editor-antagonism to "wasting space" on arts-reviews.]
Culture-Venues in Thessaloniki:
Although far off from Athens—and with not nearly the population-base of Greece’s capital—Thessaloniki nonetheless has no less than 73 Culture-Venues!
This is not yet a High-Rise Metropolis: most of the ubiquitous apartment-blocks are only six or seven stories high. But they house a growing, spreading mass of citizens who care about the Arts & Education. Not to overlook the Historic Past…
Aristotle was born in the nearby town of Stagyros—that’s why he’s sometimes referred to as the "Stagyrite"—so it’s only fair that one of the Universities should be named after him. There’s also a Macedonia University!
There are at least three big modern theatres. Three of the Awards performances were staged in the handsome theatre of the Society for Macedonian Studies, with Alvis Hermanis’ Fathers being presented in the large & fairly new theatre at the historic Lazaristes Monastery.
Panels & proceedings were presented at the splendid Royal Theatre—though it’s been a long time since King Constantine was on the Greek Throne.
[The infamous Greek Colonels deposed him & sent him into exile. I glimpsed him once down the street from my building in Manhattan: His son, Crown-Prince Paul, is married one of "Duty-Free" Miller’s three lovely blonde daughters, so the Greek Royals can stay at Miller’s Axel Wenner-Gren Villa, next to the Frick Collection! The former Miss Miller is now Princess Paul of Greece. At least in Outside Greece…]
Among the plays currently in rep in the theatres of the National Theatre of Northern Greece—NTNG—are Friedrich Schiller’s Don Carlos, Oscar Wilde’s Importance of Being Earnest, Nikolai Gogol’s Inspector General, & Teodroa Dimova’s Neda.
There is even a charming small cabaret-theatre that calls itself Radio City!
Health Advisory for Visitors to Thessaloniki:
There are No Smoke-Free Zones! Not in Public-Areas. Not in Restaurants. Not even in lines for the Rest-Rooms, where you will also find no rest. When your scribe asked for a smokeless-table at breakfast—surrounded by Multi-Puffers—he was told: "That is so American!"
You might think that the many historic Greek Orthodox Churches of Thessaloniki would certainly be smoke-free, but that is also Not the Case. But there is fortunately no Nicotine in the smoke of the hundreds of candles of various sizes blazing away in front of Ancient Ikons.
Even at the gates to the churchyards, there are smoke-hoods & stove-pipes to carry off the fumes from the many tiny guttering candles before beloved Ikons!
Although I had taught Classic Drama—in translation, of course—in Athens in 1959 and again in 1961, I had quite forgotten another Western Health-Risk: Kissing Holy Ikons with very Wet Kisses!
Making the photographic-rounds of the many historic churches in Thessaloniki, I was both impressed & appalled: Impressed at the Fervor & Piety of the women waiting in line to bestow their kisses on the iconic-glass—not on the actual Ikon, Doxa Patri! But also Appalled at the potential for the spread of disease via Saliva-borne Germs!
Now it could well be that no-one—including Orthodox Patriarchs & Metropolitans—has ever thought about this risk. Or it could be that—like American Fundamentalist Christians, who fervently believe in "Creationism" or "Intelligent-Design," discounting Darwin’s Concept of Evolution as "only a Theory"—that Orthodox Clerics think that Robert Koch’s discovery of the spread of disease by Germs is also Only a Theory?
Meanwhile, you can certainly admire—even adore & venerate—these magnificent Ikons. You do not have to actually kiss them to Obtain Blessings! Some lighted-candles will do very well, and they come in various prices & sizes. I do not know if the power of the blessing is determined by the size of the candle, but some of these candles are immense!
You could also try Silent Prayer…
And now for the Back-story on Thessaloniki & Central Macedonia & Thrace:
Macedonia’s most famous son was—and still is, of course—Alexander the Great. On the great harbor-corniche of Thessaloniki, Central Macedonia’s capital-city, a great equestrian statue of Alexandros o Megas dominates the scene. [There is also a quite separate Republic of Macedonia to the Northwest…]
From pre-history, there had always been a settlement here on the Aegean Sea, but it developed into the city of Thessaloniki when King Kassandros named it after his wife, Thessaloniki, the half-sister of Alexander, who had put him on the Throne of Macedonia.
Alex the Great had better things to do than rule over the feisty, feuding tribes of this land: Worlds to Conquer—and then to weep, when there were no more Known Worlds to bring into submission.
Founded in 315 BC, the City—and all of Macedonia—was conquered by the Romans less than 200 hundred years later. So, in 148 BC, Thessaloniki became the Roman capital of the Province of Macedonia.
Today, for citizens, tourists, & archeologists alike, it is thanks to the Roman Empire that the most interesting surviving monuments were created. When the Empire was administratively divided, Galerius became effectively the vice-emperor in the East, making Thessaloniki his capitol.
One of his most imposing monuments is Galerius’ Arch, with Millennia-weathered friezes of his conquests of the Persians. And there is also the Great Rotunda—which may have been a Temple of Zeus, or intended as his Mausoleum…
Other remains of Roman Times are still being excavated. In fact, Thessaloniki is rather like neighboring Bulgaria’s Varna, where bits & pieces of Greek & Roman Architecture punctuate the modern city-scape.
But that is also true of many historic cities in this area: If you begin excavating for a Metro or a new High-Rise office-building, you run the risk of uncovering incredible Ancient Ruins, for which all contemporary construction must be put On Hold, until the remains are studied & stabilized.
Under Emperor Constantine the Great, Thessaloniki was developed as an important Imperial Port-city and became a central link on the Via Egnatia between the Western Empire and Byzantium or Constantinople.
From this time—thanks the Emperor’s politically-inspired endorsement of Christianity as the Official State Religion—impressive Byzantine churches were constructed & endowed, a number of which still survive as Greek Orthodox houses of worship. [Constantine himself may have died still a Sun-worshipper. O Mithros Megalos!]
Because of its prime position—and openness to the sea—Thessaloniki was over-run by successive waves of invaders: the Normans, the Franks, the Goths, even the Catalans. And finally, and most decisively, by the Ottoman Turks in 1430 AD.
This great city was to remain under Muslim Domination until 1912, when it was finally liberated from the Turks! Much later than Southern Greece, which was freed from Ottoman Rule in 1830, romantically assisted by the Passion of George Gordon, Lord Byron!
[For the record: Neighboring Bulgaria did not win its Independence from the Sublime Porte in Constantinople until the 1870s, with thousands of deaths on both sides…]
In Modern Times, much has been done to excavate & preserve the Historic Past of Thessaloniki, and its impressive Archeological Museum presents an amazing collection of Greek & Roman statues, Macedonian Gold, Funeral-monuments, Classical Mosaics, as well as important Red & Black Greek Vases & Kraters!
The Jewish Presence in Thessaloniki:
Folder of the Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki.
Your scribe also makes a point in his world-wide travels of seeking out Historic Synagogues & Temples, as well as surviving testimonies of the Jewish Diaspora-Presence in various great cities and far-off lands. It is important to photograph what has survived for my INFOTOGRAPHY™ website.
So one of my first visits in Thessaloniki was to the small but very impressive Jewish Museum—which records the presence & significance of the Jewish Community here from ancient times. In fact, in various historic eras, Native & Immigrant Jews were the Main-spring of Thessaloniki’s prosperity.
And because different Jewish sects & observances arrived from many points, setting up Talmudic schools & encouraging religious studies & meditation, Thessaloniki was known as a New Jerusalem, somewhat like Lithuanian Vilna.
At the museum’s entry, I saw the name of Freddy Abarbanel & Family as among the museum’s benefactors. This really grabbed my attention, for one of my most esteemed American Theatre Critic-colleagues is Chicago’s Jonathan Abarbanel. When he arrived in the city, I had to make sure he didn’t miss the museum and this familial patronage-plaque!
I already knew that the Abarbanels had made their mark in American Culture: Lina Abarbanel was a famed opera-soprano. And Maurice Abravanel—he changed the spelling—was the longtime conductor of the prestigious Mormon Utah Symphony!
On arrival, Jonathan explained that the Abarbanels had sought refuge in Thessaloniki when their Most Catholic Majesties, King Ferdinand & Queen Isabella, had expelled the Sephardic Jews from Spain.
When Jonathan made his excellent presentation for the International Association of Theatre-Critics, on Prizes: who needs them?—in the framework of the Europe Theatre Prize festivities—he noted that his family had been in Thessaloniki for 450 years!
Not that the pious & prosperous Jews of Thessaloniki did not excite envy among Christian & Muslim neighbors. There were mysterious Outbreaks of Fire, Suppressions, Sequestrations, and, finally, the Holocaust, under Nazi Occupation of Greece in World War II. Helpless Jews were rounded-up and shipped off to their deaths in Auschwitz.
Other Jews from Thessaloniki were able to serve in the Greek Army, with the Allies, or escape to fight with the Soviet-sponsored Partisans.
Unfortunately for the INFOTOGRAPHY™ & ArtsArchives websites, it was not permitted to photograph anything in the Jewish Museum. Not even the modern Explanatory Texts about Jewish History here…
[I had encountered the same problem only two months before at the historic Ben Ezra-Synagogue in Cairo. This was especially important as my website-colleagues—Prof. Cynthia Allen, of New York University, and our Digital-Genius, Jack Adlevankin—had recently created a major website for the Cairo Ginezeh Project. This deals with making available on the Internet the myriad ancient Jewish documents hidden in the synagogue for centuries, but later scattered into major research-libraries by magpie-scholars.]
Is a Pilgrimage to Mount Athos in the Future?
One of the major reasons I accepted the invitation to attend—and report upon—the Europe Theatre Prize XI was the possibility of again making the Pilgrimage to Aghion Ouros, or the Holy Mountain of Mount Athos.
Way back in 1959, I had flown from Athens—where I was teaching Classic Drama to NATO, American Embassy, and US Airforce personnel—to Thessaloniki for the sole purpose of visiting some of the ancient Orthodox Monasteries sited on the Athos Peninsula.
Thus, I had photographed nothing of the City of Thessaloniki—which I have this time remedied.
My only interest was in making my way to the boat that would take me and other Athos Pilgrims to the Holy Port of Dafne, the entrance to this Sacred & Segregated Religious World. No Women, Girls, Ladies, or even Greek Orthodox Nuns are allowed on Athos.
The Rule is Men Only, and, preferably, Men in Holy Orders. In fact, no females of any kind are supposed to be on the Peninsula, but even the Patriarch cannot prevent female-finches from flying over.
Actually, on my arrival in the mountainous center of Athos, Karyes, site of the administrative-capital of the monasteries—where then one received an official-passport for a brief stay—the pilgrims’ café was offering a feta-cheese omelet. I looked out the garden-window and saw some goats & chickens, so I surmised the Rule was not all that stringent.
In the summer of 1959, one had to take a local bus from downtown Thessaloniki to Ouranoupolis—or Pyrgos, so-named because of an ancient Watch-tower on the sea. The bus-trip was long & bumpy, and there were goats & suitcases strapped to the roof.
Three professors from the University of Athens introduced themselves—one had a monk-brother in one of the monasteries they would visit: Where was my food? Only cameras?
In Athens, I’d been told that—as a Foreign Christian, for whom there were and are stiff quotas—I would be permitted to stay on Mount Athos for four days only, but I could stay overnight in any of the Monasteries, partaking of the Monks’ own repast in their historic refectories.
The catch was—as my Three Professors immediately pointed-out—was the Orthodox Monks are usually Fasting!
So they shared some biscuits & canned-milk with me. Next time, I must plan ahead!
One also has to plan for the bus-trip and an overnight in Ouranopolis. It’s almost impossible to get from Thessaloniki in time to catch the sole 9:30 am boat to Dafne. It’s the only departure—aside from tourist-boats that sail around the coast but cannot land.
In 1959—with almost no money—I slept on the beach. There are now hotels, I was told in Thessaloniki. But they have to be booked, as does the visit to Mount Athos, which is subject to religious-quotas & available-dates.
Fortunately, there is now a Mount Athos Holy Executive Office in Thessaloniki, where you can obtain the Special Passport you have already requested via letter, phone, fax, or e-mail. There is also a small museum & bookshop at the mansion on 109 Odos Egnatia.
My long-ago Pilgrimage was a wonderful experience. One night I slept in a monastery-chamber with an ornate ceramic-tile stove and a Portrait of Czar Nicholas II, Emperor of All the Russias. Obviously a room originally reserved for Royal & Noble personages…
My immediate problem was that I was not only relatively poor—overseas sub-standard subsistence-pay from the University of Maryland—but that I also had only three rolls of film, with none available in the Monasteries, of course.
So, when I stood astounded before centuries-old Ikonostases in ancient monastery-churches, I could not use a flash—which didn’t work anyway—but had to make-do with 25 & 64 ASA Kodak film, as there was then nothing more sensitive available.
When Venerable Abbots took huge old keys to open the rusty locks on Monastery Libraries—where rats were feasting on the bindings of Ancient Manuscripts & the earliest Printed & Illuminated Books—I had almost no film-frames left.
I did take a picture of the Cloak of Alexander the Great, a Treasure of one of the oldest monastic-foundations. It was Old, but it didn’t really look Hellenic…
If—as promised—the Europe Theatre Prize will be again awarded in Thessaloniki, in 2008, I must plan for new Pilgrimage to Mount Athos, but this time with more film—and digital-chips. No Videography is allowed, however!
It is also forbidden to record the ancient Plainsong Byzantine Chants of the monks, sung from Missals that do not have Western musical-staffs, measures, or notations: only dots in lines on ancient vellum-pages, up or down in relation to each other, but with no bars…
Monasteries I would very much like to see—and photograph—again include Grand Lavra, Xeropotamou, St. Panteleimon, Vatopedi, Pantokrator, & Iveron.
After I returned from Athos in 1959—sitting in a café, waiting for the airport-bus—I was accosted by an imposing American Lady, with a British Accent. She resembeled one of those New Yorker Helen Hokinson caricatures of Upper-Class Manhattan Society Women.
She identified herself as Dr. Laura Bolton, "The Music-Hunter." She had with her a shiny new silver State-of-the-Art Sound-Recorder.
As no woman could go to Athos & its Monasteries, she was looking for a strong young man who could take this heavy apparatus up the Holy Mountain & record the Monks at their Matins and other Offices of their Religious Day—which seemed to begin at about 2 am, as they are on a different clock & calendar entirely…
My Athos Passport had expired. The airport-bus was leaving.
But I did make friends with Dr. Laura, whose worldwide collection of Native Musical-instruments was given to Columbia University. And I later chronicled her travels & discoveries in magazines such as Dance, Musical America, & even After Dark!
The Peter Zadel Briefwechsel:
After all the arrangements had been made to award the distinguished German director Peter Zadek the annual European Theatre Prize—the Eleventh, in April 2007, in Thessaloniki, in Northern Greece—only a few days before, he sent the General Secretary of the Premio Europa per il Teatro an astonishing letter—reprised below—which resulted in the cancellation of all the potentially interesting papers & panels by many major European critics, academics, & theatre-people on Zadek’s work in European Theatre over the decades. The Award was also cancelled…
Zadek’s letter was written in English, in which he is fluent, especially as he studied at the Old Vic Theatre School, after his family escaped from Nazi Germany. The letter follows:
Berlin April 19th, 2007
Dear Mr. Martinez
We had [sic] unfortunately to inform you, that our leading actor was diagnosed with cancer just before the beginning of “Twelfth Night.” In spite of this disaster I found a replacement for the actor, but of course the panic in the ensemble is great. Naturally under these circumstances I cannot undertake a little trip to Thessaloniki to receive a prize and have everyone say nice things about me.
I understand from Mr. Canaris that you are no longer prepared to give me the prize, if I am not personally there to receive it. Several suggestions have been made with the tv-version of an interview, done in Berlin, or a tv-link or Angela Winkler taking the prize for me. Mr. Canaris tells me, that if I am not there you not give me the prize at all. I should have thought that you would realize how ridiculous this makes you and your committee look. After all, I am getting the prize for my life’s work and not for using Olympic Airways. Your lack of understanding and the inhumanity of your behavior show a complete lack of understanding of the theatre which you are supposed to represent in Europe.
I have no doubt, that a little thought about the subject will change your attitude and behavior.
To which a number of Signatories connected with the award of the European Theatre Prize XI—as well as with the presentation of representative productions, papers, panels, & other festivities—responded thus:
Dear Mr. Zadek
Thank you for your letter. In it you tell us that your leading actor is ill and of course we are extremely sorry to hear this. On the other hand, you also tell us that you have found a replacement and we know that you have been rehearsing your new production in Berlin for more than two weeks. We understand, too, that ‘the show must go on,’ in spite of the difficulties and disturbances which that entails.
None of this explains the particularly aggressive tone of your letter, which casts doubt on the whole procedure for awarding the Europe Theatre Prize. It is a procedure—established with the European Commission in 1987—which has been accepted and respected by all previous winners, without exception, since the establishment of the Prize. It is impossible to set two standards, if only out of respect for the important personalities who have previously adapted their own programmes in order to come and spend some days at an event dedicated to them, which they have shared with great happiness and interest.
Artists such as Ariane Mnouchkine, Melina Mercouri (who was given a special prize to inaugurate the event), Peter Brook, Giorgio Strehler, Heiner Müller, Bob Wilson, Luca Ronconi, Pina Bausch, Lev Dodin, Michel Piccoli and Harold Pinter, without mentioning all the winners of the Europe Prize for New Theatre Realities, have made space in their calendar in order to collect their prize and take part in our activities during the days of the ceremony.
We would remind you of the generosity with which Heiner Müller, although already seriously ill, took part in the events dedicated to him in 1994. Although he too was in poor health, Harold Pinter (whom you had the pleasure of meeting) hired a private plane at his own expense in order to take part in our gathering in Turin. As you can see, there are useful alternatives to Olympic Airlines.
In the same spirit, the actor Jeremy Irons performed in London on the Saturday evening, yet joined us without demur in Turin on the Sunday to take part in the Gate Theatre, Dublin’s tribute, returning to London to perform on the following day.
May we also remind you that we, together with the National Theatre of Northern Greece, have worked hard to lend weight and prestige to your reputation and your work in theatre, in tailoring the structure of this event to your needs, even giving them precedence over the other winners.
We hope you will have realized how many personalities from European theatre have been involved in this homage to you, both in the colloquium devoted to your work which Dr. Canaris has carefully and enthusiastically put together and in the visit of your production for the Berliner Ensemble. In return, all we asked of you, taking account of your difficulties, that you give up no more than a single evening to the Europe Theatre Prize and at least come to collect your award.
We have to point out, finally, that the rule which you describe as ‘ridiculous’ is hardly unusual. Practically every prize that is awarded assumes that the winner will be present at the award ceremony, and you will know that this is the case with the Nobel Prize, the UNESCO Prize, the Prize of the State of Israel and the Japanese Imperial Prize. Ingmar Bergman declared straight away that he could not accept this condition and thus gave his implicit refusal of the Japanese prize.
You are not the only person with obligations. We have an obligation not to give up our statutory procedures for reasons that are not totally insuperable. The Prize’s Jury and Council, together with the organizing Committee, which includes the Hellenic Ministry of Culture, which is financing the occasion, all join in saying to you that this statutory requirement cannot be altered. We would ask you to accept the reciprocity which such an initiative implies, and we hope that you will be able to find a way to come to Thessaloniki. We invite you to come on Sunday to collect your prize, and leave on Monday. Please be aware that this already represents an exceptional compromise, in that up until now no prize-winner has ever been absent from the colloquium and readings devoted to their [sic] work.
As Brecht said, we must find a way out, but it must be a good one.
Hoping to see you on Sunday at the Prize ceremony, we remain
[Signatures for The Europe Theatre Prize, The International Jury, The Board of Directors of ETP, The Associate Bodies, The Organizing Committee, plus Ian Herbert, President of the International Association of Theatre Critics, the Secretary-General of he Ministry of Culture of Greece, and the Director of the National Theatre of Northern Greece.]
Europa Prize vs. Zadek Aftermath:
Ian Herbert—who shares the two letters above with our readers—has reported his reactions to this dismal affair in London Theatre Record, of which he is the founder and former publisher—succeeded as editor by his worthy colleague, Ian Shuttleworth, who was also on hand in Thessaloniki. But Herbert says there was an even earlier letter from Zadek—not made public—in which he effectually told the Committee to “send him the check.” And to request that the handsome golden Premio Europa per il Teatro plaque be presented to him in mid-June, at the premiere of his new production at the Berliner Ensemble
Copyright Glenn Loney, 2007. No re-publication or broadcast use without proper credit of authorship. Suggested credit line: "Glenn Loney, New York Theatre Wire." Reproduction rights please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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