We’d all been anticipating the Paniri festival since our first day in Papingo. Then, in the middle of our third week, as the days got hotter and we got more exhausted, we started to question how our show would ever come together. We needed something to look forward to; so after getting out of rehearsal early, putting on clean clothes, and eating a big dinner, we were more than ready for the festivities. But, no one was actually expecting a huge blowout party – that wasn’t really the point. It was just the idea of some dancing, music, wine and food with everyone in the village that was feeding our excitement. That week you could almost feel the whole town vibrating.
Our rehearsal the next morning had already been pushed back an hour so that we could enjoy the late night fun. As soon as the night began I was able to release all the stress and exhaustion that always seems to come a week before a performance. And there was an energy amongst all the apprentices – it’s like we’d all silently committed to being fully present the Paniri tonight.
That night, the church square that we rehearse in everyday was transformed – with just a few rows of twinkling lights, scattered tables, and live music, this village center became a hub of celebration. Everyone had a pitcher of wine, a stick of souvlaki, or a rooster lollipop in hand. In the center were the sounds of a tambourine, drums, guitars, and an intricate clarinet solo. This band – by day the local men in the village, were now leading the festivities with traditional Greek song. Everyone was there: Demetrius who took us beekeeping, Alex and Daphne who led us on our horse ride, and all the village kids we play with on our rehearsal breaks. In the middle of it all, a circle of people were holding hands and dancing together.
The traditional Greek dances vary depending on locale. Here, in the mountains, they were slow and deliberate, but by no means easy. After joining in I would study the footwork of my fellow dancers and just as I felt like I was getting it, the song would end and they would start up a whole new dance. It made me admire the people of Papingo that much more. The dances and customs and traditions of the village came alive in front of my eyes. And we were all invited to participate and revel in them together.
The people of Papingo have continued to embrace us – a group of 20 strangers and foreigners – doing weird (and sometimes loud) theater in the middle of villages. But as we share our rehearsal and performances with them, they share their lives, church squares, and customs with us. The festival was the perfect example of their generosity, and we appreciated their kindness with our wholehearted participation and excitement. Even when we did the wrong step, or broke off from the circle – things you aren’t really supposed to do – they continued to welcome us into their world.
One reason the Paniri festival is such an important occasion is because everyone participates in it together. As my fellow actor, Katherine explained to me, even if you disagree on everything, you still hold the each other’s hand and dance together, and maybe you can start from there. Katherine, and our teacher, Leon, also pointed out that this phenomenon is very similar to seeing a play. You sit next to someone, who you don’t necessarily agree with, and share the unifying common experience, and suddenly you have a place to start. And that’s why I do theater – I think, ultimately, it’s why we all do theater. Because after weeks of sweat, sore muscles, miles of walking, difficult Greek text, and tense collaboration sessions, we all come together, for two nights, at a local festival, drink just the right amount of wine, hold each others hands, and dance under twinkly lights and bright stars. And the next day, when we get back to rehearsing and devising, we can start from there.