About the Free self-managed Embros Theatre

As every story in capitalism, in fact, in the state of exception, it had its limits.

This text was written during a workshop regarding the “commons”, self-management as well as art and politics. The reading took place on Sunday, June 7, 2015 along with the writings of Stephanos M. and Christina T. The workshop was interrupted.

“The various forms of the “commons”, produced today, are not a prefiguration of the “communist society”, a future that we simply “must accomplish”, not “micro communisms” (such a meaning is absurd by itself). They are alternative forms of management of the social reproduction of the proletariat under capitalism, and as such they are registered into its logic, as a positive development of its own categories, even when they clearly question it and turn against it.”

Embros theatre, not as a home but as a place of borders.

It is due to its appropriation, to the fact that they/we turned the place into their home, without understanding the nomadic character of the occupations, and being attached to Embros theatre they/we are trapped in it.
“A place-bridge” claims Gloria Anzaldua, adding that “it is necessary to leave home and the illusion of its security, if we want to bridge and attempt to create a community” the danger is twofold: of integration and exclusion.
For many of the incidences that take/took place in Embros Theatre the reason is that many felt/feel this place as their home which they refuse to share, wishing for it to provide this illusion of safety and did not try to create a community but to appropriate the space, often by bringing with them numerous personal belongings (clothes, food, pasta, material from political organizations, bags, and as they do at their homes they used it for personal reasons, plans, meetings with friends, etc.) ..

A place with strong memories

The energy within this place’s atmosphere and its strong memory (building’s architecture, used as a printing-house, used as an innovative theater of Athens) has contributed to that. Initially the dialogue with the building resulted in actions that took place within the building and had to do with its individual premises. For example Christina K. with “Kolektiva Omonia” used the dressing room, Stefanos Ch. with the “Body and Politics” used the stage area and many more other areas. Now the building is stripped, and vulnerable, and its ability to inspire “poetry” has been restricted.

The building, through various situations, mainly due to the parties that took place, has suffered many damages and has been “emptied”. It is often treated as an empty building and not as a building of particular sensitivity, of important architecture for the city, a monument-urban event.

Embros theatre, a place of politics and art. Art in order to have political meaning should do more than just talk about politics. It should propose another way of expression, another methodology. Initially the experimental character and the search for political-artistic expression was intense regarding the activation of Mavili Movement. This trend continued and intensified even after its exit. Initially, what was true and mentioned at the meetings was the desire of many people to produce new forms of art and life and to experiment in Embros Theatre. As Elpida Karaba writes in her text “Revolution or Reformism? Embros, a Suggestion Please. “Criticism of institutions – institutions of criticism”. The space gave opportunities for collective actions, for new collaborations, as it provides many options. It causes arguments, discussions inside and outside Embros theatre, inside and outside the realm of art, which concern not only the artistic field but mainly extend beyond it”.

It is indicative that Manuela Gandini from Alfabeta magazine refers extensively to Embros theatre in her article “siamo tutti greci” (we are all Greeks). There was a collective imagination for an alternative political art that was implemented partially. The assassination of Alexis Grigoropoulos, the uprising of 2008 and the beginning of the precariousness of the artists had an important role in creating through time a different perception of art. The occupation of the Lyric theatre was a strong political art movement of small duration, for which the Embros theatre could have been considered as its continuation. A place with an important and completely new artistic production of experimental nature. At Embros theatre experimental art festivals with a political character have been held such as the “Queer Festival”, “Where are we now”, “Body and Politics”, “Frida Kahlo” etc. These actions sought different expressions in art under the current circumstances. This changed with the anti-fascist movement, which had the character of large kinematic festivals where performances that were usually held elsewhere were introduced in this place, often with great demands in lighting and scenes. It also changed because many groups simply wanted to present their performance without any involvement with others. There is a segregation regarding the audience -the performance -the party -the event, the massive attendance of the audience begins to have great importance. Gradually the “inner part” of Embros began to reproduce the “outer part” that does not allow the creation of a new ecology at the “inner part”, the emerge of a new perception regarding art and life as it seemed initially, and for a long time afterwards.

We tried through the “Body and politics” to look at the body in its present condition and its experimental expression in the place. The “the unrealized Journey” was an attempt through languages, events and body expression to engage different people from different countries, and to tell the stories of their journey to Athens, to express themselves physically around the borders they constantly faced in their journey as well as in the city of Athens. The readings of the texts of architect G. Marnelaki involved different people in a small community. The important thing was the process-reading which was conducted every week and resulted in an open two-day event with actions, lectures, installations. Actions such as the “We were driven out of here” and “Revolution Bodies” connected Embros theatre with other city sites through a mapping of nomadic spaces and flows within the city, such as the route of the displaced immigrants of Menandrou Str., the social centre for immigrants (Steki metanaston), Omonia, Nomiki (Law school) etc. The “Revolution Bodies”, route to the city center, was a review through the performativity at “Rethink Athens” as well as at the “Reactivate” and the project “Discovering the National Garden” that was then the dominant narrative about the city center, leaving aside the residents, their striking problems, their rights in their city and their story. It suggested another reading of the route through stops at specific locations that are connected with the collective memory of the city, with the common and with the struggles and uprisings in Athens and elsewhere. The narratives were about the Theatre Square and the Boukoura Theatre, the Municipal Theatre of Athens and its habitation by refugees from Asia Minor disaster, the occupation of the “refugee housing complex” and its current residents, the December 2008 and the assassination of Alexandros Grigoropoulos along with memories from the Paris Commune, the Chiapas, the crosstalk at the police station with Electra Apostolou, the events of December ‘44 in Athens, ending up in the National Garden.

Creating a new language was approached but it was not feasible.

The problem was the creation of a language, of a totally new vocabulary, which we feel that we have sometimes approached. Which had new political aspects and new methodologies for the artistic, but was often lost in the everyday life routine of a political confrontation, which retained the same vocabulary after the civil war, an artistic approach that was trapped inside bourgeois stereotypes, spectators, actors-stars.

Embros theatre as a shelter in a city center that is war zone. Openness.

Initially we imagined Embros theatre to be open to the city diversities. It also was the confrontation point at the meetings regarding the Mavili Movement. We continued exploring the meaning of the concept “common good”. Embros was created in a situation which was characterized as a crisis in the center of Athens. Because of this crisis, the precarity linked to poverty and war , the fear of a new geography in Athens, Embros theatre acted as a shelter. Insecure artists, immigrants, without official documents, wanderers of the city found their place here. In 2012, 2013 it was a living space of confrontation, of creative nature and a shelter for the nomadic subjects of Athens. Indicative of this was the Christmas meal in 2013, which had a great turnout and dynamism, as a different potential community gathered in the stage area around a large table.

During the workshops “Embros as a common good” and the “Workshop about the city center”, a series of discussions took place regarding the center of Athens and were actively opposed to the crisis management aiming at its new mapping (Xenios Zeus, Rethink etc). Important for the continuity of the Embros theatre was the workshop of Gigi Argyropoulou, Ypatia Vourloumi “support, questions of participation and mobilization. (Where are we now)”.

Now, the circumstances in the center are redefined and while the war is still a fact, and the crisis deepens, it is covered by a apparent calm derived from tourism which increases unpredictably as well as from the cultural tourism which now regards “Embros” as an attraction and is intensified due to the Documenta about to be held in Athens as well as in several artists’ spaces in the center of the city. As it seems, at least during the current situation, there is no social mass that will support the social transformation and the vulnerable circumstances of the city’s center, the opposite in fact.

Embros theatre in these circumstances is open because it accepts proposals. Closed now because those who want to do something experimental and free will not come here easily because their mood will be spoiled, the creativity will disappear from the atmosphere of the space which is characterized by hegemonic trends .

Not management but self-management

“We are like birds, we fly everywhere, but we need the trees to rest. Autonomy is the most essential for the future… so, let’s fight with discipline, with companionship and unity, let’s learn how to see and to be seen, let us do our own thing, take the destiny of our fight in our hands by building the autonomy… ”

Some wish and love being managers. The management is hegemony. The management is against the autonomy of the subjects. We have the ways to fight this mentality, not its patriarchal ideology but to learn to live among cultures and tribes.

A twofold risk for the space is the integration to specific identities and the risk of exclusion. In the space, the decline of fixed identities such as “man”, “woman”, “couple”, “groups with very strong principles”,“families” was obvious. On the contrary, it was interesting how relationships were created during actions that took place in the space. The volatility of the borders several times appeared to be the desired result of the actions in the space. Now the fencings are visible.

The relationship with the local community and the resistance against ennoblement.

Since 1998 when the decree was issued regarding the removal of crafts and workshops from the area, the entertainment places pose a threat to the neighborhood which led it to a peculiar gentrification and displacement of the craft and traditional workshops as well as of the residents.

Embros theatre of the parties has nothing to do with antifascism, with self-management, with solidarity, as violence, selfishness, complacency and contempt grows there.

At the beginning of its operation it was a form of resistance against the ennoblement that had prevailed in the area and several actions took place along with the residents. Many residents participated in the actions and then in the occupation, and those who did not participate felt satisfied that the space finally was opened, they participated actively and showed their support. They contributed by providing water, internet access, food, by coming to our events, taking part in the discussions, signing so that it would not be shut down etc. In the meal that took place in the square, inhabitants participated along with artists, wanderers of the city and artisans.

Besides, the residents had made representations to the city council in order to open the space. Gradually the residents left.
The parties contribute to the ennoblement in the way they are conducted: loud music, massive turnout etc. This is when the space looks like those places we tried to remove from the area.

Mobility in the city, hegemony in conflict with the upcoming communities. What will prevail?

The gap between us grew because we stayed in Embros for a long time doing nothing, while we could have done other similar actions in the city a long time ago, something that was often discussed in the first meetings, meaning to establish in Athens a network of artistic spaces -occupation sites -municipal common areas. It was converted to a space that caged wishes and where hegemonic tendencies were created.

What also contributed to the rupture was a closed group with fixed, immutable principles with hegemonic tendencies which was often presented as more powerful and structured, displacing the others with its behavior so as to ensure dominance in the space. Also this climate was intensified by “closed groups” that simply gave a performance in the space and then left.
Nevertheless, I want to believe that the upcoming communities will continue to be generated unpredictably in Embros theatre through kinship relations and solidarity. This is how the action for the Syrian refugees was conducted in Syntagma Square along with poems and texts in different languages. Well-established anti-hierarchical forms, were born in the past from groups consisting of immigrants, queers, feminists, actors and certainly not by closed groups that give a performance in the place or by those who systematically, through outmoded methods, seek hegemony alone.

Today it is a place that is fighting against the ideology of hegemony by mixing different voices. And many of those who were formerly involved in the place, during these rough circumstances, feel displaced.

Eleni Tzirtzilaki