Last Monday I decided I would book some tickets for a theatre play which would be on until Sunday (today) and decided I could leave it until the last minute . When I went online on Saturday I saw it was sold out. I thought there must be a mistake. Information on the play presented it to be an odd mix of music, theatre and visuals in French (with Greek surtitles, but still) which, in my view, would not atrract a large number of people.
Sunday morning I decided to go to the actual ticket booth and check again. Surely there would be some tickets available, or maybe some last minute cancellations. Nothing.
I called my friend, a foreigner living in Athens, who was supposed to join me for the show and told her about the unexpected popularity of the play. She then made an interesting remark. It seems the economic crisis has hit all aspects of life in Greece, except one: The arts. I stopped to think about it for a moment.
Restaurants, bars are half (or completely) empty, stores all over the city are closing down faster than you can say ‘debt crisis’, people are losing their jobs every day, but cultural life seems to be booming. There are more plays, exhibitions, music and all sorts of other smaller of bigger cultural events taking place than ever before, most of which are drawing in big crowds.
I remember the other night going to see Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris”. There were so many people queuing outside the cinema, the online booking system jammed and we had to stand for half an hour to get our tickets.
Athens’s 17th International Film festival was a huge success. I had to fight for tickets to some shows, the vast majority of which were independent films and documentaries from around the world – not pop-corn blockbusters.
Another night, while having a drink at a bar on Karitsi square, I noticed the big crowds gathering outside the theatre across the street were a comedy was. A week later, the same.
About two weeks ago I went to Technopolis – a really cool, urban culture venue – for a bicycle show. It was packed – not just with the usual suspects (healthy-living freaks), but with families, 60-year-old couples, I even spotted a couple of upper class thirty-somethings who opted for some sleek designer bikes that looked like two-wheel Porsche.
Is it fair to say then that recession-struck Athenians are turning to art in these bleak times? I do not have official numbers in my hands, but daily evidence seems to be pointing to this. Maybe it’s people’s need to have some fun, maybe it’s consolation, maybe a reaction to the economic (and moral) breakdown that is occuring, it may just be a way to forget your problems for two hours, or could it be a return to basics?
Art is basics. It reminds you you’re human. It works like a kind of a mirror for societies and – if it’s good – like a flashlight too.
Or maybe it’s just a coincidence.