Martha Tompoulidou talks about her journey in theater and Clytemnestra Or The Crime by Marguerite Yourcenar.
Tell me few things about your journey!
I permanently moved to NY in 2001, as I was tired of Greece and how disorganized life can be there sometimes. I had a transitioning period of two years before I moved here, where I decided to stop working at the National Theater of Greece and thought of what the next step would be. I had visited New York while I was touring with the National Theater and I remembered that it felt like home for me. I got the Fulbright scholarship to study in NY for 9 months at HB Studios and this is how I am here now!
What is your connection with the Greek Cultural Center?
Coming to NYC, I had no idea what the Greek Cultural Center was! I spent my first couple of years in NY mostly in Manhattan, going to the theater and studying acting in English. The truth is I began to miss my language. Until one afternoon, I was having coffee with David, a fellow actor in an Italian coffee shop, eating zabaglione, and I heard someone speaking in Greek at the next table! That’s how I met Tassos Rigopoulos, professor at the New York Film Academy, who suggested I should visit the GCC.
That’s how I came to the GCC. My first collaboration here was with Olga George, who at that point was directing Who Discovered America at the GCC. That’s how I met Anna Giannetaki, who was the Artistic Director and the soul of the GCC. She asked me to direct their next production. I hadn’t directed before and I still don’t consider myself as a director. But Anna insisted. Our first production was the “Card Player” and it was very successful! One thing brought an other and I was directing more than acting.I think that’s how maybe I lost my roots. I am just saying that to talk about Clytemnestra. Just because I feel I found myself again with this project, returning to my original purpose in theater.
How did your relationship with Clytemnestra begin?
Back in Athens, maybe 18 years ago, I was performing at Theater Victoria in Dancing at Lughnasa by Brian Friel. One evening, some friends came to the show and they brought Michael Polatof, who was designing costumes for the Greek National Opera at the point. After the show, Michael Polatof said to my friends: “She is so strong, she is so powerful. She should play Marguerite Yourcenar’s Clytemnestra”. Twenty years ago, I had no clue who Yourcenar’s Clytemnestra was. Nevertheless, that’s how Clytemnestra got into my life!
When I moved to NYC, I used this text for scene studies again and again. I was talking to my friend, Tassis Christoyannis about this character and he also started writing music sketches year after year. As I was reading and dreaming of this character, he was also musically writing for this Clytemnestra for years.
So, 14 years later in NY, I found out about Solo Theater festival. All these years, I didn't feel comfortable performing in English. Coming from Europe, struggling with an accent, I never auditioned or performed in the English language. I decided it was about time and when I had to fill out the paper work and choose a play, Clytemnestra was an obvious choice!
So, what do you mean that with Clytemnestra you found yourself again?
Clytemnestra is based on the original greek tragedy. I feel very connected to Greek Tragedy. I performed at Ancient Theater of Epidaurus before I graduated from acting school. I very fast became part of the chorus, the lead of the chorus, the understudy of the parts of Medea, Chrysothemis and Clytemnestra. That’s who I was. When I moved to NYC, I lost contact with ancient theater.
Clytemnestra is a part I love and she is me. She could exist in an ancient greek theater. She could exist in a theater made of stone.
You have played both Clytemnestras (the one of the original tragedy of Aeschylus and now Clytemnestra by Yourcenar). How different was your experience with each of them?
The original Clytemnestra is evil. She is written in history as the murderess. She is waiting for her husband to return, the honorable Agamemnon, in order to kill him and revenge the sacrifice of her daughter, Iphigenia.
Yourcenar has nothing to do with this evil Clytemnestra. Her Clytemnestra is written from the perspective of love. She wrote this character who is completely in love, completely devoted to her husband. Her Clytemnestra is just a woman in love with Agamemnon, married to him from a very young age, being his wife and his priestess, loving him as a god. She feels abandoned when he leaves her for this war. Most importantly, after ten years of absence, Agamemnon returns with a mistress. There is this line that leads Yourcenar’s Clytemnestra to the murder: “he didn’t even look at me”. I think this is what makes her kill him. I think she is a woman who kills because she can’t stand his indifference.
However, the problem is that you never heal from a broken heart, even if you kill your love. Agamemnon haunts her as a ghost, so the story repeats itself again and again.
Which Clytemnestra is closer to you?
I believe that one can find inside them any part. We have everything inside us. An actors’ great and sometimes painful task is to find the elements of hate, jealousy or abandonment. I think Yourcenar’s Clytemnestra is closer to me. She was an easier journey for me. Still painful, because Clytemnestra is in pain. I had to discover again betrayal and abandonment, but that was easier than hate. She is more human. She is more of a woman. That’s why I hear the women in the audience cry. They recognize themselves in Yourcenar’s Clytemnestra.
What’s coming after Clytemnestra?
I am part of a production Agamemnon by Aeschylus, the first part of Oresteia’s trilogy. It’s going up at La MaMa Theater for 4 performances, on 2/18 - 21. La Mama Theater is a historical venue for greek tragedy and this production will be in Greek with English super-titles. It’s an Eclipses Group Theatre of New York and Actors Without Borders production, directed by Zishan Uğurlu. I am playing the Herald; a modern interpretation of the Herald as a woman who joined the army, completely devoted to Agamemnon, returning after 10 years of war to announce that the war is over!
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Martha Tompoulidou was born in Thessaloniki where she graduated from the Aristotle University with a degree in Greek Literature. With her diploma from the Athens School of Drama, she worked as an actress with the National Theatre of Greece in productions of Medea and Electra as Medea’s understudy and chorus leader, in the ancient theater of Epidaurus and world tours. In her twenty years professional experience Ms Tompoulidou was very lucky to work with great directors as: L. Koniordou, Thomas Moshopoulos, S. Hatzakis, N. Kontouri a.o She participated in numerous productions of modern repertoire (Dancing in Lugnasa, The Cage with the Sparrows a.o) and in ancient drama productions of the so called Free Theater (Ecclessiastes, Antigone, Iphigenia in Tauris, Women’s Passions a.o.) Ms Tompoulidou performed with the internationally acclaimed baritone Anastassis Christoyannis in different concerts for the Onassis Foundation, the Festival of Religious Music in Patmos and the Music Festival in Porto Heli. Her appearances at Megaron Concert Hall of Athens include the musicals: "Once upon a time a little prince...", “Christmas Carol” (performed with her theatrical adaptation and lyrics) and “Somewhere I have never travelled”. In 2001 Ms Tompoulidou won the Fulbright scholarship and came in NY where she took acting, dancing and singing classes in HB Studio and the Broadway Dance Center. In NY she has collaborated as a director and an actor with the Greek Cultural Center (Who Discovered America, Trojan Women, Filumena Marturano, Madame Sousou conquers Manhattan a.o.), Theatron Inc. (Smile please, Mama's Boy a.o) the Resonance Ensemble Theater (Time to Burn) and the Federation of Greek Societies of NY (The Christmas Carol). In 2008 she was the founder and Artistic Director of Theater “Ichneftes” that staged "The 3Penny Youth", "This One and That One" ,“If the Glove Fits”, “San Palio Cinema”and “My Fair Lady” .Ms Tompoulidou is currently the hostess of the radio program “Songs speak always the truth” at Hellas FM Radio Station. “Clytemnestra or the crime” was performed at the United Solo Theater Festival 2015 in NY.