How 100 directors in 100 countries took on a massive technical and linguistic challenge

Imagine having to direct a theatre performance online to be held abroad and with actors with whom you don’t share the same language. Imagine having to depend on a translator to communicate with your actors and hope for God-like internet speed. Perhaps you can’t imagine all of that if you’re not in the theatre world, but most of us experienced what it’s like to navigate work online this year and I can only imagine the challenges of having to produce a dramatic performance solely via Zoom. For Cypriot theatre director Maria Varnakkidou, this was her reality when she was invited to join a global theatre project.

The Hektometron Project is probably the most complex theatre production and possibly the longest show in history. One hundred directors from 100 countries worked on 100 texts from Giovani Boccaccio’s The Decameron which were then broadcasted over 100 days on www.hektomeron.com. That sounds so complex, we had better take things from the beginning.

The Marin Sorescu National Theatre Craiova, one of Romania’s biggest theatres and a landmark theatre in Craiova, with a 170-year tradition in theatre production, held the international project earlier this year amidst global lockdowns hoping to spread a universal message of hope.

Inspired by Decameron, Giovanni Boccaccio’s collection of novellas written over 650 years ago, the project staged the book’s 100 short stories covering themes that reflect all too well our Covid-19 world. Isolation, fear and death are present just as they were at the time Decameron was written in the immediate aftermath of the Black Death that struck Florence in 1348.

The Hektromeron project acts as a parallel between the 14th-century plague and our pandemic. Just as the characters in the Decameron quarantined themselves outside of the Italian town, the project’s directors and actors dove into the safe space of the internet to create together a landmark in theatre history during a moment when the pandemic stopped the world but kickstarted the creative opportunities.

Beginning on January 15, 2021, the project unfolded with a story staged in Romanian by a different director every day. The final story of The Hektomeron was broadcast on April 24 where all 100 episodes were made available for people to watch at home on www.hektomeron.com.

For Cyprus’ participation, Marin Sorescu contacted the Cyprus Theatre Organisation who invited Maria Varnakkidou to take part in the project and direct one of the stories.

“For us in Cyprus,” Maria told the Cyprus Mail, “Covid restrictions began to be loosened during the time I was working on this project… It was very challenging because with online rehearsals you lose the physical connection between people, and physical connection and communication it’s very important for me while creating.

“However, you adapt and you find new possibilities to create work. The most challenging part was the language barrier. I was assigned an amazing girl called Anastasia Tudos who was the translator between me and my assigned actress. She was a talented lady called Geni Macsim who did not speak English, so Anastasia was translating all my comments and directions to Geni in Romanian and the story was performed in Romanian.”

Maria’s and Geni’s piece was fittingly a story about a king of Cyprus. Titled ‘The Ninth Story’ this tale was about a woman who visited the island and was treated badly by some men. Upset by their behaviour she decides to complain to the king of Cyprus only to discover that he is a rather passive and indifferent ruler. She goes anyway and her determination awakens the king and gives him the courage to confront life head-on.

Maria rewrote the tale and decided to take a minimalistic approach for its setting. Working with the actress and the translator online for eight days, they managed to create a 14-minute performance, all the while producing the story in Romanian! Their story was performed on March 15 and is still available to watch on the project’s website, along with all other productions.

That was the task of each director, all 100 of them, to find a way to portray the story in their own artistic view. Each day, a director presented their creation live online and over the course of 100 days spectators gathered from 2,500 cities in 168 countries. The grand event of the project though took place on the longest day of the year. On June 21, the company performed for 25 hours and 38 minutes in front of a live audience in the theatre’s main hall, but also for viewers from 78 countries creating a bold theatrical statement about being together as one world during the pandemic times.

“The Covid-era has been very shocking for all of us,” says Varnakkidou, “in these unusual times we managed to discover new ways of creating work and connect with people and for that, I am very grateful.”

To watch Maria Varnakkidou’s piece visit: www.hektomeron.com/cyprus