There are currently four stages in operation at the National Theater of Greece, in Athens. The Main Stage and the Nikos Kourkoulos New Stage are at the Ziller Building, while the Marika Kotopouli Stage and the Katina Paxinou Stage, where the Experimental Theater is based, are at the Rex Theater, which is also home to the New Rex, in the basement of the building, which will reopen as a venue for children and young adults.
The National Theatre of Greece Ziller Building.
In 1880, and with a gift of 10,000 pounds from Efstratios Rallis, King George I decided to build a Royal Theater. The foundations are laid on Agiou Konstantinou Street in 1891 on a plot of land owned by Nikolaos Thon. The theater was built according to a design by the well-known Austrian architect Ernst Ziller, responsible for several other public buildings in Athens.
In 1901 the Drama School, begun operating. The Royal Theater opened its doors to the public. On December 30th, 1903, Aeschylusʼ Oresteia was staged in a prose translation by Yorgos Sotiriadis. The production sparked off a long linguistic conflict, as students from the School of Philosophy marched down Agiou Konstantinou in an attempt to halt the performance. The episodes that followed, known as the Oresteiaka, resulted in one death and ten injuries.
Rex Theatre, part of the Greek National Theatre, home of the Marika Kotopouli Stage, the Katina Paxinou Stage, the Experimental Theatre and the New Rex, in the basement of the building, which will reopen as a venue for young adults.
Between the years 1908 and 1932 the Royal Theater stopped its performances indefinitely. and remained closed, occasionally playing host to foreign theater companies. In 1930, the National Theater was founded, under an act of parliament, and on March 19th, 1932 it opened its doors. In 1938 the National Theater produced its first open-air production of ancient drama, as Sophoclesʼ Elektra was presented at the ancient theater of Epidaurus. Artistic Director Kostis Bastias brought well-known theater companies such as the Old Vic and the Gate Theatre to perform. In 1939 the touring theater company "Arma Thespidos" was founded. The first production was Shakespeareʼs Othello. The same year the Greek National Opera was established as part of the National Theater with Johann Straussʼs Die Fledermaus. Productions of Sophoclesʼ Elektra and Shakespeareʼs Hamlet, tour cities such as Cairo, Alexandria, Berlin and London.
In 1941, and for safety concerns, productions at the National Theater and the National Opera are transferred from the Central Theater to the Palace Theater on Voukourestiou Street, which has an air-raid shelter. In 1942, and during the Nazi occupation, Maria Callas makes her first professional appearance at the National Opera in Pucciniʼs Tosca. In 1944, the National Opera transfers to the Olympia Theater on Akadimias Street.
In 1954, sixteen years after Elektra, Dimitris Rondiris returns to the ancient theater at Epidaurus with Euripidesʼ Hippolytus, while a year later, in 1955, the Epidaurus Festival is established. Katina Paxinou stars as Hecate in Alexis Minotisʼ production of the play by Euripides. In 1956, the Nationalʼs Second Theater is founded, with the aim of producing new Greek plays. Its inaugural production is The Seventh Day of Creation by Iakovos Kampanellis. The first production of ancient comedy takes place at the Herodes Atticus Theater with Aristophanesʼ Ecclesiazusae. In 1971 the New Theater is founded and the Mobile Theater Unit is founded to tour the Greek provinces. The Childrenʼs Theater opens with Maurice Maeterlinckʼs The Blue Bird. In 1989, The Third Theater is founded in the garage of the National. Its first production is Peter Weissʼs Marat/Sade. In 1993 the Marika Kotopouli Theater opens in the Rex building with Dimitris Psathasʼ Von Dimitrakis.
In 1995, along with its new legal status as a ʽlegal entity governed by private lawʼ, the National gets a new Director, actor Nikos Kourkoulos. The Childrenʼs Theater opens with Perraultʼs Sleeping Beauty. A year later, in 1996, the Experimental Theater, the Empty Space and the Actorsʼ Workshop are founded. In 2002. the National becomes a member of the European Theater Convention, joining theaters from 23 European countries. In 2006, a contract is signed for the restoration of the National Theater building and the installation of new equipment and in 2008 the New Stage re-opens after seven years as the Nikos Kourkoulos New Stage, since Kourkoulos has died the previous year, with a production of Bernard-Marie Koltes’ Roberto Zucco.
In 2009, the Main Stage opened its doors to the public with a production of Nowhere by Dimitris Papaioannou. A specialist theatrical bookshop opens in the Ziller Building. In 2014, the National Theater took over the Irene Pappas School at 52 Pireos St. The first play-writing studio was held by the National Theater. In 2015, after an absence of eight years, the Experimental Stage reopened in the Katina Paxinou Auditorium at the Rex Theater. In 2016, the first international workshop on ancient drama was held in Delphi, in collaboration with the European Cultural Center of Delphi. In a joint production with Moscow’s Vakhtangov Theater, the National Theater staged Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, first at the Epidaurus Festival and then on an international tour. A shop opened in the bookshop at the Ziller Building, selling commemorative items inspired by the National’s productions. In 2017, the Young People's Stage, a theater especially for younger audiences, was founded.
The main stage at the Greek National Theatre, in Athens.
Detail of the colonnade of the Ziller Building, Greek National Theatre, Athens.