In Conversation with Dimitra Kaisari
In March 2023, Sofia Pantouvaki, scenographer-costume designer and a collaborator for the last 25 years with the honoured creator-maker Dimitra Kaisari, discussed with her on the occasion of the work The Maker’s Hands. Below is the essence of this conversation.
– My work has been a thrilling journey! A course with sharp shifts and an incredible variety of experiences. Each new project has been a surprise and a challenge!
– No commission is the same as any other. This in itself is a never-ending development and training. When I first started working, every year was a milestone that shaped me.
– The experience I find most extraordinary was the projects in Epidaurus in the late ‘90s. At that time, we all used to move to Epidaurus for a week to prepare the show. I remember walking across the stone path from the stage to the dressing rooms under the pine trees and, in profound awe, feeling connected to the people who, thousands of years ago, had been running around the place like I did to setup, paint, stitch and be ready in time for the premiere! I had the exact same experience at the ancient theatres of Delphi, Philippi and Dion.
– Every single meeting and collaboration with scenographers and costume designers is a unique experience of personal development. Without exception, all collaborations have been an apprenticeship, a milestone and development! Far from being ordinary, designers are inspired individuals, living in a world of imagination and visions. There is an idiosyncratic visual universe in each one of them that you must penetrate to do your job well.
– While I work as a theatre technician, I have never felt it is not creative. The creative part of my work is precisely about exploring other people’s minds, understanding what they want and interpreting designs and their descriptions. Technical knowledge is a sine qua non for an idea to be realised. The technical process is creation and when it is realised successfully, both sides are immensely happy!
– The primary means of communication is drawings and sketches, the visual reference to what designers imagine. The better this concept is communicated, the better the result. There are costume designers who want something very concrete, while with others we work hand-in-hand to discover it – in either case, a very creative process!
– Makers have their individual “hand”, style and aesthetics. The same drawing may be realised in a different way by each maker. Often, when I enter wardrobes, I find objects I have completely forgotten they were made in my own studio, but I recognise my technique!
– Perception, understanding and respect for one’s concept is required in my work. Beyond that, the more experienced and trained you are, the easier and better your work is. I’d say that for special constructions and costume accessories you should be a Jack-of-all-trades!
– Technology has become an indispensable part of theatre, making long processes much easier. New materials, especially thermoplastics, have made our work much easier. However, new technologies have not been fully adopted in my studio yet – we proceed based on traditional manual processes. Many of our tools are indeed very old, antiques!
– Generally, everything is set on paper three-dimensional models -paper pattern drafting- to understand the object three-dimensionally. In some cases, a quick modelling clay mock-up, or a wire frame can also help.
– There are people with brilliant personalities who inspire and guide you. Harmonious collaboration is crucial to a good result.
– Last-minute commissions are the worst, worse than even a tight budget. You may tremendously like what you are asked to make and keen to realise a challenging construction. If there is time, you can work on it alongside more profitable projects and get great creative pleasure in it.
– The greatest joy is to see your constructions animated on stage! If the whole performance works well, then you feel proud.
– One of the greatest difficulties is that manual work is never paid as much as it is worth. In Greece, it is only in the last years that all technical collaborators have been included in performance programmes.
– If completed properly, my work ends with the premiere. It leaves our hands and thereafter exists as an independent scenic entity.
– In my entry model for the Fragments II exhibition, I meant to bring my collaborations and the objects born from them, into a flowing composition of mini-constructions foregrounding a shared creative path!