Sarantos-Georgios Zervoulakos returns to the Max Reinhardt Seminar as a visiting professor of drama directing

For the current academic year of 2023/24, director Sarantos-Georgios Zervoulakos is teaching as a visiting professor of drama directing at the Max Reinhardt Seminar—which is not the first time he’s returned to the institution where he originally studied. Then as now, what he values most of all about the Seminar is Max Reinhardt’s concept of an ensemble that allows actors and directors to “grow up” in an atmosphere of close interaction and mutual inspiration. “Within a given year’s group, special relationships develop that ideally last for life,” enthuses Zervoulakos. “Some former Seminar students keep in touch with each other even decades down the road.”

At the Seminar, he says, one not only gets to know intriguing personalities whose theatrical careers go on to develop in various directions but also joins them in learning professional tools, criteria, and codes—a language in which to communicate about artistic objectives and content. “One of the Max Reinhardt Seminar’s strongest points is definitely how you learn this language here together, because theatrical work is largely about communication. It’s essential to be able to get what you want to say across. And even if you’ll indeed go on to develop new codes in every project, in every production process, it’s hugely advantageous to have trained this kind of fundamental communication for whenever you really need it.”

© Konstantinos Giannakis

Sarantos-Georgios Zervoulakos, born in Greece in 1980 as the son of a Greek father and a German mother, grew up in Germany and studied medicine before deciding in favour of theatre in 2006 and successfully applying to the Max Reinhardt Seminar’s Drama Directing programme. In this new pursuit, Vienna came to serve him as important and fertile artistic soil: “I grew up bilingual, so I learned to read codes in different ways fairly early in life. And for me, Vienna turned out to be a wonderful intermediate position between the two cultures I’m from. I suddenly found myself in a third, which provided me with a good vantage point from which to look upon the first two—the German and the Greek. Vienna is my artistic hometown; that’s something I can feel, even if I’ve since worked and continued to work elsewhere.” He’s quite often been accompanied by statements and thoughts from his student days—like when working at the theatres in Düsseldorf, Graz, and Leipzig, at the Residenztheater in Munich, at Vienna’s Burgtheater and Theater in der Josefstadt, and at the other venues where he’s directed productions since 2010.

Zervoulakos also began working more in Greece—where the years since 2016 have seen him lead productions at the National Theatres in Athens and Thessaloniki as well as projects at the Onassis Cultural Center in Athens, at the Achilleion Museum on Corfu, for the German embassy in Athens, and most recently—in 2023—at the ancient amphitheatre used by the Athens and Epidaurus Festival, with whose support he invited Max Reinhardt Seminar directing students to intern with him in Epidaurus. “It’s particularly exciting to work there in what’s more or less the cradle of theatre, just as it was to get to know the students through exchange about an actual production. Before the backdrop of the amphitheatre, we talked a lot about one of Max Reinhardt’s major themes: dealing with places and their specific energies.”

Sarantos-Georgios Zervoulakos together with students, Epidauros © Holle Münster

In his role as a teacher, Zervoulakos seeks to be a companion who supports students in exploring their own personalities and artistic passions. “I don’t want to stipulate any particular aesthetic, because there is no generally valid truth—I just try to make suggestions about approaches, content, and directional decisions, and I try to provide inspiration in terms of how to go about working as a director. Moreover, I find it interesting when I encounter people in the work I’m doing at the Seminar who bring to the table ways of thinking and working that I couldn’t have previously imagined.” The conversations about Max Reinhardt begun in Epidaurus can now be taken up once more in practical directing work at the Seminar. The Max Reinhardt Seminar’s “venerable old baroque palace” in Penzing holds great potential for Zervoulakos: “It’s here that so much in the way of essential ideas and content was formulated that constitute something like the backbone, the craft of a thespian. Max Reinhardt himself, after emigrating to the US, carried forward the idea of the Seminar as a “workshop”—and today, we can discover anew just what’s developed at this institution since its founding, how the issues that Max Reinhardt dealt with have developed. To me, that’s what’s special about this place—the fact that every generation gets to work through and answer these questions anew for itself, equipped with a wonderful space in which to do so. And in this respect, theatre is like cooking: it needs to happen again and again and will always be necessary, because we both want to and have to eat. And the question there, which also applies to the theatre, is: How to do it well again and again?”

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