Zoom levels the playing field. Ambitious companies are taking to zoom to get their work done and ambitious actors are staying relevant on these cyber works. Scoring major kudos these days is CHRYSI SYLAIDI. A commanding presence, Chrysi shared her thoughts on coming to the U.S. — going from Greece to Queens!
What inspired you to come to New York to be an artist?
Leaving Greece was a big decision. I’ve been acting on stage since I was 13 years old and grew up loving my country and the amazing Theatrical tradition we have in it. Of course, there where problems, but that is common everywhere. However, after a while I already knew that eventually, I also wanted to live abroad for at least a period of my life. I wanted to challenge myself and my beliefs, try to become a citizen of the world. Sometimes we think reality is what we see around us and then we just accept it. We don’t change it or transform it into something else. We just get used to it. I have learned that custom is a slow death for the hungry child we all have inside. My opinion, and I am learning that through experience, is that that child and the relationship we have with it, is one of the most important factors for balance and happiness in life. So, by allowing myself to take a leap of faith, dream a life abroad and then pursuing it, I was also offering space for that child to keep on searching. To stay curious. One thing led to the next and I visited New York. In my heart a fell in love with this City immediately. I knew that this is the place that would keep me active, that would challenge me in all kinds of ways. I wanted to grow. And as I learned from my studies at the Adler Studio, growth as an actor and growth as a human being are synonymous. So, I moved here and since then it has been a true journey, full of challenges and amazing collaborations. I have definitely grown immensely both as an actor and as a human being. Which was always my objective.
As Elizabeth Proctor in The Crucible with actor- Nikos Spiridonos
What are the artistic differences between your home country and New York?
In New York it is all about the structure. It is a taf place, an expensive place. So, people here really appreciate their time and they expect you to do so too. You need to get the job done well and quickly. It’s just facts. For example, most of the time in a month long rehearsal process you must have a show and be ready to perform. This can feel sometimes rushed, but it teaches you to be more active and more efficient. The same mentality exists in the film industry. Things are fast. So, in order to keep up and actually do a good job, you need structure and you need to stay active. The motto is, think less, do more and keep moving based on trial and error. In Europe it feels like there is more time for you to go deeper with your work. You have more time to explore your art,your characters, your shows. Work is not focused so much on the productivity-quantity of it all, but on the quality. It is more of a full experience. That part I miss. But as a person that usually overthinks things and has attributes of a perfectionist, sometimes I end up taking a lot of time for my work in order to make sure that the result is as good as it can possibly be and that is not always for the best. I am learning more and more that perfection is an illusion and the real beauty is hiding in the imperfections. In any case, I see the benefits of both worlds, so I think the silver lining is somewhere in the middle and that is what I am after in my acting and in my artistic collaborations.
As Hermionie in The Winter’s Tale with actor- Yann Hicke as Leontes -Stella Adler Studio of Acting
How has it been as an artist in New York? Tell us about some of your projects.
It has been a gift that keeps on giving even when it is challenging you in the most intense way. The people from all the different backgrounds I have met, the places I have been, the art I have been exposed to, the amazing artistic collaborations I’ve had the chance to be a part of, even being here through this pandemic they have all influenced my life is such a big way that it is difficult to sum it up in a few sentences. I will share though two special acting moments that come into my mind right now. In the spring of 2019 I had the opportunity to perform the iconic role of Hermione in Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” at the Stella Adler Studio. Shakespeare’s magical play, the talented director Ian Gould, the fantastic cast, the role and the whole production made my work as an actor so so easy and enjoyable. It is from those times as a performer that you can just relax and focus on exploration and on deepening your work. We were also incredibly honored to have all of our shows sold out. Personally, the beauty and peaceful strength of Hermione’s soul will stay in my heart for ever. She is an incredible female lead and I would strongly suggest it to any actor if they are given the opportunity. The second show I want to bring up, is “Sabbath Elevator”. This was a show that I acted in but also produced. The play was an original piece by Ellen Pober Rittberg, directed by Fotis Batzas, and it was featured at the Greek Cultural Center as part of TeamTheatre’s Fun Fast Feb Fest. Even though this play was a difficult one for the audience to watch due to the fact that it’s topic dealt with the power struggle between the female and the male gender and even dared to visit the social issues of physical abuse, it felt like it was really worth putting on stage. Plays that really tackle social issues and dare to talk about them many times are being avoided. However, I believe that in most cases, when art starts a conversation among those exposed to it it has succeeded its goal. These conversations are incredibly important.
As Julie in the Sabbath Elevator with actor- Billy Higgins
You wear many hats, what has been the most successful?
Well, I am an actor. When I am acting I am at my best and that is my true passion. I have lost count in how many productions I’ve been part of. However, I’ve been on stage for more than 15 years now and after all this time you start developing skills in other areas too, especially if you are a curious person. When I was in Athens in 2016, I had the opportunity to Assistant-Direct a production that I am very proud of of the famous American Classic by Arthur Miller- “The Crucible”. I was also selected by the great Greek Director- George Kaloxilos to portray the role of Elizabeth Proctor for the same show. It was a truly challenging and fulfilling experience to direct and act in this. It is the timely nature and depth of this play as well as the multidimensional characters that makes for an unforgettable experience, especially when you have the chance to bring it to life with incredible artists collaborating with you. We were also very grateful of the overwhelming success with which that audience embraced our work. After that, I had the chance to fully wear the director’s hat at the beginning of 2020 for the play “No Friends” by Myrna Davonne which participated in the Fun Fast Feb Festival hosted by TeamTheatre at the Greek Cultural Center in Astoria. Our show was voted by the audience among the Festival’s top 5 finalists. Speaking of the Greek Cultural Center, in 2019, myself and a group of talented theatre artists, decided to come together and support the center and through it, the arts in Queens and in Manhattan. We renovated it and we hosted several events that promoted the arts and celebrated the different cultures that exist in the communities around the Center. The events varied from several different theatrical productions, to musical nights, to performances celebrating of the Center’s history and contribution to New York City. With the people that came together for this, in an organic way, the International Theatre Company, TeamTheatre, was created. Till now, this is probably one of the things I am mostly proud of in my career. Through this Theatre Company where I am a Founding and Board member, I had the chance to produce multiple productions with an incredible team of collaborators and act as a resource for dozens of emerging artists through multiple different shows.
What is it like being a woman in the Arts… In your Homeland, and here in New York?
When I started acting in Greece I realized that most positions with power in the arts, where held by men. Most producers where men and most directors where men. There where not really many female role models to look up to. However, there where a lot of amazing Greek actresses like, Katina Paxinou, Anna Sinodinou, Eleni Papadaki, Despoina Mpempedeli, Lydia Koniordou and many more. These were the ones that inspired me and influenced my work at the beginning. So, during those years I was mostly focusing on my acting and in general I had positive experiences. However, there were a few times that definitely my gender played a negative role in the way I was treated. Those times were hurtful and inappropriate and definitely made me question this profession as a main career choice. Acting though kept pulling me back again and again. Later on, my love for the work of other amazing actresses, like Katharine Hepburn and Meryl Streep, was one of the reasons I moved to New York. During the first couple of months I had moved to the city, I met an acting teacher that told me: “You are beautiful but also too smart and it shows. The people in this industry don’t like that. If you keep showing that quality, you are not going to find any proper work.” After that I was burning inside with fury. I couldn’t believe what I had just heard after traveling to the other side of the world in search of inspiration and a more professional working environment. Every inch of my body wanted to scream how horrible and wrong in every way was what that man had said. Even so, I kept going. And thank God I came to realize that that man represents only a small portion of this industry. It is a powerful portion but small none the less. My networking started to grow and I had the chance to collaborate with incredible Theatre Institutions and fantastic artists. Also, slowly but steadily through all my travels and while I was discovering my strengths as an actor, my background in management, economics and business started to emerge. The degree I have from the Athens University of Business and Economics started to be useful for my life in the arts when I decided to also start producing through TeamTheatre. When that started happening I realized that there is a world of possibilities that I could create for myself. And so, I also started investing into that direction. Sometimes we have to build the road we will walk on in life because it doesn’t already exist. This is true for many people, especially women and people that belong to minorities. I try to remember that and keep going.
How has the pandemic changed your career … Both tangibly and philosophically?
The pandemic affected us all. It still does and it will continue to do so. The arts are no exception. Often though, through big changes and challenges, new opportunities arise. At the beginning, most of us were mostly overwhelmed by what we were all experiencing. Just going through the day was the goal. Gradually however, during the pandemic, people really started to reach out and they did it in a much more honest and real way than how they were doing before. For me, other than reconnecting with family, friends and old collaborators, many new networking opportunities appeared. New collaborations and new ways to create live theatre. The internet and the platforms offered in it, opened a window to new possibilities. Bigger audiences, smaller costs, greater availability among artists, and a greater freedom to explore since nobody has ever done this before. Also, the pandemic has been a learning opportunity for myself. I started testing my strengths in different creative paths than I usually do, like writing and editing. The truth is, I am finding them very very hard but, they are also a great challenge. It might have taken me countless hours but I am proud to be able to say that during the pandemic I managed to put together the first short film that I fully wrote, filmed, edited, and acted in. It was featured at the Global Forms Theatre Festival produced by Rattlestick Playwrites Theatre. Now, Philosophically, I think, everything we are going through sheds a light on the importance of art and on the artists who create it. Theatre is a medicine for the soul and it will continue to be so even more effectively in the near future. After all, two of the main reasons why theatre was created was for humanity to find a safer place to express what we are feeling inside and to try to make sense of things. That is what our survival instincts desperately need right now. To make sense of things. In that way, I am predicting that as soon as it is possible again, theatre as we know it is going to come back like a tsunami. Of course the topics tackled will be affected by what our planet is going through and maybe the seats in the theatres will be cut in half, but I believe that in it’s basic form, Theatre will be back.
What are your plans for the future?
Honestly, my need to reconnect even more so with my loved ones is very strong right now. For my personal life, that is definitely one of the things I will focus on for the future. For my professional life, I just want to challenge myself and the people I work with to keep this new momentum of possibilities going. In that way we can explore what else is there we can do through all these new tools we have in our hands. And I believe we can do a lot. Even when Theatres open up again, many of these new ways of creating live performances online will stay because they are inexpensive and easy to put together.