Bringing the Magic of the Theater to Hospital Rooms in Greece

Why you should care

Because a little escape can make a big difference to a cancer patient.

  • Population POPULATION
  • LanguageSPOKEN LANGUAGE
  • GDPGDP PER CAPITA
  • CapitalCAPITAL CITY
Geo facts & figures

Hospital rooms. Dark, quiet and melancholic places. Two actors from the National Theatre of Greece, Ilias Kounelas and Ifigenia Griva, are breaking this silence with a unique program called Hospital Visits that brings the theater to patients with chronic illnesses.

It starts with a letter: “Dear Patient, Once I was lying in a hospital room too. … One night I dreamed two people came into my room and performed a theater play only for me. Now we are here, my dear friend, and we want to give a small free show for you.” The main idea came from Kounelas’ own experience — he was once hospitalized for an illness, he explains — as well as a need to explore “a new language of dramatization,” the so-called social theater.

So far, the pair have given 500 performances to 2,500 patients.

Close friends and coworkers for years, Kounelas and Griva have been performing Hospital Visits in Athens since 2014. The pair pretend that the floor is the sea, the bed is the boat and the mechanical support is the oars. Griva says it is about making connections and sharing a common experience: We “realized what it means for someone to hurt” and how this “vulnerable process” allows them to be open to the performances, which take place for five to six months each year.

Performance length depends on the health of the patient. Sometimes it’s 40 minutes, sometimes 10 minutes, Kounelas explains. So far the pair have given 500 performances to 2,500 patients, who choose from four classic works of world literature with the themes ranging from patience to the power of the human soul and dreams. Cancer patients typically choose The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway or The Dream of a Ridiculous Man by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Or the patient is asked to say the first word that comes to mind and the actors improvise. “For a long time our biggest concern was what works to play and how,” says Griva, adding, “We realized that it does not matter what we say but how we will say it.”

Petra, who was a hospitalized cancer patient in October 2016, chose a dreams theme. She says the Hospital Visits program was a “magical experience” for her. “When you are in a difficult situation like this, you want to escape. Dreams help you escape from the reality; dreams make you hope,” she says. It was a similar experience for George, another cancer patient, in 2017 — for him it was “a special moment in a difficult time.” At the end of the performance, George gave thanks to the pair by playing a song on his guitar.

Hospitalvsitis kounelas&griva

Ilias Kounelas and Ifigenia Griva are actors with the National Theatre of Greece.

Source Fabrizio Dirri

Petra, who was a hospitalized cancer patient in October 2016, chose a dreams theme. She says the Hospital Visits program was a “magical experience” for her. “When you are in a difficult situation like this, you want to escape. Dreams help you escape from the reality; dreams make you hope,” she says. It was a similar experience for George, another cancer patient, in 2017 — for him it was “a special moment in a difficult time.” At the end of the performance, George gave thanks to the pair by playing a song on his guitar.

In the beginning the visits initiative was not welcomed by medical staff, who were reluctant to have actors in their workspace discussing illness and death. But attitudes have since changed as doctors see the elevated moods and tolerance of their patients post-performance. Kounelas and Griva were invited to talk about their show at the Clinical and Translational Oncology conference, organized by the Hellenic Society of Anticancer Support and Research, in 2017.

Kounelas wants to get the word out about the Hospital Visits program and “the small miracles happening here.” And it has reached other areas of the country: Hospitals in other cities have requested performances for their patients, Griva explains, but the National Theatre cannot fund it. “It would be easier to expand the activity if more people were involved.”

OZYGood Sh*t

If you’d want to drink it, eat it, wear it, ride it, drive it; if it’d be cool to see, listen to or do, we’re writing about it.