Speaking Greek, an Interview With Paola Hadjilambri
Paola Hadjilambri, born in Cyprus, has been an ambassador for her country since 2000, when she was crowned as the Olympic Priestess. She is one of the 23 ladies who ignite the Olympic Flame, and the only one from Cyprus. English and Greek are her native languages, although she also speaks German and French. She admits that she is a workaholic, but she never forgets to be a good mother to her eight‑year‑old son Constantinos, whom she raises as a single mom. Paola’s hard work paid off, earning her a very good reputation throughout her country. She began her career by presenting the 8 o’clock news and interviewing important people on two of Cyprus’s most prestigious national TV channels. She also loves knowledge. That is why she bears 3 degrees in Acting, Greek Literature and Law, as well as a Master of Arts in International Relations, and she is a candidate for a PhD. Paola loves sports and leading a healthy lifestyle, with a healthy mind and a healthy body, is part of the way she sets an example and inspires others. Paola has a very strong personality and loves challenges. She will usually succeed in what she decides to do. She amazed audiences worldwide in 2018 when she performed “Melina: The Last Greek Goddess,” which she co‑wrote with her director Paul Lambis, and won the Best International Show award at the United Solo Festival in New York, chosen among many artists from different countries. This achievement brought great honor back to her country, since the show was created under the auspices of the President of the Republic of Cyprus, Mr. Nicos Anastasiades. Austin Kaiser: Who is Maria Callas, how did you discover her, and how did she fascinate you into making a solo show about her? Paola Hadjilambri: Maria Callas is one of the most popular personalities of the 20th century. A very talented soprano who was famous for her strong Greek temperament and her passionate love and relationship with one of the largest tycoons in history, Aristotle Onassis. Maria’s story fascinates the whole world, so you can imagine she could not pass unobserved by myself. The way this woman lives the journey of transforming herself from a shy girl who felt like an ugly duckling into this beautiful, slim and graceful woman is just amazing. It is also extraordinary the way she lived as two people: Maria, who wished nothing but to be loved and get married and have children. And “La Callas,” who was this strong personality going on stage and seducing everyone with her angelic voice and dark eyes. “La Callas” will definitely share a lot of her secrets on stage and will give the audience what they will be coming for. Her truth! What challenges does a non‑American artist face when they want to perform in the United States? Well, the biggest challenge is to find the financial support to be able to pay for the expenses to actually fly to New York and perform the monologue. The procedures of getting the P3 visa also require plenty of time and organizational skills. Other than that, I have to say that the whole team at United Solo has been very helpful since day one, and I would like to take this opportunity to express my warmest “thank you.” What is it like to be supported by Cyprus, to love the country and be loved by its people? Cyprus is a small island in the Mediterranean with Greek origins, history, mythology, language and culture. Some researchers say that Homer actually might have been born in Cyprus. Cyprus is also a country divided by war. In 1974 we had an illegal invasion by Turkish troops, which resulted in them seizing 30% of my country. Our presidents have been trying, with the help of the United Nations, to solve the Cyprus Problem for 45 years now. We are positive that one day, people will be able to go back home and stop being refugees in their own country. So you can understand that I love my country as much as I love Greece. I have the honor to be one of the 23 Olympic Priestesses who ignite the Olympic Flame, so you can imagine that my love goes deep. At the same time, I feel the love and support from my country, from its people who support my plays and performances. There is great respect in what I do, and the fact that I am representing my country at United Solo was once again celebrated back home. That is why my performances are under the auspices of the President of the Republic of Cyprus. We are honoring our country in the best possible way: with culture. Imagine that an audience member sends you a note saying that your show inspired them to become interested in opera, and it is now their great passion. How would a note like that make you feel? It would sure make me feel happy! It would make me feel what I always seek in my life. To be able, with my work and my presence in this world, to change the life of one person for the better. If my work manages to inspire someone, then I will feel blessed. As I always say, and this is very Greek: “always think of how you wish to be remembered…” For me, meeting my students after 10 years who are now either acting or conducting research in the Pacific Ocean and hearing them recall a piece of advice that I gave them, means the world to me. It means the world to me because I know that they were listening, and most of all, they kept a part of me with them, in their hearts and minds. And for me, that is success! The world is on fire and astronauts are waving you onto the space shuttle. What is the one thing you save? My son! My son will go on the space shuttle, and if there is another child nearby who can be rescued by taking my place, then I would place that child on the space shuttle, too. My son would find a way to survive with everything I taught him, with or without me. That other child will be given an opportunity to live and create great things along with my son. Children are the future we are hoping to see with more colors and positivity, a future we promised but sometimes fail to deliver. So, the children should go on that space shuttle because they are the ones who have a better opportunity to create a new life somewhere else. How important is it for young people to connect with heroes from the past? I find it very important, and with this in mind, allow me to ask you a question. How much has your favorite hero shaped you as a character and as a person? Young people should always connect with great heroes from the past. My favorite is Achilles, not because he was beautiful or because he was immortal, but because of the change he found himself making over the ten years of war in Troy. When he arrogantly asked his mother why he should fight in a war that was not his, she replied calmly, “If you stay here, you will get married. You will be a good king and you will be remembered by your children, grandchildren and perhaps your great‑grandchildren. But if you go to Troy, you will be remembered forever.” It’s 2019 and we are still talking about Achilles, a hero with a weak spot like all humans, but with integrity and the ability to do the right thing in the end. For me, Greek mythology has great examples of heroes who learned through their mistakes or succeeded through their hard work and clever minds. But young people should definitely research and find their own inner hero. How proud are you of your body of work? I am very proud of the work I have been involved in, either in theatre or on TV. I am always careful to make the right choices and I take on projects that have something to say and have an impact on the audience. It is the way I work and the way I treat my work, my colleagues and everyone on stage and backstage: with deep respect. We are here to serve our art, to offer the audience time to think, to relax, to laugh and cry. So we need to be respectful of that, as for that specific time, multiple souls yield in front of us and receive our work, whether it is called theatre, music or ballet. They relate to us and they become us. They believe in us and they learn from us. The fact is that after every performance, we all leave stronger than ever, wiser and more thoughtful. “La Callas” Written, Directed, and Performed by Paola Hadjilambri Friday, Nov 8th at 7:30PM Photo credit: courtesy of the production 2019 United Solo Theatre Festival Theatre Row New York City
AUSTIN KAISER, currently writing a book called, “100 Questions Every Artist Should Have The Answers To.” His other book, “How To Go Viral & Put Wings On Ideas: A Book For Content Creators & Young Artists,” explains how ideas travel and which ideas travel best. More at www.medium.com/@KaiserMane.