The Establishment of the Panhellenic Association of Shadow Puppetry
The Autumn of the year 1924 is the starting point of the discussions among Karagiozis Players, but also of the formal processes for the establishment of an Association. We believe that there were two main reasons which prompted them to this: above all, the pressing need to ensure the rights of the sector to organize as part of the new labor and social conditions which were forming, as the recently founded 1st Hellenic Republic was trying to find its feet after the Asia Minor Catastrophe. Primordial importance was given to their insurance, in order to receive a pension allowing them to live with dignity in their old age after the end of their working life.
Secondly, but of equal importance, there was also the need to protect their artistic legacy, as in that theatrical season they found out that the official Artistic Theater, which did not recognize them and scorned them, saturated by its foreign models, was intruding upon their tradition and exploiting it for box office reasons! So, in that period the Shadow Theater Players were challenged by «just like that» falsely named cheesy “Karagiozis” by Theodoros Synadinos, played, however, with unique success by the great tragic actress Marika Kotopouli (1887-1954) in her theater, and also by the false Barba-Yorgos (uncle George) in the “Woman from the Capital” in the “Central” theater, with stories borrowed from the shows of the Shadow Theater: “Barba-Yorgos as Mayor” or “The Municipal Elections” and “Barba-Yorgos’ wreck”, played by the great actor Alekos Gonidis.1
As is widely accepted, the initiative for the establishment of the Association belonged to Antonios Papoulias, the well-known and respected Mr. Antonis Mollas. It was he who coordinated the other important Karagiozis Players active in Athens to take part in the attempt: Dimitrios Dalianis, i.e., the legendary Mr. Mitsos Manolopoulos, Athanasios Dedousaros, Markos Xanthos, Georgios Damadakis, i.e., Yorgaros, Christos Charidimos etc. Regarding the leading role by Mollas, Giorgos Ioannou remarks: “… I add that Mollas was the first President of the Association of Greek Karagiozis Players, a position which he held from 1924 and for years…” 2 And Dimitrios Mollas adds: “….Since then (since 1912 and the controversy between Antonis Mollas and the theater owners Sotirios Argyropoulos, Komitopoulos, Trivellas) the work of the other Karagiozis Players were arranged by Mollas, until 1925 when he united them into a professional Association which is still operating with its seat in Athens, on Sophocleous 36….”.3 Sotiris Spatharis also took part in the procedures: “In 1924 Mollas told me to found a Karagiozis Players’ Association. I am among the founders. However, up to now I was never a candidate for member of the board or president of the Association…”.4 Also, Evangelos Korfiatis, or Vaggos, in a written note by him dated 21st May 1975, includes in these first contacts Kostas Karabalis, Sotiris Kaproulias and others whom he could not remember at the time.
Vaggos himself writes in the same note regarding the place where the first meeting took place: “…The first meeting took place in a dice casino where the owner let them discuss their issues out of friendship…». In fact, on 21st June 1975 he explains: “In Koutsidas’ dice casino, on Canning Square, 1924 first meeting for the establishment of an Association”. This historic event for us was represented in a painting which decorates our Association by the Karagiozis Player and excellent painter Fotis Rammos. So, in Koutsidas’ dice casino were reached the decisions regarding establishment and the first Charter was scheduled for submission to the Court of 1st Instance of Athens. At this point it is imperative to refer to the contribution and support by Yannis Kokkas. Ioannis Kokkas “an actor and founder of our assosiation”, as Sotiris Spatharis describes him,5 was also a founder of the “Association of Actors of popular theater” in 1910 or 1912, i.e., Pantomime theater. The Charter was signed by 38 actors with Kokkas as president. In 1927 (as in the meantime the Karagiozis association had been founded in 1925) they were disbanded “as there was no reason for the existence of the association, since the Actor’s Association operates with the same purpose (since 19 April)”.6 In fact, Spatharis had been a member and met Kokkas, according to his own statement. So, it appears that the latter with his experience and knowledge helped in the first steps for the establishment of the Association in procedural and technical matters, and for this reason he appears in the “Family Photo” of the first Karagiozis Players’ celebration. After the New Year on 13 January 1925 the application for the Constitution of the Association was filed with the Court of 1st Instance and the first members are already registering, like Athanasios Konstantinos (Manos) on 17 January 1925, with Register No. 5 and continue throughout, like Andrikopoulos Vasileios (Vasilaros) on 22 September 1925, with Register No. 6.7
Meanwhile, the official Recognition was delivered in the Decision by the Court of 1st Instance of Athens with No. 178 on the 28th January 1925 (Association documents mention the 23rd February), which was recorded in the Associations’ book with Register No. 26078:
ASSOCIATION RECOGNITION No. 178
The Secretary of the Judges of 1st Instance of Athens certifies that, pursuant to decision No. 178 of the Court of 1st Instance of Athens the constitutional document of the Association with name “ASSOCIATION OF GREEK KARAGIOZIS PLAYERS” was posted for ten (10) days on the door of the Courthouse of the Court of 1st Instance of Athens and afterwards registered in the book of recognized Associations and on the same page.
In Athens on the 25th February 1925
The Sub-secretary of the Court of 1st Instance
The 25th February 1925 is the Birthday of our Association, and its stamp showed the head and the torso of Karagiozis!
After the Recognition there were no funds to rent an office in the center of the Capital to house the Association. For this reason, as Vaggos states: “… The first meeting of the Association of Karagiozis Players took place in the residence of Kostas Karabalis, on Favierou str. 35 in Athens. More meetings took place there, as in Mollas’ tent and in other Karagiozis theaters. Until in 1930, approximately, an office -so to speak – was rented, on Sophocleous str. 22 and everybody had to chip in some ten drachmas or a chair, in order to turn it into something resembling an office…”.9 Dimitrios Mollas completes the picture:”…The building on Sophocleous 12 was old and you had to climb to the second floor on a staircase straight, without turns and endless, as the stores on the ground floor had high ceilings…”.10 Indeed, on the right and left sides of the entrance to the building, which changed street number as the building development progressed from 12 to 22…, 36….,48, there were commercial stores and a gallery was formed at the end of which there was a café-restaurant with Mr. Giorgos in charge in the middle of the ’60s. On its marble tables the Karagiozis Players of the time used to squeeze to drink their coffee, play backgammon, talk, disagree, negotiate jobs and cooperations. On the floor above, the Association space in the shape of a Γ, more or less, had on the short side the President’s office with the banner of Saint Fanourios behind it, and two or three offices more on the long side for the Secretary and the Treasurer and the Members. Its walls were decorated from top to bottom with photos of old Karagiozis Players or younger ones, taking part in more recent events. The Karagiozis Players’ meetings, sittings or elections and regardless of the result ended up in a basement tavern during the last twenty years, as Vaggos tells it, that is between 1955-1975, on Sophocleous and Socratous streets, owned by Barba-Stavros, which does not exist anymore. The Association on Sophocleous was very close to Kotzias Square, i.e., the old Municipal Theatre Square. The Municipal Theater, of course, had been transformed into a hostel for 150 families after the refugees came, and despite the attempt to renovate it in 1927, it remained closed and abandoned until 1940, but its café was the place where Karagiozis Players met over a long time. The memories of Sotiris Spatharis are important in this regard: “From 1925 on, when we Karagiozis Players, having formed our Association, started frequenting the Municipal Theater café, opposite the National Bank. That is where the daily negotiations for our work were taking place. The theater owners from Athens or from the countryside who wanted to find a Karagiozis player or the Player who wanted to find work had to go to the Municipal Theater, because that is where Karagiozis players, Karagiozis musicians, assistants, singers and theater owners – the ones presenting Karagiozis – gathered. There you would find out what jobs Karagiozis Players did all over Greece….”.11 Those with a special say, before the establishment of the Association, were the more famous ones: Mollas, Xanthos, Manolopoulos, Dedousaros, regarding the selection of the best Karagiozis Players by the theater owners of the periphery or the provinces, in order to ensure both the quality of the spectacle and the social and moral prestige of the Artists, but also to maintain the good reputation of our professional sector, given the strict morals of the time. After the Association was created, this responsibility fell on the President and the other Board members at each time.
The effect the establishment of the Association had among Karagiozis Players was great: “From 1928-1936 on, Greece filled with Karagiozis…. the Association of Karagiozis Players had at the time over 120 members”.12 In his study published in 1935, Tz. Kaimi writes about the Association’s dynamic and management: “… The fifty-two Karagiozis Players found in the registers are scattered throughout Greece and organized in an Association, recognized by the State, with Mollas as President. Kostas Karabelas, from the island of Lefkada, was the secretary of the Association …”.13
In the 1960s the number of active and retired Karagiozis Players amounts to one hundred fifty (150), as is shown by a “Letter of Protest” sent on 20 March 1960 to the director of the magazine “GYNAIKA” and signed by the President Apostolos Karastergiopoulos (Tolias) and the General Secretary Efstratios Mellidis.
In 2025 the first 100 years from the establishment of our Association are completed. In this century it has sheltered like an “Apollo’s hut” the dreams, the expectations, the artistic preoccupations and the visions of a crowd of multi-talented and self-taught artists, genuine conveyors of our Popular Civilization and Tradition which they continued, but also renovated and enriched by their own means of artistic expression and creation. As can be seen by studying the archive of the Association, it has been operating since the 1st June 1945 a “Mutual Assistance Fund”. This “Mutual Assistance and Care Fund of the members of the Panhellenic Association of Shadow Puppetry” which was put into force on the 13th April 1956 as a collective body, has supported with its meager financial means, always affectionately, every one of its members in difficult times, but also their family members, has often acted for the award on the part of the State of extraordinary provisions to support unemployed or disadvantaged or sick colleagues in difficult periods, it has helped every veteran Karagiozis Player in the process of collecting the documents in order to apply for a pension, it has even granted “Honorary Pensions” in cases where elderly colleagues were not able to pay the necessary amount for their Security coverage, supported all its people in mourning and shared their joy, projecting Solidarity as the topmost Principle governing its existence and operation until today.
The “Panhellenic Association of Shadow Puppetry” has been and still is the Beehive where the “unadulterated honey” of our Oral Tradition and the impulsive and unpretentious popular artistic creation is produced, for the People to taste it and sweeten their life with the help of our Karagiozis on the uphill course of life!
- Giannis Sideris, “Theater and Karagiozis, a first look at their relationship”, THEATER magazine, issue 10.
- Giorgos Ioannou, “Karagiozis”, Α , ESTIA, p. 49.
- Dimitris Mollas, “Our Karagiozis”, NEW ERA, 2002, p.144.
- Sotiris Spatharis, “Memoirs and the art of Karagiozis”, 2nd edition, VERGOS EDITIONS, 1976, p. 161.
- Giannis Sideris, “Pantomime”, ΝΕΑ ESTIA volume Μ’, 1946, p.996. Immigrant”, 1977, p. 491.
- Sotiris Spatharis, “My memoirs”, ΠΕΚ, 2020, p.173 and 340.
- “List of poor and unemployed members of the Panhellenic Association of Shadow Puppetry”, prot. No. 709, 7-12-1966.
- Court of 1st Instance of Athens, department for companies and associations, cert. no. 5995/2021.
- Evaggelos Korfiatis, “Hand-written notes”, 21-5- 1975 and 21-6-1975, sent by the Karagiozis Player Giannis Hatzis on the 8th October 2018.
- As in 3, p.173.
- As in 6, p.343.
- As in 4, p. 161.
- Tz. Kaimi, “Karagiozis…”, GAVRIILIDIS EDITIONS, Athens 1990, p.35.
Text editing by Anastasios Kouzaros.