Writer Maria Papayanni talks about the magical world of children

Chryssoula Papaioannou

for Eleftherotypia, 12/18/2007

“As we grow, we become trapped in the everyday and lock away our riches for safekeeping, except we hide them so well that we forget about them and we end up …accepting discounts on our dreams. Children dream both with their eyes shut and open.” Maria Papayanni, writer and translator of children’s books, knows what she is talking about. She wrote the story Strange, isn’t it? to remind young and old that “life’s miracle are the small, everyday moments. Mom’s hug after a nightmare or a friend’s embrace.” We will be seeing it as a musical play at the Nikos Scalkotas hall of the Athens Megaron Concert Hall starting this Friday until December 30.

The score is by Thanos Mikroutsikos on verses by Yannis Ritsos (the title is from his poem “Again the young Eleni”) Nikos Kavadias, Maria Papayanni and Melina Karakosta. The show is dedicated to the latter who passed away during rehearsals. Mikroutsikos and Panayotis Larkou directed, while the sets and costumes are by Yorgos Vafias and the choreography my Cecile Mikroutsikos. The dancers are Rania Glymitsa and Konstantina Mikroutsikos.

As the name Mikroutsikos is often repeated in the play’s credits – and besides, Maria Papayanni is the composer’s spouse – the writer clarifies: “In a sense, artistic productions are family affairs anyway. Thanos who is at the helm of the undertaking, would not choose people without experience in similar performances.”

The performance at hand is built around the axis of Papayanni’s story: in a city without dreams, feasts or celebrations, a falling star appears but Yomo and Cora have nothing to wish for. The reason is that, a long time ago, an evil witch stole the key of dreams from the wise old man who was their guardian. Yet, the two children will go all the way up to the sky to find the missing key. They will become circus acrobats, have an encounter with pirates and will live through many adventures.

A children’s story for Papayanni means … a happy end. This is not to say that evil is absent. “We shouldn’t tell stories where everything is fine as rain. We are preparing children for this world, not another ideal one. Evil needs to be present and it must be recognizable. The bad guys have always existed in fairytales though, nowadays, unfortunately, they are glamorous and it’s easy for a child to identify with them”, she says.

Not only fairytales but the conventional storytellers have changed. “The stories that grandmas and grandpas used to tell, were good practice for children’s imagination. Today, they take their grandchildren on their lap to watch the afternoon TV serials”, she remarks.

What does a good fairytale mean for Maria Papayanni? “It’s the one that speaks about the truth without being childish. Every child has a different level of maturity. We want them to walk away with their pockets full of pebbles, that is to say, ideas and emotions. On their way home, each picks out what suits them.” Of course, fairytales don’t address exclusively young children. “A tale for children works when grownups also like it. Also, a bedtime story is combined with a hug, and a child may need that for many years”, she adds.

Though she is a mother of two, 6 year old Stergios and 11 year old Alexandra, her love of fairytales dates to her years as a Literature student. “Maybe it’s because of the Peter Pan we all have hidden in us, and the longing for the land of Never-Never. I leave the door open so I can come and go to both worlds”, she explains. Which is why she finds it hard to tell her young son that there is no Santa Claus. “I am in favor of making our life into a bit of a fairytale and not killing myths off”, she says. These festive days, then, will find her with her family under the Christmas tree where

“we will all sleep together and tell stories…”