NEW YORK – No argument is needed in favor of the classics. Shakespeare and the great Greek tragedians will be read until the end of time, but to get audiences into theaters today, it helps to bring fresh perspectives to productions.
The recent presentation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing at the SoHo Playhouse had a short but successful run – its last two performances were sold out – thanks in part to the energy and imagination novices Demetri Kofinas, the producer, and director Alexis Confer.
Kofinas, is a former technology and media entrepreneur and Confer has a day job that’s a bit more challenging than those of many people in theater: Chief of Staff at Office of the Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives of New York City.
It is a contemporary rendition of one of Shakespeare’s love comedies, Much Ado About Nothing and
“it was very successful, great fun with great actors,” Kofinas told TNH.
He said “we are going to start production of another comedy in a few months, most likely another rendition of Shakespeare. Eventually, I would like put on an ancient Greek comedy.”
Kofinas is not the only Hellenic element in the play – besides what Shakespeare absorbed from the ancients – one of the leads was Clio Contogenis, who recently graduated from Princeton’s theater program.
Kofinas took a circuitous route to Off-Broadway, but his passion for theater has deep roots. When his parents took him and his younger sister all over Greece, the visits to the great ancient theaters made powerful impressions.
His dramatic sense was fired up by reading Homer and his favorite plays are the Orestes plays of Aeschylus, but his social consciousness took him to Washington DC – his sister is a lawyer with a social work degree, so something different but not unrelated was in the air besides the passion for healing of his father, Dr. Alexander Kofinas, and his uncle, Dr. Geroge Kofinas.
He created and was executive producer for a TV news show called Capital Account that focused on international politics and finance and was globally broadcast from Washington, DC cable, satellite and online. “I was also the chief writer – it was my baby,” Kofinas said.
Of his turn to theater, he said “This is the first time I have done anything fiction related,” but not by design.
When he returned to New York he knew he wanted to move beyond the non-fiction focus he had in Washington and into to the arts, but the theater tug came from Confer. She told him “I would like you to come on as producer of this play. I could really use your help with your production background.”
She was a theater and political science double major, but the play was her first production as a director.
He figures the artistic DNA came from their mother Eleni, who is from Euboea -“my sister is also an amazing photographer,” but imagination has its place in medicine, so his father, who is from Elasona in Central Greece, could have made a contribution.
Genes and inculcation by parents are among the forces that shape people, but later experiences can cause people to veer off their paths – or provide new ground in which old seeds can germinate.
In Kofinas’s case, he faced a medical challenge he said fundamentally altered him. “I’ve overcome and come through it,” he told TNH, and it reinforced his feelings that it was time for something new after his TV show.
It seems he was born for exploration, both in terms of his life’s path, and the human condition.
He grew up all over America “I was born in Cincinnati but my first memories are from living in Astoria when I was four years old my father did a residency in Brooklynn.” After a fellowship in North Carolina, his father opened a practice in Pennsylvania before moving back to New York when he was in middle school.
After graduating from NYU he worked for the university in Italy after studying the language on his own. He loved Italy, perhaps his stomach likes the food, but his soul is Greek.
“I am awestruck by what that society and culture generated,” he said of Hellas, and believes that one of the things we can learn from classical Greece is to balance technology and culture.
“I have also worked a lot in technology and I am fascinated by that world,” and the tremendous technological advances in our times, “but in the realm of culture, we have not made the same advances.”
Philosophy is one of his favorite Greek things, and spirituality is important, but over time he has learned that organized religion and theology is not its only source.
“I was trying to think my way to God,” but after his recent experience, with also his caused his old passion for Plato to be eclipsed by the thought of Nietzsche, caused him to question much of his prior thought, but he was still in Hellas’ gravitational field.
“The power of Greek mythology,” partly seen through the ideas of Carl Jung “helped me…I saw that we are all heroes. That we all have a hero story…it gave me a strong sense of destiny.”
And Shakespeare was a magnet. Much Ado About Nothing is a comedy and Shakespeare is best known for his tragedies,” but he does not find them to be downers. He now knows, “It’s OK , there is suffering” in life but it can be transcended.
Kofinas is now a strong advocate of art and literature as forces that can guide people through life’s challenges. A society that neglects the arts neglects itself.
And they must be shared with everyone. All of Much Ado‘s proceeds will go to Art for Progress, a nonprofit providing arts programming to underprivileged neighborhoods in New York.
“It’s an amazing non-for-profit that helps urban youth who are aspiring artists in New York obtain the tools they need,” Kofinas said.