We recently caught up with the multi-talented Dimitra Barla, who shared some very inspirational stories about her life on stage and some of her best experiences and influences growing up in Greece. Here is what she had to say:
Hi Dimitra, it’s always a pleasure catching up with you. Let’s talk about your beginning. How did you first get into performing?
My first on stage experience came when I was only 5 years old. It was for my Dancing School’s production of The Swan Lake and I was holding the part of the princess’s followers at the prince’s dance. Although I was only 5, I still remember the blindness that came from the strong lights; the stage lights that have the power to transform dreams into reality. Since the lines are mixed to me, even in my daily life, I pursue this trembling and the shock of the stage.
Even though I started off as a classical dancer and then as a contemporary dancer, acting slowly gained my heart. I enrolled into an acting course when I was 10, followed by participating in the local theatre group where we also did amateur performances and then finally enrolling in a 4 year BA degree in drama as soon as I finished school.
Who were some of your biggest influences and inspirations?
Being from Greece, my first influences came from Greek actors. In 1998, when I was only 12, we were on a family trip to the Epidaurus festival to see ‘Antigone’, directed by Michail Marmarinos with Amalia Moutoussi as Antigone. This was a breathtaking performance; I promised myself that such an actress is what I would try to be: committed and passionate. I have been very lucky to now call Ms Moutoussi a teacher but also a friend. She is a true example of a complete artist, one who implements their artistic principles into their work.
Another great woman, who funnily enough recently performed ‘Antigone’, is Juliette Binoche. I admire her for the multitude of her talent; her ability to express herself in three different languages and have a truly international career. As I perform in Greek, English and French, it is always a great lesson to see Juliette’s performances.
In my more recent acting years, I have been literally taken with this year’s Academy Award winner, Julianne Moore. She has this fantastic skill to create a moving emotional landscape, revealing a series of subtle swifts in the character’s world. The fragility and respect she brings into every role she portrays are revealing of the female soul in a deeply original way.
What kind of training have you had, if any?
I attended Drama School as soon as I graduated from school, at only 18. It was a full four year acting course, which gave me a Diploma in Acting accredited by the Greek Ministry of Culture. I then made one of the best decisions of my life and moved to London to complete a Masters in Acting at East 15 Acting School, where I was taught by Monique Wilson, the present Global Director of One Billion Rising.
In the meantime, I was spending my summers in Toronto, Canada, training in physical theatre with renowned theatre Company Le Theatre De L’Homme, led by J. Grotowski’s student Mr Richard Nieoczym.
One of the most rewarding times during training was the time I spent at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. For a week, I trained with the resident company, rehearsing in ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ and eventually performed the play on the stage of the Globe. I was very happy to see that my performance was praised ‘your character’s journey becomes the journey of the audience; our journey’.
What has been your favorite role to play so far?
I love and enjoy all the roles I’ve played, so far. Maybe I have a unique connection with the first solo show I ever played.
It is called ‘Medusa: The lady in the mirror’ and it is a modern re-telling of the ancient Greek myth, exploring contemporary depression. This was the first performance of my production company ‘Laridae Performing Arts’, so it has a dear place in my heart. The show premiered in Athens and then toured around Greece. The production received a very warm welcome and it gave me my first review in a leading Greek newspaper. I almost cried when I read ‘Dimitra Barla as Medusa knows how to capture the audience’s attention’.
Another production that has stayed with me is ‘Dona Rosita’ where I played the lead. Again, it was my first full length production in London and the experience of working as an international actor in this amazingly vibrant city -and in a way proving to myself that I could actually work abroad!- really empowered all my future endeavors.
What has been one of your biggest achievements in your career so far?
In February 2014 the third production of my theatre company, Laridae performing arts, was accepted in a major London festival in the atmospheric location of Waterloo arches. SOLO, a site specific dance theatre show based on poetry of Emily Dickinson, traveled from Athens to London. One day during rehearsals we even gave an interview to the BBC who were doing a story for BBC radio!
The whole team was again moved by the reception and the reviews as ‘‘…thoroughly transfixing, so much so that when the piece does end, it feels like some unwelcome noise has stirred you from a pleasant dream, and you want nothing more than to let slumber take hold of you once more. SOLO is ethereal, magnetic and perfectly judged.’
It has also been very exciting to meet and work with exceptional directors, like the Academy Award nominee Yorgos Lanthimos, who directed me on my very first TV endeavor (for a commercial), when I was only 19 years old. Just the experience of being taught on set by him was aspirational.
What projects do you have coming up?
My first Greek feature film is currently in post-production in the editing room and will be screened in the Thessaloniki International Film Festival.
It is written and directed by Crystal Globe and Hellenic Film Academy Award nominee Nikos Kornilios. The plot surrounds a young male artist in his late thirties, played by George Bakalos, who balances between creativity and daily life. I portray his girlfriend. The film was shot in the long period of 3 years – it is the Greek ‘Boyhood’! The temporary title is ‘The pine tree of the ocean’.
In London, where I now reside, I am currently participating in a project commissioned by the London Film School; it is a ‘collection’ of short films dealing with life in London, which will be distributed in various festivals. I am staring as Lucia, a young Venezuelan student striving to gain her work permit while working –illegally- as a waitress. It is a very moving story which highlights the difficulties faced by people in similar situations, but it has a very optimistic turn in the end.
Finally, the short film ‘The flight of Iro and Casper’ by Blue john Productions is now being distributed to festivals. I co-star as Iro and it is a funny, imaginative story about finding your other half!
Who would you most like to collaborate with?
There are so many superb artists I would love to work with, but if my fairy would tap me with her magic wand, I think I would choose Edward Norton. He has been one of the reasons I decided to start acting in English, because I felt so connected to his performance and the small nuances he physically brings to his roles. I felt deeply for his characters, even though they come from a totally different background than I do.
What are your plans for the future?
Apart from working as an actor and director, I very much enjoy writing. I have been working on a monologue for the last year, and it is finally coming to an end, so the plan would be to shoot a little film and then stage the production.
It is a story inspired by the Greek myth of Euridice, placed in contemporary times. It evolves around the life of a burlesque dancer and her journey to becoming who she is.
Writing my own work is a great fulfillment. My first monologue was staged in 2009 at the Corbett Theatre in London. It was a re-writing of Strindberg’s Miss Julie. The original play ends with Miss Julie walking to her death, while my play begins at exactly that point with Miss Julie contemplating life and death and struggling to understand herself even in the last moments.
What is your advice to aspiring performers?
Keep the faith
Do your warm-ups
Don’t let people convince you you’re not the norm
Dream but also plan
Read other artists’ biographies; it will empower you!
Keep the faith!