Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Part of the cast of the Toronto production of The Railway Childre - Aris is second from the right. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

By James Karas

When Aris Athanasopoulos was 10 years old, he had to recite a poem at his school’s Christmas concert. The poem was in Greek and his mother, like all good Greek mothers, told him to make sure he had memorized it. He assured her that he had.

On the date of the show, he strutted on the stage and recited the first word of the poem and froze. He had forgotten the whole thing. But he had taken a small precaution. He had stuffed a copy of the poem in his pocket. After a brief, terrifying moment he said “Hold it,” reached into his pocket, uncrumpled the piece of paper and proceeded to recite the poem.

That was some fifteen years ago. Now the budding young actor knows his lines (but still takes precautions) and is presently appearing as the Superintendent in The Railway Children at the Roundhouse Theatre in Toronto.

The railway and long distance travelling are appropriate metaphors for Aris. His parents emigrated from villages near Kalamata, in the southern Peloponnese, Greece and ended up running a restaurant in Elliot Lake. They returned to Toronto when Aris was two and like so many Greek immigrants continued to run a restaurant.

Aris graduated from York University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in acting in 2007. His father wanted him to become a doctor or a lawyer or an accountant, the latter two professions being more useful for his Mr. Submarine franchise but Aris had other ideas.

You don’t get to go Argentina for five days to shoot a commercial for a credit company if you are running a submarine sandwich shop.

Nor do you go to Poland and Austria in a production of George F. Walker’s Theatre of the Film Noir directed by Miroslaw Polatynski. Aris did and played Bernard, one of the major roles in the play.

Aris has done Shakespeare for young audiences with the Classical Theatre Project – Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream - and appreciates the difference between rose and iambic pentameters. The Superintendant in The Railway Children stands at the end of the platform/ stage and must project his voice so that he can be heard at the other end.

He has tasted acting for television in the cop series Rookie Blue and will do the voice over in the animated serial Redakai: Conquer the Kairu.

He is continuing to take acting lessons from David Rotenberg at the Pro Actors Lab n Toronto.

“I will probably do it for the rest of my life” he said in a recent interview at The Roundhouse Theatre.

He wants to land roles in movies. He has already spent time in Los Angeles scouting for opportunities.

Doing movies is a matter of extremes, according to Aris. “Acting in a film is like trying to capture lightning in a bottle” he says, “because you only have to get it right once.”

“In the theatre, you need to construct a performance that you can repeat on a nightly basis.” In fact, he has to construct his role in The Railway Children eight times a week with only Mondays off.

Many actors have difficulty making ends meet and they can be found serving at tables or making lattes in expensive coffee shops – after getting the appropriate training, of course.

If the need ever arises, Aris will not need any training for a pay-the-bills alternate career.

“Can you make a submarine sandwich?” I ask.

“I can do a lot more than make a sandwich,” he replies. “I can run a Mr. Submarine shop.” And quickly adds: “Let’s hope I never have to do it.

And if he ever does and forgets how to make a super-sub, he will no doubt have the instructions written on a piece of paper and crumpled in his front pocket – just in case.

Aris has played enough Shakespearean roles and had enough training to know how to enunciate iambic pentameters. He is even ready to recite Greek poetry but, alas, he has yet to receive an invitation to do that.

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