Stories Talk | Presentation Skills and Effective Storytelling
Paris Mexis is a director, set and costume designer, but above all he is a fighter that never steps down, a pluralist of life, an imaginative artist, a daredevil and a lover of aesthetic culture. His personal success story proves that "when you want something and fight for it, you can have it" and when you have such great talent, you have to grow it and flourish.
By Mia Kollia
Translated by Alexandros Theodoropoulos
- What early years shaped Paris Mexis?
I was born in Athens, in Asklipiou and Kallidromiou streets, but around the age of 3-4 we moved to Marousi, where I grew up. Back then, Marousi was a remote suburb of Athens. I had a wonderful childhood, with lots of love, scouting and learning piano in the Conservatory. Until I was 13, everything was running smoothly but the situation changed quite a bit when my parents got divorced. At that time I got the idea that I finally like playing jazz and I left the Conservatory and generally didn't know what I wanted to do. The first significantly decisive thing came to my life when I was 16, in the second year of high school: I got terribly sharp pains in my leg, which were attributed to playing basketball and I started physical therapy. The pain didn't go away and a doctor told my parents I had cancer and we had to go for treatment abroad or otherwise… I would die.
I spent that summer and the entire season of the 3rd grade of High School in hospitals. Three operations and heavy chemotherapy followed, but luckily everything went well in the end. What I was suffering from is called Ewing's sarcoma, a rare type of childhood tumour. By diabolical coincidence, my cousin died of the same cancer a few years later. The most likely reason why I got this cancer was Chernobyl.
- How much did this unexpected and shocking experience change you?
Basically, I think that the person I’ve become is due to this time. I was a very active child and I lived in a house where we watched theatre and cinema, we were interested in the arts, there was love and suddenly this thing isolated me in a hospital in England, with my parents coming whenever they could. I remember the nights in the ward where we often didn’t sleep because there were children who were in a lot of pain. But I also remember a wonderful nurse, Melody, who was always by my side.
Anyway, I kind of got over it but from then on there was a new reality, mainly because my parents had squandered whatever money they had to get me well. The time of my illness was also a "master" for me, because I read too much, I listened to a lot of music, I thought a lot and the most important thing was that I realised that there is no particular reason to live or to die - I'm just a number, so if I'm going to live, let's do something worthwhile.
- How did you move on with your life after all this?
Back then I had a childhood dream of becoming an architect but I didn't go into Architecture. So I thought of going to Akto, which involved things I was interested in studying, so I chose Interior Architecture. That was the first time in my life that I was really good at something, which gave me a lot of confidence and an incredible desire to do more and more things. So I started working in architectural offices as a designer, while also collaborating with urban planning, getting permits etc. - things I would have done if I had also gone into Architecture.
Nevertheless, I realised that I don't want to be an architect, even though I respect and love architecture. I thought that with architecture you make a building that stays but you don't tear it down to rebuild it. So the whole process doesn't have regeneration in it, which for me is something very important, also because of the illness I've been through. I wanted to work on something that could be renewed. At the time, I was in a relationship with a girl who was an actress and I had the chance to build the sets in a theatre a few times - something I really liked. Through a conversation with a classmate of mine at school, I got the idea of going to study stage design at Saint Martins, London. Although everyone told me it was very difficult to be accepted there, I finally submitted my application, along with various other scholarship applications, since I didn’t have enough money for studies. Everything went well, I passed the interview and finally went there, leaving the job at the architectural office.
- How was your studies in London?
I liked my studies very much, they were very interesting, but life was difficult because I was getting by on sandwiches. But I managed to go to theatres, concerts, art museums almost every day and absorbed a culture that I couldn't find anywhere else. Alongside my studies, I started working as an assistant to the great set designer Stefanos Lazaridis, who served as director of the National Opera later in his life. He was a difficult and strict person, but I learned a lot of nice things from him.
In the interview he asked me to draw a Don Quixote and take him to see it after a week, so he took me. I graduated, the scholarship ended but I couldn't find a job capable of supporting me and I came to Athens.
- How did you develop professionally in Athens?
I worked as a stage designer and one job led to another, while for many years I also taught at Akto. At some point I realised that I got too many jobs but I didn’t like any of them, because I didn't choose them, I basically worked to make money. So I made the decision to only do things that I think I can do well and that I really like. I struggled for a while but gradually I started to go back to work with great passion and what kept me going was the opera. I started doing great things, building a good portfolio, working with great partners and generally growing my work. Along the way I faced several problems with my health. But I have learned this well in my life; there is no room for drama. I fall, get up and keep going.
Thus, I collaborated, as a creative director, with Beetroot, one of the largest visual communication agencies in Greece today. In return, I asked them to build me a site, which helped me a lot in getting some clients.
Another great love of mine is the radio. That's why at some point I approached the online radio station amagi.gr, which I liked to listen to, they tested me and eventually I was a radio producer there for eight years. At some point it closed and since then I’ve been on the Third Program of ERT, every morning, 10 to 11.
Generally, in my life as well as in all the jobs I do, humour has been my biggest tool. I always have great respect for all my collaborators, but I never take myself and what I do too seriously - we don't have to be high and mighty, we still have a way to go. I believe that the point is not for a person to excel in whatever he does, but to be able to return the energy he receives and the energy he creates in a beneficial way.
- You have done important work abroad. When did the first recognition come?
The first award I got was for the set design and direction of a dance performance in London. This put me on the map and I also made my first film production, but there was no continuation because I returned to Greece. Here, because of the opera, several times we had invited creators from abroad with whom I worked, so there was communication with what was happening outside. At some point the director of Camerata, Giorgos Petrou, invited the great choreographer Lucinda Childs, with whom we had great chemistry. When she was invited to Germany to direct, she took me with her and we staged three plays. In fact, one of my productions was awarded there at the Kiel Opera House, and that brought me more success. Now I follow two parallel careers - one as a set and costume designer and one as a director.
- Are you still learning things in your life?
I don't think I do anything else. I train myself in new technologies, I do seminars, I try to follow the way other directors work, I pay attention to the producers in the Third Program who are older than me, I read a lot, I follow the news to be kept updated... I'm like a sponge - it's impossible for me to stop learning. What I want to do now is to be able to stop working for a while and catch up on the things I've done over the years - it's something I need. I also want to meet people and talk - right now I only get to talk to business partners.
- What has been the most important moment in your professional life?
I don't have a particular moment to single out. I would say that the moment I enjoy the most is when I'm solving a problem and this procedure is usually very lonely. It is my greatest pleasure, and as long as this is the case, I put up with anything else I may not like, because whatever work you do, regardless of how much you love it, it has its drudgery and setbacks. Also whatever I do, it's collaborative. There are people with less or more responsibility than me and together we are a chain. As I get older, I try to listen more.