Skip to main content

Island, theatre and magic: Erasmus in Greece as a student with Down Syndrome

Written by
Embark with me on a life-changing Erasmus adventure in Greece, where I shattered stereotypes and found a second home in the theatre.
Cast Group Photo
Cast Group Photo

Hello, my name is Angela Bettoni, and I am a writer, performer and disability rights advocate with Down Syndrome. I am a student at the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology (MCAST), starting my last year in the BA of Creative Arts this October.

Picture of the author
Picture of the author

This year, thanks to the Erasmus Traineeship programme, I had the chance to go to a Greek island called Hydra, where I spent more than a month working at the Hydrama Theatre and Arts Centre, which was founded in 1999 by Corinna Seeds.


As part of my Erasmus, I also did the course called “Acting to the Gods” there. It was a two-week intensive drama course for actors, theatre professionals, teachers and drama students. The course was an opportunity to train intensively, rehearse and perform in a Greek amphitheatre and learn about the roots of Eastern theatre. Before I set off to Hydra to start my Erasmus, I did my own research on Hydrama. I visited their website and read up on everything that they had done in the previous years.


My Erasmus experience was split in two. The first part was not really acting as that would come later. I actually started by observing a group of visual arts students from the NSCAD University in Canada who were there to work on their new art installation projects. I attended a few workshops with them and a few of their lectures; one that I found very interesting was a lecture from a Greek documentary filmmaker called Anneta Papathanasiou, who has filmed documentaries in high-risk countries like Afghanistan (some of her works include ‘Laughing in Afghanistan’ and ‘Playing with Fire’).


I also got the opportunity to watch a Balinese performance called “The Total Actor”, which is a theatrical performance of Balinese drama, dance and arts performed by I Wayan Bawa. In fact, I even recorded my own interviews with Corinna Seeds, Anneta Papathanasiou, Dr Peggy Shannon and I Wayan Bawa, and I really learnt a lot from them! I also observed the American Proboscis Theatre Company during their time at Hydrama while shadowing their director, Jeff Mills.


Through this, I got to experience the genesis of a performance based on ancient Greek mythology. I even got the chance to contribute to their performance as their director asked me to write a monologue around the topics of disability, exclusion and inclusion. I got to perform the monologue for them, and some lines of it even went into their final script. I joined them in the mornings to do acro yoga (acrobatic yoga), which is a physical practice that combines yoga and acrobatics.

Acro Yoga
From Acrobatic Yoga (Acro Yoga) "The Throne"

On the 21st of July, I began my course on “Acting to the Gods”, where I spent two weeks living on my own with a very international group of 11 people from America, Croatia, Türkiye, Denmark, Poland, Spain, Italy, India and Hydra. Together, we worked on a production of “The Bacchae” by Euripides. “The Bacchae” is regarded as one of his best works and one of the greatest of all Greek tragedies. It’s the myth of King Pentheus of Thebes and his mother Agave, who were punished by the Greek god Dionysus. We worked under the excellent direction of one of Greece’s most celebrated directors, Kostas Gakis, who is also an actor and composer.


What was very nice about the crowd that I was working with was that they were all older, hence more experienced than me. The younger ones were in their late 20s and early 30s, and some of them were teachers and parents; they were a real help since, thanks to them, I learned how to manage living on my own. For example, one of them once showed me how to wash my clothes, as there were no washing machines at our disposal. Another person taught me how to change the bed sheets. I also felt safe knowing they were keeping an eye out for me and looked after me in their own way. What was amazing about this crowd was that we quickly became a family. With Kostas, we formed a very tight community and tribe.


The process of working on “The Bacchae” was very interesting. When we first started and were given the script, all of us thought that it would be mainly a two-man show because of the casting that had already been done, but it took a turn that no one really expected. What made our performance go this way was that Kostas designed it to be very workshop-oriented at first. Here are some extracts from the journal that I was keeping throughout my whole Erasmus experience, which I hope will give you a good insight into my experience.

Yesterday I lived through and experienced my very first table read with the whole cast seated in a circle in the Greek theatre, it was so much fun. That’s something which I’m always going to remember that’s for sure, and in the end, I even got much more than I bargained for in my lines for the chorus, and I am also Dionysus’ puppet in the show, which I’m super excited to be performing with one of the key actors.
- Angela's Journal
I’m learning how to open myself up even more, just like what we did in the morning when we were presenting our poems to each other with different elements: hide and reveal, vibrate, wild mouse and spasm. There was one thing that really resonated with me, which is what Kostas told me - that I don’t need to protect myself by being strong while I’m in the space and just to be softer and much more open. He got me up in front of everyone and helped me to get out my soul and my actual voice.
- Angela's Journal

In one of our workshops, Kostas gave us an exercise to read through the script and come up with our own interpretation of “The Bacchae”. Then we showed everyone the work that we had done individually.

This morning was SUPER fun! We were given the creative opportunity to give our own interpretations of the Bacchae. In my case, I did a dance after gathering all the themes that I identified in the script and then with that, I structured it using a lot of ballet and contemporary elements into it.
- Angela's Journal

That evening, after dinner, we had our very first late-night rehearsal where Kostas invited everyone down to the restaurant on the beach, bringing his guitar, and got us to work on one of the songs that he had written for us. We were promised that it was going to be fun, but it ended up being hard work, and there was no room for fun. This created some tension within the group but was very quickly resolved the next day. The following morning, Kostas told us that he wanted us to rewrite the whole performance of “The Bacchae”. He told us that he had really liked what he saw in the workshop when we were giving our interpretations of the story and that he would like us to become our own directors of the performance. He said that he would be giving us three pages of the script for us to personalise so everyone could express their own artistic freedom.


Some of us, including me, were very eager and enthusiastic about this idea, but some were a bit reserved about it. So Kostas gave us the freedom to write to him personally on WhatsApp about how we felt about the idea, and then the following morning, he announced that we would be rewriting the whole performance! Kostas then split us up into two different groups for the chorus, group A and group B. In my case, I was paired up with the original actor of Dionysus as I was intended to play his puppet. At first, we were working separately, but then we came together and shared our ideas for the dance that I would be focusing on.

I’m really enjoying this new way of working, very workshop oriented, very creative and lots of very beautiful things are coming out of it.
- Angela's Journal
It’s fun working with DeVaughn, I’m learning so much from him! Helping me to vision things better, sharing thoughts, bouncing, and playing off ideas from each other. He is such a great partner, and it really helps me so much in improving myself as a performer and as a movement coach. No, I mean seriously we make such a perfect team and I really enjoy, and love the way how we work together. It’s really person-first and empowering approach that we are doing.
- Angela's Journal
I have always wanted to be and rehearse like a professional performer, and now I can actually get to do that. So now, I really cannot wait to share what I have come up with DeVaughn for the chorus group… I really cannot wait to see where it will go next, where I will
go next as a performer. I’m really excited about that adventure, and I’m really looking forward to it. Very, very looking forward. Performing in my very first ancient Greek performance in a very beautiful setting: Hydrama’s Greek amphitheatre.
- Angela's Journal

It was also fun when we shared what we had worked on with everyone in our small group and gave them instructions on what they had to do in the piece as the chorus. They really made it come even more alive, and it was really taken to a different level when Kostas added his own music and beat to the dance. My daily programme was that we would have breakfast at 9 at the restaurant on the beach, come up to Hydrama (where we would rehearse until 2 pm), have lunch, then have a short siesta, afternoon rehearsals, time to tune down while watching one of Hydra’s beautiful sunsets, dinner at 9 pm and cast bonding afterwards (during production week we would also be rehearsing after dinner). I always enjoyed rehearsing in the night under the warm starry sky, exposed to all the natural elements.

I just love the life that I’m living here. It is just so amazing to be waking up each day and going to rehearsals each morning then we eat lunch together then siesta (I’m having such beautiful siestas each day), and then before dinner, we have rehearsals and cast bonding in the evenings. I can’t believe that I get to live the life that I always wanted and dreamt of, and I am loving it. I’m loving each moment of it. I get to live my dreams.
- Angela's Journal
I am in such a good place with my life right now. I get to do what I love every single day with the people I love. Being transported into the theatre world that is my real life that I am living in. I get to live my life in the way that I always wanted it to be, and I am loving it.
Really crazily loving it.
- Angela's Journal

Even though we were rehearsing intensely day and night, when it came to production week, it was actually really fun and not at all stressful. What I was very impressed with was how professional our production week was; it was always very fast and very efficient. All of us were fully dedicated and committed to what we were doing. I will always remember the dress rehearsal the night before the performance. It was after dinner, and we were working in the outdoor theatre with our costumes and the stage lights, and it could not
have gone better.


We were meant to be walking through the performance quietly so we wouldn’t wake up the whole Hydra, as when you project in the theatre, your voice can be heard throughout the small island. But in the end, we were performing it full out, and it was just amazing. One of the best dress rehearsals I ever took part in. The day of the performance was not about relaxing before the show; instead, it was a working day for us. We spent the morning having one full run-through of the whole performance and any other scenes that were in need of being refined, and in the afternoon, we ran through the whole performance one last time but with low energy.

Wow! I can’t believe this. This is it. This is the day. The performance. It’s crazy. It has been such a beautiful process leading up to tonight, and I really cannot wait to be up on that stage performing underneath the starry night sky in my first-ever Ancient Greek performance.” “I have a series of overwhelming emotions taking over me of the very idea of today being my big day performing in my very first ancient Greek production in a very beautiful setting: Hydrama’s outdoor amphitheatre.
- Angela's Journal
This is also another thing that makes today very special for me – that I am Hydrama’s very first performer with Down Syndrome in a professional production in a very good role and being thoroughly represented not only in the performance but also in the Acting to the Gods course which also makes today an even bigger and more special day for me. Being celebrated by everyone around me. I really cannot wait for this beautiful day ahead of me, spending it and living it through each fleeting hour and moment of the day with the people I love. My family. I look forward to and welcome a day full of love, laughter and memories that will last for a lifetime.
- Angela's Journal

I still remember the amazing feeling of watching the audience fill up the theatre till there was no room left for anyone to sit, the lights going down for the show to start and having a group hug with my friends to motivate each other. When the lights went up, WOW! Everything just came alive, with bright colours flying everywhere. It was just amazing. It was also so much fun performing in an outdoor theatre in the night with all the stars shining down on us.

Last night was THE best night of my whole life. Performing in front of a full house in, honestly, the BEST performance EVER. It was just magical. I felt that I had pixie dust sprinkled on me, and I was flying higher and higher than ever before.
- Angela's Journal
These last 12 weeks have been nothing but simply AMAZING! The whole process of working on this beautiful and amazing gift that we shared with each other last night has been wow. It was so beautiful, so genuine, so real, so authentic, so human.
- Angela's Journal
I have insanely LOVED working on this production. I learnt and gained so much, so many valuable experiences, tools, and skills. It also gave me the truest, truest of friends. It gave me a family.
- Angela's Journal
This has really been the BEST Erasmus experience I have honestly EVER had. It has been such an amazing opportunity and experience and I am just so grateful and thankful for it all. For everything.
- Angela's Journal

Article By Angela Bettoni

Connect with Angela on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!