An American Dramaturg in Armenia

Reflections on a 5-month sojourn as a Fulbright Scholar to the Yerevan Institute for Cinematography and Theatre

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artistic director of Active Cultures, the Vernacular Theatre of Maryland

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Culture vs. Geography

In researching Armenian theatre, the split between geographic Armenia and cultural Armenia becomes increasingly clear. Armenian theatre historically flourished in the Armenian cultural centers of Constantinople, Tiflis and Baku--cities once encompassed by ancient Armenia.
However, Ancient Armenia ceased to exist over a thousand years ago and, lacking a georgraphic and political home of its own, Armenian culture prospered within other cultures. The Golden Age of Armenian Theatre took place in widespread Eurasian cities.

Today, Armenia exists not just as a people and a culture, but as a geopolitical entity, a country in its own right. 21st century Armenia was formed and its boundaries set by the Soviets early in the history of the USSR. Thus, politics and colonization have shifted the center of Armenian culture from cosmopolitan centers in Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan to the former silk road market town of Yerevan.

Although the USSR no longer exists and the Russians have withdrawn from Armenian, its legacy remains. In structure, the Yerevan theatre scene is more Russian than Armenian. But how does that effect content? How distinct is the art in Armenia from that created in other former Soviet republics? What indeed makes Armenian theatre specifically Armenian?

Sunday, July 17, 2005

An Armenian performance

Saturday, July 16, 2005


Just got back from a three-day Fulbright orientation. It was a little overwhelming--I had no idea there were so many Fulbright scholars going to the the former Soviet States. The ballroom of the hotel was packed with eager academics, both young and old, who were nervous, intimidated and, at the same time, obviously proud of themselves for being there.

I was instantly aware I am a statistical outlier. Not only am I one of the few Fulbright scholars who is not a full-time academic, I am one of a miniscule number of scholars in the arts going to this region (why is that?). Furthermore, I am the only Fulbright scholar going to Armenia without a family connection to the country. Diasporan Armenians dominate the Armenia delegation.

But because I am not Armenian by blood, or married to or divorced from an Armenian, during the three days of the orientation I was repeatedly asked, "Why are you going to ARMENIA?" as if if were not enough to be a scholar and theatre practioner with international experience and an interest in the region. The implication was that without a deep pre-existing connection to Armenia, my interest was odd. Who other than an Armenian (or American of Armenian descent) would want to go there?

I don't remember this attitude ever coming up the two times I received fellowships to travel to Russia. Although I'm an American mongrel (AHMURIKAN), people assumed there were obvious reasons to be curious about Russian theatre and culture.

I wonder what this portends for the adventure ahead?