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

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?


Anonymous Simon said...

Dr. Mary
Your journey reminds me of the classic ethnographer's dilemma. How much are you "in" and how much are you "out"? Why? Will your "out"-ness have some impact on the task you are there to complete? The layers of history written over the Armenian people are fascinating. How will you play your authority as an American, and therefore one of the world's very powerful? as an academic? as a theatre person? How will your journey become part of another layer of cultural writing? It's so ironic that you encounter that reality in the midst of your "orientation". Is this the "orient"? (I should credit Said for that rather academic joke.)

What does it smell like there? What do you eat? Are there other family members with you?

What are your goals? What goals will others have for you?

Thanks for allowing us a window on your journey.


5:26 PM  

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