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

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Friday night at the multiplex?

Groups of too cool for school teenaged boys scoping out girls; packs of girls, with protective moms nearby, giggling and eating candy; entire families, including toddlers and grandmas, ready for fun; and middle-aged couples on dates—all watching a petite ingénue causing mischief while a male heartthrob performs feats of athleticism and bravery. Is it Friday night at the local Armenian multiplex?

Nope. It’s Friday night, September 23, 2005, at the Hamazgayin Theatre. The production playing is The Romanticists. It's a comic story in which love awakens, is thwarted, and is finally fulfilled. The production is full of swooning, comic bits, sight gags and sword fights. The acting is youthful and energized and so is the audience.

The performance ends with a bang as the audience claps rhythmically and enthusiastically while the actors take multiple bows. At the last moment, a blushing young woman runs from the audience up on stage to give a bouquet of flowers to the male comic lead (whose performance was slightly reminiscent of Kevin Klein’s in Pirates of Penzance).

The Hamazgayin Theatre is fairly new by Yerevan standards (founded in 1991). Its programming combines children's plays with more serious drama. Because the theatre is attached to the State Institute of Cinema and theatre, it uses a combination of professional and student actors which contibutes to the feeling of energy.

The theatre itself has a very wide proscenium with a fairly shallow but raked audience area, seating maybe 350. The lighting was extremely simple. The set was more complicated--a series of wrought iron trees and walls with a fountain that turned on and off at key moments in the production. The costumes served as the most elaborate scenic element. They were vaguely period (the period perhaps 18th century fairy tale) and very tongue-in-cheek. Inexplicably but comically, the ingénue changed from one elaborate and silly ball gown to the next every time she left the stage.

The tickets were 500 AMD (about $1.25) which is insanely cheap even by Yerevan standards. A candy bar is 300 AMD. I caused a mini-ruckus because the smallest bill I had was 10,000 AMD (about $25) and the box office didn’t have any change. The theatre staff was so anxious that I see the play, however, that three different people searched their pockets for change.

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