Theater can offer emotional insight to large-scale atrocities that can seem too big to process on a personal level, according to Bianca Bagatourian, president of the Armenian Dramatics Arts Alliance, or ADAA.
“Theater takes it one step closer to making it real,” Bagatourian said. “You’re able to touch people’s hearts and reach them in a powerful way when you have a live human being going through the emotions in front of [them].”
That’s why ADAA, in partnership with Glendale-based Antaeus Theatre, is staging four theatrical pieces, some excerpted from larger works, by Armenian writers during a one-night-only event to commemorate the 104th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. “Triumph of the Armenian Spirit” will be presented at 6 p.m. on Tuesday at Antaeus Theater’s Kiki & David Gindler Performance Arts Center, 110 E. Broadway, Glendale.
One of the works, “The Leftover,” was written by Bagatourian, who has traveled across the country and the world to host panels focused on the Armenian, Rwandan and Cambodian genocides, as well as the Holocaust during World War II. After listening to countless stories from genocide survivors, she said she was struck by common themes that emerged across cultures.
“The Leftover,” directed by Armina LaManna, draws on a common tactic used by perpetrators of violence — dehumanizing their victims by calling them animal names. It allows them to disengage from their actions, as they come to see their victims as subhuman, Bagatourian said.
Her characters — representing victims from four modern genocides — don the mask of the animal they were associated with during times of terror. At the end, they remove their masks, reclaiming their humanity and ultimately subverting the tactic.
“Mine is heavy,” Bagatourian said of her play.
While all of the plays touch on the Armenian Genocide, either directly or indirectly, “The Pomegranate Tree,” written and directed by Susan Keledjian, uses humor and light tones to probe Armenian culture, Bagatourian said. Written as a pastiche of poems and dramatic scenes, the piece takes place partly in modern-day Glendale.
In “Passage to Ararat,” director Michael Peretzian stages a reading of an excerpt from acclaimed Armenian author Michael J. Arlen’s semiautobiographical novel that bears the same name as the play. To enhance the effect, the set will be dressed to look like a bookstore, Bagatourian said.
Actor and playwright Adriana Sevahn Nichols’ “Night Over Erzinga” highlights excerpts from her full-length play of the same name, in which she makes a pilgrimage to her ancestral homeland.
The evening is dedicated to late French Armenian composer, Michel Legrand, who passed away earlier this year. In commemoration, a singer, accompanied by a flutist and accordion player, will kick off the evening by performing a song Legrand penned titled “Windmills of Your Mind.”
“We think it’s time our stories were told, so they aren’t forgotten,” Bagatourian said.
This year marks the third time ADAA and Antaeus have teamed up to produce a performance to coincide with the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.
According to Ana Rose O’ Halloran, executive director of Antaeus, the partnership furthers the theater company’s twin desires to be a recognizable space in the community and expand the definition of what constitutes a classic work.
“We want people in the community to feel that we have open doors [and come in] … not everyone is going to do that with a traditional production,” said O’Halloran of the company that typically produces classic works.
For tickets and more information about “Triumph of the Armenian Spirit,” visit Antaeus.org.
Other events to commemorate the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide are being held around Glendale this month, including: