Artist Abrahamian Discusses New Company, Upcoming Shows in Boston and New York
BOSTON, Mass. (A.W.)—After a quick read of a “Dear Armen” synopsis, most will realize that it is like nothing they have seen before, at least in terms of Armenian theatre. An “interactive-theatre experience” that features monologue, spoken word, live music, traditional Armenian dance, and erotic performance, “Dear Armen” follows the story of genderqueer Garo who is studying the life and work of artist Armen Ohanian.
Born in Shamakha to an upper-class Armenian family in 1887, Ohanian moved to Baku with her family when she was 15. There, she witnessed anti-Armenian programs that would claim the life of her father, Emmanuel. Ohanian would eventually become one of the most prolific Armenian performers of her time, with her performances and work taking her to Paris, Egypt, Iran, London, Mexico, and elsewhere.
“‘Dear Armen’ is really about three generations of women and gender non-conforming Armenians,” says Kamee Abrahamian, one of the show’s creators, in an interview with the Armenian Weekly.
Abrahamian—a multidisciplinary producer, artist, facilitator, and storyteller born to an Armenian family in Toronto—first developed “Dear Armen” with lee boudakian williams in 2013 during a three-week artist residency at the Abrahamian Arts Centre in Yerevan.
Since its inception, “Dear Armen” has morphed from staged reading to interdisciplinary production featuring two distinct versions and five incarnations, which have toured throughout Canada, the U.S. and Armenia. The most recent versions of the play were directed by Anoushka Ratnarajah and featured music by Haig Ashod Beylerian.
“Boston will be our first official staged performance of the tour,” Abrahamian says. “It’s changed so much. This is the second time we’ve toured this version. I’m not sure if it will change much more after this, since it feels like it’s getting closer and closer to completion… But it’s definitely a different show than when we launched it,” says Abrahamian, adding that she plays a lot more characters this time around. “I’m doing a lot of the monologue for Armen instead of using recordings, and I’m on stage a lot more, acting with lee. It’s more dynamic; we’ve been feeding off each other’s energy. I’m proud of this version.”
According to Abrahamian, the characters “come to life” on stage. “It’s more experienced than it was. The story has developed; we get to get deeper into the characters. The ending is also completely developed,” she explains. “It has really evolved.”
For Abrahamian, one of the highlights of “Dear Armen” is local participation. “In each city we invite a bunch of local guest performers to share a piece during the show,” she says, adding that the upcoming shows will be no different.
“Dear Armen” will also take the two to Detroit on June 16-19, as part of the Allied Media Conference. “What we’re doing in Detroit is a little different. We’ll likely do a short version or a reading of ‘Dear Armen’ as well as a workshop,” Abrahamian explains.
The two have also been working on a workshop curriculum. “We have a couple of workshops that we’re putting on. We are launching an ancestral story-telling workshop during the tour. The other one is a sort of sci-fi, futurism workshop,” she explains. The ancestral story-telling writing and interdisciplinary arts workshop will be held on June 22 in Boston.
Abrahamian and boudakian also recently launched their new production company called Kalik. “We’re starting [Kalik] because we have so many projects on the go, and at this point we need to have it live under something,” Abrahamian explains.
Though Kalik was launched online through the popular crowd-funding platform Indigogo, its official launch event will take place in Abrahamian’s native Toronto on June 25.
“The launch is happening at Beit Zatoun—a Middle Eastern arts and cultural center. It will feature performances and different types of art by artists, poets, musicians who are queer and trans and are from the Armenian and SWANA [Southwest Asia and North Africa] communities,” she says. Following the launch, the two will perform “Dear Armen” in Brooklyn on July 6.
Through Kalik, the two will continue to do theatre and performance, but are looking at film as the next medium to explore. “We’ll also continue to publish stuff—we now have one zine* out and we’d like to continue publishing literature and poetry. We’ll also be doing more installations,” she says. Last year, for the first time, the two presented “Dear Armen” as not a linear play, but as a performance installation in Armenia.
When asked about the name, Abrahamian says that there were a couple of reasons why they chose “Kalik.” “First, it’s got both our names in it,” Abrahamian says jokingly, and quickly reveals that is more of what she calls their “secret reason.” “Kalik, in Armenian, means ‘near future’ or ‘things to come,’” she explains. “We’re trying to build a body of work that has an underlying theme of diasporic futurism—so carving out space for ourselves in the world as Armenians living in the diaspora and building a vision for the future together,” she says.
For Abrahamian and boudakian, the public’s involvement is essential to their work. “We appreciate any thoughts, feedback, and recommendations,” Abrahamian says. (Readers can get in touch with them by visiting www.kalik.org.)
Abrahamian and boudakian are committed to their purpose—to tell stories that focus on the struggles and successes of women, queer and trans Armenians, the SWANA community, and people of color. And through their performances, they continue to explore the intersections of identity, history, and cultural memory.
‘Dear Armen’ will be staged at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Kresge Little Theatre (48 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, Mass.) on June 21 at 8 p.m. and at the Brooklyn Arts Exchange (421 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn, N.Y.) on July 6 at 8 p.m.
* A zine is most commonly a small circulation self-published work of original or appropriated texts and images.