"Dear Armen": A Would-to-Be Experimental Theater Production

Non-profit funding platform ONEArmenia was founded in September 2012 to stand side-by-side with the change-making individuals and the organizations they represent, using social media and crowd-funding to involve anyone with an Internet connection in boosting projects that are geared toward making tangible change in Armenia now. The non-profit is based on its three-pillar commitment to global collaboration, efficiency, and transparency. This means that the ONEArmenia network makes it possible to not only raise money for a project based in Armenia as a worldwide community, but to also track the progress of said project with complete access to financial information.
On April 24, 2013, ONEArmenia launched its SHIFT Initiative calling for anyone in the world over the age of 16 to pitch a project under $10,000 that transforms an element of Armenian culture–be it ancient or contemporary–into a fresh, 21st century creation. More than 60 applications were submitted and reviewed by a selection committee and narrowed down to 6 finalists.
The 6 finalists included:
1. Nar Dos Rock Opera, which takes “She and I,” Nar-Dos’ classic 1889 short story about the fates of two people, and presents it as a modern rock-opera.
2. Aregnazan or Magical World: a short, experimental video which follows young, queer Aregnazan through a fantasy world away from home where she emerges as a hero in her search for self-discovery, love and revolution! The video is an adaptation of a popular olden-day Armenian fairytale of the same name.
3. ‘Dear Armen,’ an experimental, dark comedy theater production inspired by the life of Armen Ohanian (Sophia Pirboudaghian, 1887-1976), an enigmatic Armenian dancer and writer. The presentation will engage the audience through an immersive theatrical experience that integrates elements of traditional Armenian dance, burlesque performance, and spoken word.
4. The Ripple Effect: a project that proposes to involve 30 students in understanding how stories and traumas passed down from generation to generation still have a significant effect on our thinking, behaviors, and feelings. Participants will explore the decisions, fears and anxieties that are currently limiting them using any art form to express their transformation.
5. Pomegranate Skate Spot: A sculpture in Yerevan, Gyumri, or Vanadzor modeled in the form of an open pomegranate. The sculptural form would be designed to attract interaction by skateboarders. The skate spot would resemble a tilted manual pad. The two matching pieces, as if a pomegranate were cut in half, would be scaled and spaced in a way that is fun to climb on, but mostly to skate on.
6. A Room with a View, which is a traveling 12×8 meter red chamber within any given city that frames views of its most famous landmark. Beginning with Yerevan’s vista on Mount Ararat, the view from within this apparatus amplifies and captures both the city and Armenia’s sensory complexities. The chamber allows for private moments within a public space: a sight in the distance, a sound from the present with a memory of the past. Formed to confront the world with the everyday, our proposal recycles ready-mades and re-uses fabrics as triggers for experiences.
The winner was announced on July 2: Armen Sargsyan and the EPSIDON theater group, with their proposal of Nar Dos Rock Opera.
The online community had the chance to vote via the SHIFT project’s Facebook page that had its fair share of bumps in the road. The online voting process was marred by thousands of spam votes cast by hackers using automated software to bombard the online system. The effort to clean up the fraudulent votes produced dramatic changes in final vote tallies, which may have come as a shock to some, and which is why the system administrators placed the audit report of the voting mechanism on display for everyone.
“We’ve done our best to deal with these attempts to topple the integrity of the SHIFT competition, and are so grateful to the community for their support and faith throughout the process. If anything, this should serve as a reminder to us all that anything is possible in the digital age—so we should continue to let our imaginations soar,” the ONEArmenia team said.


Note from "Armeniaca": On a side note, we are glad to mention that one of the six finalists, the intriguing piece entitled "Dear Armen,"  was most probably inspired, directly or indirectly, by the book by Artsvi Bakhchinyan and Vartan Matiossian, Շամախեցի պարուհին. Արմէն Օհանեանի կեանքը եւ գործը (The Dancer of Shamakha: Life and Work of Armen Ohanian), published in Yerevan in 2007 in Armenian, with abstracts in English, French, Spanish, Russian, and Persian. We hope to report its performance any time soon.

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