An Armenian theater revived eight years ago in Moscow is in danger of becoming homeless while its director, actors and patrons worry over its future.
Since 1920, the Moscow Armenian Theater (then called the Armenian Theater Studio) has been in the building that now houses the Armenian Embassy at 2 Armyansky Pereulok (Armenian Alley).
The theater, in the right wing of the historic Lazarev mansion, was first headed by Suren Khachaturian, elder brother of the famed composer Aram Khachaturian. It was closed on Josef Stalin’s orders in 1953.
The theater had remained dark until 2002, when actor/director Slava Stepanian, a graduate of the Yerevan State Institute of Theater who was living in Tbilisi, Georgia, moved to Moscow to resurrect the tradition of Armenian stage in the Russian capital.
The theater planned the production of such plays as "The Armenian Queen" (about Queen Parandzem) based on Movses Khorenatsi’s work, "Passion for Artashes" (about the founder of a centralized Armenian state) and others for the coming season. If there is a 2010 season, the theater hopes to present performances based on the works of Tumanian and Saroyan, among others.
The theater has been given until June to find a new home.
The order to vacate the embassy came under recently appointed (January) Ambassador Oleg Yesayan, under whose leadership the 19th-century building is being renovated.
The theater has been part of the Cultural Center of the embassy, which will remain in place. The theater also has a two-year drama school, which over the years has trained about 100 actors.
Stepanian, unable to hide the tremor in his voice when he speaks about the situation, says that the theater, which has been financed by the Cultural Center, cannot afford to rent a space in Moscow, or to maintain its troupe of about 20 actors. The theater seats 80, and tickets to performances cost from 300 to 700 rubles ($10-$25).
"I do not understand what is happening," says Stepanian. "How can one make a single decision that undoes eight years of achievements? This theater does more (for Armenian heritage) than many politicians. It is thanks to this theater that people learn about Armenians, about our rich spiritual heritage."
Stepanian, who appeared in the movies "Ashik Kerib" and "The Confession" directed by Sergey Parajanov, proudly calls himself a pupil of the famous Armenian filmmaker and says that the mission of his theater is to present Armenian culture to non-Armenians.
"Sometimes I am criticized for the fact that most of the productions in the theater are in Russian. I am puzzled by the criticism, because plays in Armenian can only be understood by Armenians, but we’ve also made the Russian audience fall in love with Armenian culture," says Stepanian, a winner of two gold medals in his homeland for his contribution to the preservation of Armenian culture.
As this magazine goes to press, Stepanian and others have turned to community leaders to petition the ambassador to allow the theater to remain in the embassy.