Lights, Camera, Satamian: Krikor Satamian on this fall’s production

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Thursday, June 17, 2004


New York – On the heels of the success of last year’s ‘Zvart’ operetta,
Krikor Satamian, along with collaborator Maestro Vatche Barsoumian,
is busy putting together another work by composer Dikran Tchouhadjian
originally titled ‘Leblebiji Horhor Agha’ and now incarnated as
‘Leblebiji’ for three performances this fall in Los Angeles.

A veteran of Beirut’s AGBU Vahan Papazian Theatre Group, a graduate
of England’s famous Bristol school, and an actor with a long line of
movie and network television credits under his belt, Satamian needs
no introduction to Armenian theatre lovers. His name is synonymous
with Armenian theatre in America. He continues to foster Armenian
language performances in a country where the tradition is confined
predominantly to first-generation Armenian Americans.

When Satamian first arrived in America, he settled in the New York area
and began drawing from the local talent pool. But as fluent Armenian
speakers became increasingly difficult to find on the East Coast,
he relocated to Los Angeles where he spotted more potential.

“There was fertile ground [in L.A.] for theatre with all the immigrants
from Armenia and the Middle East,” said Satamian. ” It caught on
like wildfire. I found a generation of actors and now I have a second
generation that is coming from the schools.”

He quickly tapped into the Armenian love of theatre, which has been
sustained by the Armenian immigrants from Armenia, Iran, Syria and
Lebanon. Now the head of the AGBU Ardavazt Theatre Group, Ardavazt is
the only full-time theatre company in Los Angeles. It often tours
other cities across the continent that are hungry for Armenian
theatrical productions.

Ardavazt is currently presenting Hagop Baronian’s ‘Honorable
Beggars’. Later this year, it will be mounting a play by Zareh
Melkonian, the production of ‘Leblebiji’ and five one-act plays
performed by the Ardavazt Junior’s company, created to cultivate a
new wave of talent.

Satamian has also created a series of highly successful one-man shows
that he toured to AGBU chapters across the continent. In Watertown
and Montreal, his performances helped in the fundraising effort for
local AGBU center renovation initiatives.

Since the San Francisco Opera’s ‘Arshak II’ production by Tchouhadjian
in 2001, Satamian has been mining his popular works, most of which
have not been performed since the late nineteenth century in Istanbul
and later in Beirut in the late sixties.

While Verdi influenced ‘Arshak II’, Tchouhadjian’s operettas were
popular pieces that provided people with the equivalent of the show
tunes of their era–works that combined Italian with Oriental music.

‘Leblebiji’ is Satamian’s most ambitious Ardavazt production and
is slated for three nights this fall in contrast to the two nights
reserved for ‘Zvart’.

“The reaction [to ‘Zvart’] was tremendous, it was more than we
expected,” Satamian said. “In fact, when we did our budget we
calculated sixty percent attendance income. It turned out that
attendance was over ninety-five percent.”

“We did two performances in a 3,000 person auditorium and both
performances were full,” he added, noting some people were turned
away from the Sunday performance because of space limitations.

“This time will be bigger. It’s big in scope, and everything needs
a lot of planning,” Satamian said of the preparation underway for
‘Leblebiji’,” he continued. “We will be getting more advertisers,
more donations this time. Those that were sitting on the fence last
time know we can do it and will be onboard.”

There will be new needs this time around, Satamian says, including
more advertising to the non-Armenian community who can easily enjoy
the production because of the ‘surtitles’ that electronically translate
the Armenian dialogue and music on a screen above the stage.

‘Leblebiji’ is the latest in Satamian’s repertoire, but as someone
who is always thinking and dreaming big, he hopes one day to up the
ante and produce more challenging productions.

“I have lots of plays in mind but I don’t have the talent power to
be able to do them. The people I have are competent who can do the
average play but the difficult ones like Shakespeare, Ibsen or Bernard
Shaw I can’t yet. I say ‘yet’ with the hope that maybe these people
will show up one day on the scene.”

If Satamian’s past successes are any indication, it won’t be long
before that happens. Until then, audiences can enjoy AGBU Ardavazt
Theatre Group’s 2004 line up. The company’s ‘Leblebiji’ performances
are scheduled for October 22-24, 2004 and for more information about
this and other shows please contact AGBU Pasadena at (626) 794-7942
or [email protected].

Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS