Theater of Armenia

Armenian theater dates to before Roman times and is one of the oldest Eurasian theatrical traditions. The Theater of Armenia – along with the Greek and Roman, one of the oldest theaters of the world of the European type

Ancient Armenian theater
In the 1st millennium BC. e., in the era of the slave society, from the cult of ancestors, associated with the chanting of heroic deeds, with funeral ceremonies, rituals dedicated to the dying and resurrecting god Gisane-Ara the Beautiful, the Armenian tragedy theater “zainarku-gusanov” and “Vokhbergakov” appeared. With the cult of Guisane-Ara, with the celebration of the return of spring and the bacchanalia in honor of the goddess of fertility ” Anahit “, the ancient Armenian comedy theater, whose actors were “katakergaki” and “kata-gusany”, is also associated. The Armenian professional theater originated under the Armenian Hellenistic monarchies from the pagan mystery tragedy and the folk comedy.

According to the testimony of the Greek historian Plutarch in 69 BC. e. Tsar Tigran II the Great (95-55 BC) built in the southern capital of Great Armenia Tigranakert a building of the type of Hellenistic amphitheatres of Syria, where performances were given. It is also known that the son of Tigran, Tsar Artavazd II (56-34 BC), author of the tragedies, created in the northern capital of Armenia Artashate (which the Romans called “Carthage of Armenia”) a Hellenistic theater. According to historical sources, there was a troupe led by the tragedian Jason, and in particular in 53 BC. e. a tragedy was played outEuripides “Bacchante”. Since the I century BC. e. numerous historical facts confirm the continuity of the existence of a variety of genre and types of Armenian professional theater. For example, in Armavir, the capital of ancient Armenia, inscriptions in Greek with fragments from the tragedies of Greek authors or, possibly, the Armenian king Artavazd II were found.

The pantomime developed in the ancient Armenian theater. From the II century, the Armenian ” wardzak ” (actress-pantomime) known as Nazenik is known. In the II-III centuries, “zainarku-gusany” and “Wohbergu-gusan” – Armenian actors of the tragedy performed Greek and Armenian plays, and in the middle of the IV century performances were given at the court of King Arshak II.

IV-XV centuries
Since 301, after the adoption of Christianity as the state religion, as well as the strengthening of the feudal system, the opposition of the church to the theatrical art was noted. For example, the sermons and speeches of Catholicos John Mandakuni (5th century) directed against theatrical art are known:

… You are trying to get into the trap of his sorrowful, going into the filthy theatrical performances to hear the voice of dirt – the most abominable weapon of deceiving the ears, profaned by the godless insidious demons of the gusans…

Despite this, performances of ancient drama (works by Menander, Euripides), as well as compositions by Armenian comediographers, tragedians and mammographers were given. By the type of antique amphitheaters, there were special theatrical buildings with separate places for women as reported by John Mandakuni. It was the popularity of theatrical performances that prompted the clergy to introduce theatrical elements into church rites. Thus, for example, from the liturgical drama a Christian mysterious theater emerged which is considered a characteristic product of the culture of the epoch of feudalism. Analysis of the works of Armenian philosophers VI – VII centuriesshows that the theater occupied a prominent place in the Armenian public life of the time. Already in the era of the late Middle Ages, the prevalence of theatrical performances in the Vaspurakan principality, in the Ani kingdom and in the Armenian state in Cilicia is known. There is an assumption that the troupe of actors-gusans and actress-wardzak also performed on the island of Akhtamar. On the high reliefs of the walls of the Akhtamar temple of the first quarter of the 10th century, masks of the Armenian theater of the era are depicted in two of its varieties – a household comedy (similar to Menander’s dramatic art) and a satirical theater of the “gusanov-mimosa” and “tsaratsu” theater. In the XII centuryAn Armenian theater is being formed in the Kingdom of Cilicia, which gradually becomes one of the centers of Armenian culture. Theatrical and circus performances become an important part of city life in Cilicia, as described in the works of the local poet Grigor Marashetsi. By this time belong the first preserved work of Armenian drama: the dramatic poem by Hovhannes Erzkatsi Pluz and the mystery drama “The Adam’s Book” by Arakel Syunetsi.

XV-XVIII century
At the end of the 14th century, after the fall of the Cilician kingdom, the Armenian people lost their independence. Preserved data on the continued negative attitude of the church to the theater. In particular Matteos Dzhugaetsi (c.1350-1411) urged ” not to go to the gusans, they talk about the affairs of Haik and bring up the spirit of disobedience “. The foreign yoke was reflected in art. Unfortunately in the XV – XVIII-XVIII centuries, the process of gradual withering away of the ancient theatrical art is observed in Armenia. The new Armenian theater has already appeared XVII-XVIII centuries. The French traveler Jean Chardin reports on the production of a comedy in three acts performed by Armenian gusans, which he saw in 1664 in the city square of Yerevan. The new Armenian theater is developing among Armenian emigrants. Armenian school theaters (church and secular) existed since 1668 in a number of cities where Armenian colonies existed (Lviv, Venice, Vienna, Constantinople, Madras, Calcutta, Tbilisi, Moscow, Rostov-on-Don). These theaters, being classical about direction, expressed ideas generated by the national liberation movement. The tragedy “Martyrdom of St. Hripsime”(Prologue, epilogue and interludes in Polish), which was staged in 1668 in the Armenian school of Lviv .

Armenian Theater of the XIX century

Eastern Armenia
The accession of Eastern Armenia to Russia in 1827 played a key role in the development of the theater of modern times, in particular the theatrical art among the Eastern Armenians, whose activists were able to get more acquainted with Russian culture. It is noteworthy that the first production of A. Griboyedov’s “Woe from Wit”, which was attended by the author, was carried out in Erivan in December 1827. Already in the 1820s the first Armenian amateur school performances were created in the Tiflis Armenian seminary A.Alamdaryan and in Karasubazar (now Belogorsk). An important event was the creation in 1836 G. Shermazanian theater in Tiflis under the title “Shermazanian darbas”, where in 1842 was staged his comedy “Description of some deeds of Bishop Karapet” criticized the clergy, merchants and officials.

In 1859, the outstanding Armenian writer and democrat M. Nalbandyan, in a review of the performances of Armenian students in Moscow (the historical tragedy of S. Vanandetzi “Aristakes” and the everyday comedy of N. Aladatyan “Missed my fifty chervontsov”), laid out his views on the role and significance of the theatrical art, which is also the theoretical basis for the further development of the Armenian democratic theater.

In the 1850’s – 1860 ‘s. there were everyday comedies of M. Patkanyan, N. Puginyan, M. Ter-Grigoryan, O. Gurgenbekyan and other playwrights. In 1863, under the leadership of G. Chmshkian, an Armenian theater was established in Tiflis. In 1865 the first Armenian performances were staged in Yerevan, and already in 1873 a theatrical collective was created under the leadership of the playwright, actor and director E. Ter-Grigoryan.

Western Armenia
Already in 1810 in Constantinople, considered the center of spiritual culture of Western Armenians (who lived or originates from Western Armenia), the first Armenian plays were directed by M. Bzhishkyan. The theater “Aramyan tatron” O. Gasparyan, which existed during 1846 – 1866- ã., Retaining the traditions of the ancient Armenian theater, was of great historical importance. At the same time in the 1850’s. The Armenian amateur troupes also acted in Constantinople. The poet-playwright M. Peshiktashlyan in 1856 founded the Armenian National Theater. An equally important event is the withdrawal in 1857theatrical magazine “Muses of Ararat”. Creativity of M. Peshiktashlyan, S. Ekimyan, P. Duryan, T. Terzian also developed Western Armenian drama.

In the 1860s, amateur Armenian theater troupes in Constantinople and Tiflis developed to the level of professional permanent theaters. An important historical event is the foundation of Hakob Vardovian theater “Arevelyan Tatron” (“Oriental Theater”) in 1861. In 1869, he also organized the “Vardovyan taterakhumb” (the Vardovian troupe) in Constantinople, which operated until 1877 – the beginning of the Russo-Turkish war. In 1873 a theatrical collective was founded, which was directed by the playwright, actor and director E. Ter-Grigoryan.

The great contribution to the transition of the Armenian theater from the classic mannerisms and pomp and fulfillment to the realism of images and games was played by G. Chmishkyan, S. Mundinyan, M. Amrikyan (the last to catch the idea of establishing a permanent Armenian theater, in 1863, together with P. Proshyan, he created a dramatic a circle that left a notable mark in the history of the Armenian scene)..

Since the late 1870’s. the Turkish government persecuted Armenian theaters in Constantinople. During these years, from Constantinople to the Caucasus have moved many large Armenian actors, among them P. Adamyan, Siranush, Astghik, Hrachya Azniv, Mnakyan M. et al..

For a long time Tiflis, the capital of Georgia, was the cultural center of Transcaucasia. The theater traditions of the Armenian people are also largely connected with it.

In Tbilisi, beginning in 1824, Armenian Nersesian school staged performances in Armenian, and later played on different stages of the city. And already in 1856 a professional Armenian theater was founded, with a professional acting company headed by Gevorg Chmiskian. Under his leadership, the first generation of actors grew up in the theater: M. Amrikyan, A. Sukiasyan, A. Mundinyan, S. Matinyan, K. Aramyan, G. Miragyan, S. Shaginyan, Satenik, etc. During this period, the playwrights worked together with the theater: N. Aladadyan, N. Puginyan, M. Ter-Grigoryan and, of course, the founder of the Armenian realistic dramatic art Gabriel Sundukyan. Tbilisi was not only the theater center of Tbilisi-based Armenian actors, it also contributed to the emergence of talented Armenian actors living in Western Armenia: Petros Adamyan, Siranuysh, Azniv Hrachya, D. Turyan and many others.

In the 1870s, Armenian theaters in Constantinople were persecuted by the Ottoman government. In those years, many major Armenian actors moved from Constantinople to Transcaucasia: P. Adamyan, Siranuysh Astghik, Rachya Azniv, M. Mnakyan, and others.

An outstanding role in the development of the theater in the 1880s belongs to the greatest tragedian P. Adamyan, who expressed in his work a protest against social and national oppression. Adamyan created remarkable realistic scenic images in Sundukyan’s plays and in the translation repertoire saturated with inspired romance.

Further development of the theater is connected with the drama of A. Paronyan, who created the satirical comedy “Uncle Bagdasar”, “Oriental Dentist”, “Flatterer” and A. Shirvanzade, author of outstanding realistic psychological dramas “For Honor”, “Namus”, “Evil” spirit “,” On the ruins “. Widely included in the repertoire of the Armenian theaters of drama and comedy E. Ter-Grigoryan “Under the mask of charity”, “The victim of oppression.” Romantic trends imbued the work of Muratsan – the historical drama “Ruzan”.

The realistic direction in the Armenian theater was claimed by the actors – A. Abelian, Siranuysh, P. Araksyan, A. Harutyunyan, A. Armenyan, A. Vruyr, G. Avetyan, O. Sevumyan, G. Petrosyan, O. Masyurean, Zabel, who played in the Tiflis, Baku and other cities.

The Armenian Theater in the 1900s – 1920s
n 1905 – 1907, the Armenian theater experienced a great creative upsurge. Back in the 1890s – 1900s in the working class districts of large cities (Baku, Tiflis) organized Armenian community theater. Then people’s theaters are created, in the performances of which both amateurs and professionals take part.

In Tiflis, public theaters were created – the Avchal Auditorium (1901), the Murashko Theater (1902), the Avlabar Theater of P. Araksyan (1903), the Theater of the Assembly (1903), the Armenian Drama Section of the Zubalov People’s House (1909).

In Baku, there were Armenian drama groups at the people’s homes of the workers in the outskirts. Armenian performances were given by Armenian amateur troupes in Erivan, Alexandropol (Gyumri), Batumi, Shusha, Elizavetpole (Ganja). Performances of these theaters and circles were designed for broad sections of the population, they put classical and modern dramaturgy, ticket prices were generally available. Some of these theaters worked before the 1-st World War (1914). In the activities of the people. theaters and artists P. Araxian, A. Kharazyan, V. Ter-Grigoryan, M. Gavrosh, V. Galstyan, D. Gulazyan and others took part.

In the 1910s new actors appeared who became stage masters – Hasmik, I. Alikhanyan, P. Adamyan, O. Gulazyan, Knarik, M. Manvelyan, A. Mamikonyan, later – A. Voskanyan, V. Papazian, O. Zarifyan. New playwrights – R. Papazyan, L. Manvelyan.

Political injustice, national oppression, hampered the development of the national theater. The lack of material and organizational support, censorial harassment hampered the development of theatrical art.

The deepest crisis was experienced by the theater during the reign of the Dashnaks (1918 – 1920).

Armenian Soviet theater 1920 – 1991
May 5, 1920 in the liberated Baku, an Armenian studio was created called “Eastern Theater Studio”, headed by the composer and theatrical figure A. S. Mayilyan. The repertoire of the studio theater consisted of the works of AM Shirvanzade, G. Ibsen, P. Giacometti.

A month later, the Armenian State Theater opened in Baku, the first performance of which was “Because of Honor” by AM Shirvanzade – was shown on June 20, 1920.

So many Armenian theaters (in Moscow, Kiev, Kharkov, Rostov-on-Don, Astrakhan, Yekaterinodar, Armavir, Pyatigorsk and other cities of Soviet Russia) were created during the years 1917 – 1920, that the Commissariat of Nationalities in Armenian affairs could no longer manage without a section of the theater, which opened at the department of cultural and educational work.

January 25, 1922 the First State Drama Theater of Soviet Armenia was opened.
In 1940 a new Armenian Academic Opera and Ballet Theater was built in Yerevan. A. Spendiarov

Source from Wikipedia