Herand Markarian: Will ‘Silence’ Be Golden?
Posted by Tom Vartabedian on March 20, 2012
NEW YORK—In his relentless pursuit to get the Armenian Genocide story told on stage, especially to the outside world, Dr. Herand Markarian remains on a boundless mission.
With “Mirrors,” he took us on a psychological journey through the emotions of three people in the aftermath of the genocide. The play was produced Off-Broadway in 1996 and later performed in California, London, and North Andover, Mass.
Two years later, on came “The Georgetown Boys,” the story of 103 orphans who were brought to Canada and trained as farmers, bringing a new life into the New World. This show made the rounds as well, traveling from New York and New Jersey to Canada, Providence, R.I., and again to North Andover.
Now we have a gem called “Silence in a Circular Rainbow,” a play commissioned by the New York State Theater Institute, which runs May 4-20 at the Shell Theater (Times Square Arts Building).
It’s the story of love, loss, and the relentless search by a woman for her son following the genocide. It stars Tony nominee Lorraine Serabian, who has secured an Outer-Critics’ Circle Award among other honors.
We have here a story of an Armenian woman whose husband was a doctor, accused of treason and executed in Van on April 24, 1915. Her son, along with 250 Armenian children, were burned inside a building.
A doctor friend helps her survive. She immigrates to the United States where she studies to become an ophthalmologist. Twelve years later, she returns to Van looking for her son and thus begins the odyssey.
Markarian’s contributions to the performing arts are vast and prolific. His career as an actor, producer, director, and playwright dates back 50 years. He has directed more than 40 plays (a diasporan record) and authored 26 theatrical productions.
He’s been recognized with every conceivable award in the medium. Of equal merit to the New Yorker are the 50-plus roles he’s performed, including that of Yohann Lepsius in Toukhanian’s feature film “Assignment Berlin.”
A question-and-answer session with Markarian follows.
Q. What prompted you to write this?
A. It started with a request I received from the Theater Institute of New York State. I was approached to write a play using the Armenian Genocide as a theme. Their institute targets the children’s educational entertainment field and since the topic is not known in American circles, this was an appropriate way of bringing the genocide to the attention of American audiences.
Q. Were there any strings attached?
A. Yes, a couple. The play should have a small cast with no more than five performers—the central character being a woman—and should be no longer than 90 minutes. The producer already had Broadway star Lorraine Serabian in mind for the main role.
Q. What was your reaction to these stipulations?
A. I already had a play about the genocide. ‘Mirrors’ had been performed in the States and England. However, the producer wanted a new play. That was not a problem. I have so many images in mind, so many stories embedded in my psyche, that pulling them out and giving them life is an artistic journey. The play is not only pivoted upon loss but rather the search for loss of the most precious kind—a son.
Q. How long did it take to write this and what were the obstacles if any?
A. My writing process goes something like this: I think a lot. I get engulfed in the story line. Lots of times, I write fragments of dialogues. Then I sit down and pour it on paper. The first working draft was completed in three weeks. Then comes the logic behind the events, the refinements, the structural and language concerns. Once the draft was completed, I gave the play to a couple of readers, including my wife. A reading followed with professional actors. They liked it.
Q. How does this compare to ‘Mirrors’ and ‘The Georgetown Boys’?
A. Quite favorably, in fact. I look upon it as a trilogy, each with its own dramatic character, structure, and content.
Q. To whom might you dedicate this production and how has it hit home?
A. It is dedicated to all those who had loved ones lost during the genocide and were able to have some closure. Losing a dear one is a humanitarian theme, especially when you look at what’s happening in the world today.
Q. How was the cast assembled?
A. First of all, we’re very excited that Lorraine Serabian, a Broadway star and Tony nominee, has agreed to play the lead role of the heroine. The rest of the cast was assembled as any other professional production would. Auditions were followed by call-backs, then choosing actors who best portray the characters. A creative team, which involves a director, production manager, set, lighting, and costume designers, music composer, make-up artist, stage and rehearsal managers, along with a public relations agent, were all necessary components.
Q. What are the budgetary constraints? Your investment in the project?
A. To stage a professional play in New York is an expensive venture. Not having grants, which are scarce these days, makes it much more difficult. We basically depend on Armenian supporters to chip in. We’ve decided to donate all profits toward the renovation of schools in border villages of Armenia.
Q. What type of an audience do you hope to attract?
A. I’m hoping this production will stand on its own artistic merits. With proper advertisement, this may resonate with many nationalities who have been exposed to massacres. The Armenian Genocide is one in which the perpetrator has not admitted its guilt, despite the fact many countries have supported our cause. The United States government is still hiding behind political maneuvers. Politics should not interfere with justice. Justice is a moral issue. Ignoring it is like lying to yourself.
Q. Something about yourself that might surprise others?
A. I wrote my first dialogue at age 12 and my first poetic verses at 13. I built a slide projector and called my movie theater “The Lux Cinema” with showings for neighborhood kids. I used to charge them bottle caps. My first stage appearance came at the age of 16 in Baronian’s “The Gentleman Beggars.”
Q. How would you like to see the genocide centennial observed in 2015?
A. This is a major issue. Whatever we do, it should be done with the entire community together. We should dedicate the entire year for the 100th anniversary in all Armenian communities throughout the world.
Markarian’s Favorite Things
American playwright: Shakespeare and Henrik Ibsen
Armenian playwright: Levon Shant and Gabriel Soondookian
Music: Classical, pop, flamenco, and Armenian
Theater: “The Crucible” and “Les Miserables”
Sport: Soccer (I used to play)
Screen star: Meryl Streep
Stage star: Nelly Kheranian
Hobbies: Art and photography
Relaxation: Surrounding myself by nature and listening to the waves
Most embarrassing moment: When an Armenian mars our national character
Most rewarding moment: When I touch someone with something I’ve written or said
Golden deeds: Wipe out hunger; eliminate injustice; give every child the possibility for growth
Quote: “What did I get from life? That which I gave to others.” –Poet Vahan Tekeyan