- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
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 August 29, 2003 

A Life of Laughs: The blazing career of Vardan Petrosyan

Fans brave the busted up streets of Yerevan to get to a Petrosyan performance.

In a repeat of August evenings past, again this year crowds gathered and jumped queues for tickets to see Vardan Petrosyan at the Paronyan Theater.

This year, his one-man-show "In A Blaze" was billed as the last monologue for the actor who says he'll be moving on to other forms of performance.

("I won't say good-bye to the stage. I just want to try a different genre. But I won't tell you anything else about my future plans. I want everything to become a surprise," says Petrosyan.)

As with other shows that have made him popular here, "In A Blaze" is political satire with a comedic edge.

This one characterizes Armenia between two "fires", East and West. Between those two worlds one nation is developing evenly bearing features of both.

Petrosyan shunned music school, but became a singer (and actor, and writer, and painter) anyway.

Petroysan's performance satirizes the presidential and parliamentary elections of Armenia and the war in Iraq. The actor's musical pieces keep his audiences on the edge of hysteria.

"Vardan's performances seem to be mirrors of the present days, where the grotesque things you see, you are scared to confess yourself," says spectator Mari Simonyan.

The artist has been living in Paris for 11 years and with surprising success he didn't disappear in that huge city where there are more theatres on one street than the sum of all theatres in Armenia.

Petrosyan didn't just survive, but in fact found a specific and stable place in the city's famous troupe of Robert Osein's theatre. Today he is not only one of his best actors but Osein's close friend as well.

"All of that is a gift from heaven, which I've just managed to pick up and hold with great difficulty as well," says Vardan.

It is a gift that has come with demands. Besides maintaining his acting edge, Petrosyan had to learn fluent French and follow the schedule of an active theater. A typical day starts at 5:30 a.m., into the theater by 7, where he continues working until midnight.

Singer Charles Aznavour visited one of Petroysan's performances in Paris and afterward told the actor that his "greatest virtue is that you can laugh at yourself."

During the Paris theater season Petroysan also finds time to create the shows that he brings to Armenia.

A medley of arts combine in Vardan Petrosyan. He is also a painter, a singer, a writer and a dramatic actor.

While still a child, Petrosyan would write operas in honor of family holidays.

"When I was 12 years old I wrote two operas for my uncle and grandmother. But when it was time for sending me to musical school I said that I would hang myself if they admitted me into the school."

Petrosyan has been preparing for performances for more than 20 years.

Petrosyan, who is 43, grew up in a time when it was seen as "girlish" to go to music school. But he recalls his childhood with joy, as "a childhood with worn-out shoes and dirty clothes but it was a bright and happy childhood."

After childhood came an education at the Panos Terlemezyan College for Painters and then the Artistic and Theatrical Institute, where he discovered his acting skills.

"When I was a student it was a time for dizzy and wild behavior which deeply influenced my future life," he recalls.

He and his friends formed an acting group that, he says: "was a gathering of mad people. It was a typical Anti-Soviet thing."

During "Student Springs" performances, the group was both delighting and horrifying audiences as the Soviet Union and KGB were frequently victims of their humor. And, during those days, brilliant satire could land an actor in a Siberian detention camp.

"We were lucky we weren't left to rot in KGB basements," Petrosyan says. "But anyway we were young and censorship was not for us. On the stage we were saying whatever we wanted to say."

March 8, 1983 was a landmark moment for the group and in Petrosyan's life, he recalls:

"In the hall where 70 people could hardly sit, there were at least 600 people. It seemed that the roof would fall down on us, the applause was so loud. After the performance my brother and friends came and said: 'Whatever you do concerning painting may be very talented but what you do on the stage has never been done'."

Those crucial words became the cornerstone for creation of "Young Hedgedogs" theatrical group, which in 1985 became popular together with comedic writer Vahram Sahakyan.

He says he is lucky his early performances didn't leave him rotting "in a KGB basement".

In 1989-90, tense years of political upheaval, people would rush from mass demonstrations to see the troupe and its pointed satire, then back to Freedom Square, to stand with raised fists.

"Those days when press and TV kept silent, we were talking," Petrosyan says. "Our words were so fundamental that we had no right to tell lies."

But idealism clashed with reality in the following years, and a disappointed Petrosyan escaped.

"During the days of that wild capitalism when only jungle laws were functioning I couldn't bear it mentally," he says. "My trip to Paris was an escape from myself. I couldn't find a place in that brutal society of the '90s. Today I've realized that if I stayed here I would never become what I am now. Maybe I'm nothing, but anyway . . ."

Since 1993 Armenian audiences have enjoyed Petrosyan's performance videos shot in Paris. And since 1996 the artist has been returning for regular performances in Yerevan.

"My visit to Armenia is an obligation," he says. "It is a confession and worship to the land that I left but to which I will return with hope and will get again all those irreplaceable spiritual values which you can get only from your native city and land."


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