Last Day in Armenia

I am at London Heathrow now for my epic layover before heading back to Manchester. I managed to sleep for most of the flight, which was good considering I got about 1.5 hours sleep in the flat before the taxi arrived. I’m still pretty beat, but not too bad all things considered. Having a bit of culture shock being back in the UK (missing the food and friendly people already) and am looking forward to sleeping in my bed.

Yesterday was an epic/marathon day. I started the day by having a coffee with Narek at the Segafredo near Republic Square where we chatted a bit about the day ahead and caught up about how things were going so far. After coffee, I walked over to the Theatre Institute to have another try at meeting the Rector (he wasn’t able to make the first meeting we had scheduled, for the previous Friday, at the last-minute). I met with him, Anna (who I had met previously) and Artur to recap the conversations Anna and I had. He seemed very positive and interested in what we had discussed. He was friendly and engaged – and we had cognac (at 11.30am!) – so it all ended pretty well. It was useful to have the chance to meet with him in person and talk through the possible collaboration opportunities before I headed back to the UK. Now when I meet with MMU to fill them in, I’ll be sure he is fully on board.

After my meeting at the Theatre Institute, I took a taxi with Narek over to the Malyan Theatre, where I saw the Don Quixote the night before. I met with Narine, the Artistic Director of the company to talk about their work, my work with Proto-type and (again) possibilities for collaboration. I learned that historically the company has performed pieces that are largely inspired by or drawn from Armenian stories, literature and music. They have recently been expanding their work to more experimental pieces including working from scripts. After showing some of my work and talking about theirs, Narine invited me to come to direct a piece with her company of professional performers/actors. Ideally, it would be for a two month period and we’d work in their rehearsal room and theatre space using all of their resources to make the show happen. It is a lovely space and she has some great performers so I’m really hoping I can make it work with my schedule. I just need to let them know what I’m interested in doing and then we’ll need to find a date/time. I think this would probably not be under the auspices of Proto-type, but instead as a side-project – so there is a conversation with the team to be had about that as well.

A few snaps from this meeting:

Me and Narine Malyan
Malyan Theatre from the Outside - with a beautiful mural.

After my meeting at the Malyan, Narek and I went to the British Council canteen for some super yummy food. I liked the food very much in their canteen as it wasn’t so much restaurant food as ‘real’ food. It felt like a slightly elevated version of what people might make at home. I really appreciate eating this kind of food when I’m travelling – otherwise too much rich restaurant food becomes a bit overwhelming. I then walked back to the flat for a bit to pack my bag and prepare for my second workshop.

Just outside of the NPAK, I found a rather intriguing bit of graffiti (it was paper stuck on the wall). Not sure if it was there before and I just missed it or if it was new. No idea what it says, either:

Donkey Graffiti outside NPAK - not sure what it says!

This second workshop was based on some of the work we did in preparing Fortnight and it borrowed from a session that Gillian (Proto-type company member) did with my first year CTP students (thank you Gillian!). Here are my notes and report on the workshop (which I’ll provide to my university as well):

I started by setting out the objectives as follows: this workshop is about using the humble text message as a form to create content which can then be adapted to performance. We will talk for a short period and then you will go on a walk in the city in pairs texting each other following some rules I’ll set. But we’ll get to that.

Then, we discussed the notion of an SMS; I asked people to think about when we receive them, what they normally do and what limitations SMS provides. I then asked everyone to take out their phones and read through an exchange with one person. I asked them to find an interesting one and then for someone to read it out loud. No one was willing to read anything so I read one of mine. It was an exchange I had when I almost didn’t make it back from Zimbabwe because of a VISA problem.

I asked them again: What do we notice about this conversation? We had a good discussion about the way the character count and the remote location of the sender from the recipient, coupled with the relative permanence of the text impacts on how you make meaning of it. Unlike a phone call, a text message is left for you to refer to, obsesses over, etc. It has a date/time stamp. It is both the object itself and the archive of the object.

I then ask if anyone has heard of Guy Debord’s ‘Derive’? They indicate that they have heard his name but don’t really know anything about it. I explain the notion of the derive as essentially a walk with no purpose (I explained the full context of it in more detail). We discussed it as a form for creativity a bit.

Then, I gave people this task:

Exchange phone numbers with a partner and make sure you know their name. Choose someone you don’t know that well. One of you will start doing a walk, a largely unstructured walk that has as its only goal that you should spend about 20 minutes walking and that you should end up back here. Along your way, you will text your observations, questions, thoughts, anything at all, to your partner – but make it personal. Address them by name if you can. Notice what is above and below…come up with a frame for your observations…. Are you only noticing doors? Are you describing the world via cracks in the pavement? Via the people you meet? Find a point of view. Think of yourself as a camera and your texts are the film you are shooting. The partner will stay here for five minutes, to give you a head start, and will respond to your messages, ask you questions, make observations, etc trying to follow your same path, without directly asking where you are going. At the end of your walks, come back here (one person in each pair should arrive first – by five minutes). We’ll then have a short break.

When they returned (one pair took forty minutes! one pair only had three texts total between them!), we read all of the exchanges as a dialogue. I then asked for what their observations of the texts were in terms of content, structure, etc. We then built a sequence using all of them together. We made about a five-minute bit of material together as a demonstration of what would be possible using this form. We then had a closing discussion. This was a much more successful workshop, partly because we had fewer people and because the people who attended this time were much more open. The questions at the end were still largely related to things about how this might relate to working on a regular play text, but some of them understood that this was about creating new material. Again, it felt like I’d need a few weeks to really get anywhere deep with these students.

Here are some snaps from the workshop (these are copyright NPAK):

Students exchanging numbers pre-SMS walk
Students preparing for their SMS walk.
Talking with the students after their SMS walks
Shaping what the students made into a mini performance.
Preparing to call each other for the start of the mini performance.

After the workshop, Edward from NPAK drove me to my next meeting at Lover’s Park, which was a wrap up meeting with lovely Lana from Tempus. I filled her in on all my activities and she gave me a bit more guidance on what might or might not be possible in terms of a Tempus bid for funding. I explained that I needed to report back to my university and discuss everything with them before doing anything formal. She was extremely helpful and offered to provide me with any support I needed in putting together a bid. Really impressed by how warm and welcoming everyone in Armenia has been (bar maybe one person…).

After this, Narek met me to take me to dinner in a gigantic restaurant near the tunnel that I walked through on the Friday evening. It was situated in a gorge and was kind of like a theme restaurant – a big series of outdoor covered dining areas that were tiered up a hill with a central courtyard for dancing in the middle. We were joined by Edward from NPAK, Vahan Badalyan from Small Theatre, Nairy Avedissian formerly of the British Council Cairo – a connection made by Cathy Costain who I met in Edinburgh and who is the arts programme manager in Cairo-, and Edvik, the British Council driver who had been shuttling me around quite a bit (and whose 46th birthday it was). The place was kind of amazing – a real slice of Armenian cultural life that I had yet to experience. There was loud music, lots of dancing and a woman with a python (of course). The food was incredible – we started with a selection of different salads and cheeses along with the very special house made lavosh (which was perfectly stretchy and delicious). After the starters I was almost full, but I soldiered on with the main – whole fillet of trout and potatoes. Again, amazing food. It was a perfect ending to my time in Armenia. Nice to chat with everyone and fabulous sitting outside eating good food. Nairy told me a bit about the work she is doing with disability arts in Armenia. She is living in Cairo, but recently bought a flat in Armenia (she is part of the Armenian diaspora, born in Egypt but of Armenian descent) partly to continue her work in this area and partly because the situation in Cairo is so unstable. Sounds like she is doing excellent work and really pleased that Cathy made the connection.

Here are a few shots of the evening:

Pipino (a tarragon soda - yum) with Narek and Edward.
New Armenian (and Egyptian and Iranian) friends.
View from our table over the tiered seating and to the giant outdoor disco.
Blurry shot of the outdoor disco. People throwing some shapes.
Me with Vahan, Edward and Nairy

After dinner, Edward drove Nairy and me home and I climbed into bed pretty much straight away for a very short nap before my taxi picked me up at 2.30am.

I have almost finished my report for MMU, which these blog postings have helped me to construct, and I’ll need to work out what is possible and what isn’t based on time, money and institutional interest. I feel that I could spend five years non stop doing some of these projects if I had the funding and the time, so it will be a bit of a tricky process figuring out how to proceed. I’m not going to think too much about that today as I’m definitely sleep deprived. I’ll instead be looking forward to becoming a lazy man for the rest of today once I get back home to Manchester.

Hopefully before long I’ll be back in Yerevan.


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