By Aram Arkun
NEW YORK — Veteran actor Azat Gasparyan has appeared in more than 20 films in Armenia, and recently has presented some of the best of Armenian poetry in recitation. Affiliated as an actor with the Gabriel Sundukian National Academic Theater and frequently appearing on Armenian television, in 2010 Gasparyan received the title of People’s Honored Artist from the government of Armenia. He also has received the title of Honorable Citizen of Yerevan and the William Saroyan Medal from the Ministry of Diaspora of the Republic of Armenia in 2010. His visit to the United States to participate in the centennial commemoration of writer Khachik Dashtents in February and March was an opportune occasion to interview him on his work and ideas.
Gasparyan was born in Yerevan in 1943. He related how he came to be an actor: “Some people have to do nothing to find their profession, as if it was written above. It was thus for me. Perhaps at Raffi’s age [the interviewer’s 3-year-old younger son] I already knew I would become an actor or in the theater. I did not decide this. I would talk and talk and relate things. My games, my days passed in this way. I always felt that people saw that I had some sort of artistic nature. My mother’s father told interesting stories, but others in my family did not have such a talent. My father was a simple worker, and my mother did not work. I was one of seven children.” Gasparyan also sang from a young age. He pointed out, “My first honorarium was from singing, but this is my second love — acting has always been the first.”
Gasparyan’s family moved from Yerevan to Artik, some 80 miles distant, and this is where Gasparyan had his first formal role, in a school play: “I was 14-yearsold when in this play. It was a very long piece, and I played a fire captain. It was very successful — it was performed first in the school, and then for the city.” Gasparyan moved back to Yerevan after graduating, and studied directing. He then applied to the Fine Arts and Theater Institute’s acting division. He had to be tested to be accepted for a five-year course of study but he was not initially accepted. Instead, from 1963 to 1965 he worked in the Yerevan State Puppet Theater. Gasparyan said, “Since I could make the sounds of various animals, they suggested I work in the puppet theater for a year or two. I worked with children, and it was great fun. I did puppet voices behind the curtain, like those of dogs or elephants.”
He then succeeded in being accepted to the acting division, and from 1965 to 1969 studied there, performing in many plays. Vardan Achemian (1905-77), a vital force for modern theater in Soviet Armenia from the 1930s, and a great master of comedy, was Gasparyan’s teacher, his master. Achemian, a native of Van, worked in the Vakhtangov Theater in Moscow before returning to Armenia. Since it was not possible to do realism in Armenia in the Soviet period, Achemian presented Shakespeare and various Armenian plays. He first directed plays in Gumri, and then in the Sundukian Theater in Yerevan. He gave a workshop or course in the Institute.
Ten actors graduated in Gasparyan’s class and the Cultural Ministry placed them in different jobs. First Gasparyan worked for two years in the Adolescent Show Theater and then was asked to go to the Dramatic Theater, where he stayed from 1971 to 1979. He then began work in the Television Theater, acting in TV movies. In 1982 he started at the Sundukian Theater.