Arthur Makaryan (Design by Vilyam Karapetyan)

The O’Leary Theory: Arthur Makaryan Brings Interactive Theater to the Masses

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By Christopher Atamian

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

NEW YORK — Theater and opera director, producer and artistic director, young créateur extraordinaire, Arthur Makaryan is part of a small and hopefully growing coterie of Armenian-born artists who are taking their talents to the world stage.

Makaryan holds directing degrees from no less than Columbia University, La Sorbonne and the Yerevan State Institute of Theater, and followed up on his studies with a 2017-18 Opera Directing Fellowship at the Juilliard School. His most recent credits include directing the pilot of “Oedipus” at the Armenian National Opera, “Broken April” at LenFest Center for the Arts at Columbia, and the Simulacrum multimedia opera at 3LD Art and Technology Center, also in New York City. His “Hamlet Machine” has toured in Armenia, Russia, Lithuania, Moldova, France and the US (off-Broadway) and “Black Garden” had its performances in Paris at Théâtre de l’Opprimé and at The Tank NYC.

At his production company, ArtéMakar Productions, Arthur strives to push technological barriers forward, taking theater one step farther than “traditional” immersive theater. Working with Associate Artistic Director Tamara Sevunts, techno whiz Hayk Mikayelyan and branding guru Derek Kopen, ArtéMakar Productions was founded in order to “activate the imagination by reinventing storytelling through emerging mediums of art.”

The company explores complex topics and embraces all forms of technology.

Poster of The O’Leary Theory (Design by Vilyam Karapetyan)

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Makaryan and Sevunts have been collaborating since they first met in 2016: ”We like to experiment and transcend the traditional limitations of performing arts,” Makaryan explains:  “We combine the virtual and the physical, creating experiences where people can travel between their devices and their physical surroundings. We want to push our audience further in directions they never thought they would go.” This of course begs the question of where theater ends and where film and interactive gaming begins. Some might argue that theater was meant to be seen the way the Greeks originally did — in the round — and the way we have more or less, though in a more rigid form, watched it ever since the Victorian era. Makaryan is unfazed by such notions: “We don’t make technology the central point of what we do, but rather use it in service of the story.”  September 2020 was meant to mark the company’s official launch: then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Zoom became a way of life. But this didn’t faze the young creators: “True to our nature,” explains Sevunts, “we embraced the change and simply pivoted our launch online.”

Which brings us to Makayran’s current project, the highly interactive “The O’Leary Theory,” which combines technological change with a classic topic in theater — the family drama. The audience watches from home and as the improvised action unfolds, helps to make decisions for the actors:  “How are families experiencing difficult times dealing with current circumstances? What are the steps that they take to come together and be a support system for one another? That was the initial idea that started this story,” explains Makaryan: “A family that once epitomized the American dream and then fell from grace…Trying to reconcile past decisions. The aftershock of suppressed trauma.  The ability, or not, to face reality. We created a space where storytelling becomes a democratic tool where the audience has control.”

As Makaryan notes elsewhere, working with actors in such circumstances requires a new form of commitment, as they are literally inviting the audience into their homes: “We must treat these new realities with care and ensure everyone feels comfortable and supported in order to make sure we are respecting their privacy…Theatre is not just a building: it’s also the people who come together. But how do you bring people together when you’re not allowed to do so in person? That was the challenge that was put in front of us.”

A campaign created by Arthur Makaryan (Design by Vilyam Karapetyan)

“The O’Leary Theory” then, is an attempt to unite people and create a virtual building where everyone together can experience a sense of unity.  The production fuses unique approaches to acting, directing and design, and lets the audience decide on the show’s outcome! The show is being billed as “cutting-edge, interactive, improvisational and on-line: quite a mouthful for the average viewer, and exciting as well. And thanks to Hayk Mikayelyan, who creates “thinking machines” in order to give people an idea of what may lie beyond our current technological capabilities, the experience should be a fun one for all involved.

The story is simple enough. Led by family patriarch Jerry, the ill-fated O’Leary family once had a hit reality TV show, “The O’Leary Theory.” After the show is cancelled, Jerry becomes estranged from his three children, Gary, Rhea and Condon, and from a wife who has mysteriously disappeared. Jerry’s career is over and his life is in shambles. Until now that is, several years later, when a producer appears in order to revive the show. Now Jerry must convince his children to return and shoot a test episode.  To add spice to the theatrical sauce, his wife suddenly reappears out of nowhere with a startling revelation.  Can Jerry and his family pull off a successful test episode without falling apart emotionally? Will the producer deliver on his promise? And who exactly is responsible for a newly revealed crime from the past? Makaryan cleverly casts the audience as producer, to judge whether or not “The O’Leary Theory” deserves a second chance. Sitting in their living room or bedroom seats, the audience’s job then is to prompt family members, stir the pot, and deliver a dramatic family reunion. And as the audience decides the content of the show, the question becomes: do they fully realize the consequences of the choices they make?

“The O’Leary Project” stars James Beaman as Jerry O’Leary and world-renowned Nicole Ansari as his wife Eva. The three children are played by the equally talented Alex Marz, Tamara Sevunts and Oliver Prose.

Not your usual night out at the theater? Certainly not! And that’s precisely the point.  So whether you are an immersive theater neophyte, a devotee of traditional theater in the round or a lover of all things technological, join ArtéMakar Productions for its October 2nd premiere and help create your own play. It may be the first time that you, along with the actors, create your own play, but if Arthur Makaryan has anything to do with it, it certainly won’t be the last.

For more information about ArtéMakar productions, visit https://artemakar.com/

(Christopher Atamian will regularly take a look at an Armenian writer, filmmaker, fine artist or performer and bring their unique take on the world to Armenian Mirror-Spectator readers. You can reach Christopher Atamian at the following addresses: Email: catamian@gmail.com; Facebook: facebook.com/Christopher.atamian.)

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