Simon Abkarian with his three Molière awards (photo Facebook)

Simon Abkarian Continues to Stand Out in the French Theater

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By Mélanie Tuyssuzian

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

Simon Abkarian is now a famous name in terms of theater and cinema in France. This French-Armenian producer, artist and playwright, committed to Armenia, is an accomplished artist. His play “Electre des bas-fonds” [Electra in the Underworld] has been performed for 3 years in Paris and continues to be successful.

An ad for Simon Abkarian’s production at the Theatre du Soleil in Paris (photo Facebook)

PARIS — It’s almost 6 p.m. Sunday, June 25, when the cast of “Electre des bas-fonds” bows to the audience at the end of the play. The applause is powerful, showing the audience’s enthusiasm for the play. In this performance, Simon Abkarian modernizes the story of “Orestes,” a Greek tragedy, written by Aeschylus, in 458 B.C. This play highlights Orestes, who was forced by law and his sister Electre, to kill their mother, Clytemnestre, guilty of the murder of their father, Agamemnon. This is an old story completely reworked, performed with dance and profound music, through a swaying ballet format that is fervent and contemporary. This play embodies women’s oppression over the years and makes it as serious as it is beautiful.

A scene from “Electre des bas-fonds” (photo Facebook)

Chouchane Agoudjian has danced in the company since its beginning of the play in 2019. To her, having Simon Abkarian as a director is great luck. “I believe I have matured significantly since my arrival on the adventure alongside Simon and his company, I believe I have discovered myself, learned to know myself better,” Chouchane explains.

In 2020, Simon Abkarian won 3 Molière Awards for this play (a prestigious French theater award). However, this was not the first time Simon Abkarian has won a prize.

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A Multicultural Artistic Journey

In 2001, Simon Abkarian received his first award as “best artist” for his role in the movie “Une bête sur la lune” [Beast on the Moon]. However, his career started earlier, in Los Angeles.

Born in France to a Lebanese-Armenian family, Abkarian’s parents decided to go back to Lebanon before the war of 1975. The war pushed them to run away from the country, first to France, and then to Los Angeles. In the City of Angels, Abkarian discovered theater for the first time, through Shakespeare’s work. There, he joined an Armenian theater company led by Gerald Papasian.

Simon Abkarian (photo Facebook)

Later, thanks to Georges Bigot, a French actor, he became a member of the Théâtre du Soleil, in France and started to perform with different directors, such as Ariane Mnouchkine, who taught him everything about theatre. His first steps on the scene led him to cinema. He worked with many French producers, especially with Cédric Klapish and Robert Guédiguian, but also with Atom Egoyan. The talent of Simon Abkarian is such that he can play different types of characters, good and bad ones, a colonel (“Kaboul Kitchen”), an Armenian grocery merchant (“L’Armée du Crime [The Army of Crime]”), or a Corsican mafioso (in the huge successful play Edmond).

Commitment to Armenia through His Art

In 2016, he won the French Trophy of the Cinema, with his second role in the movie “Une histoire de fou” [A Crazy Story]. The movie, produced by Guédiguian, tackles the consequences of the Armenian Genocide. Simon Abkarian is especially known for his role as Missak Manouchian in another movie directed by Guédiguian, “L’Armée du Crime,” released in 2009. The movie pays tribute to a real life group of resistance fighters called the Manouchian Group during the Nazi occupation of Paris in 1944. The Manouchian Group has really marked the history of France and its brave actions are still taught at school. Formed mostly by immigrants, like Italian, Spanish, Polish, or Armenian as the leader of the group, Missak Manouchian, it had a huge impact on the French Resistance before being caught and executed by the Nazis. “It affected me because my character is Armenian, and I’m Armenian. Manouchian has this vision of France, a little idealized – me too. It’s important to me to be in this movie because it’s devoted [to the goals of the Resistance] and what these people did was just extraordinary,” Simon Abkarian said after the release of the movie to the French cinema website Allociné.

The Power of His Words

In 2020, during the Nagorno-Karabakh war, the actor was so affected by the conflict that he decided to make his voice heard. He wrote an opinion column to support Artsakh in a well-known French newspaper, Le Figaro. This publication was his way of denouncing the Azerbaijani attacks and the Turkish racism against Armenians. It aimed to raise awareness of the war. The consciences of this world are always behind a massacre. They always find the right and eloquent words to express their delay, which was not one. Wherever we live, we are Armenians, and we know this. We fight for the future of our children, remembering our dead who refused to die a second time. Soon, together with my friends, I will go to Armenia, as promised, to create an international theater festival,” wrote Abkarian.

More recently, in December 2021, after the arrival in Armenia of the French far-right politician Eric Zemmour, Abkarian wrote another article in the newspaper Marianne addressed to him. Eric Zemmour was running for the French presidency and often alluded to the French-Armenian people during his election campaign: “Go back to your campaign, sir, to your ambition, to your racial obsession. The history of Armenians is much bigger than us, our fight much more sacred than your career,” the actor proclaimed.

Simon Abkarian became one of France’s most prominent actors and writers due to his voice in the Armenian community, the subtlety of his acting, and his charism. “I love acting, but what I like the most is to disappear. The best compliment that people tell me is that they don’t recognize me,” Abkarian confessed to the website Allociné. He is now in charge of the Tera Company, which he founded in order to produce his plays. And every week since 2019, he’s still applauded with his team at the end of “Electre des bas-fonds.”

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