Actor, musician Narek Duryan has managed to live in different countries, in the Soviet Union, in bourgeois Europe, in unrecognized free Artsakh [Karabakh], and independent Armenia. And nearly every time he’s begun his life from zero, coming to the conclusion that the most valuable thing is daily and highly specific work.
He caused a significant (and importantly, without pathos) upheaval in Armenia’s theatre scene, showing that staging light comedies requires more taste, knowledge, and artistic flexibility than adapting classical tragedies. Lightness is an intricate and precious feature of theater.
Duryan is an actor, full of ideas and open to human contact, who quickly becomes inspired and just as quickly gets disenchanted. Now, he’s somewhat disappointed. Probably as we are all…
Do you agree that getting journalists’ attention is the best way for someone in a public profession to become known?
I absolutely do not agree with that. I acquired recognition not due to journalists and television, but through theatre.
I generally don’t need journalists’ attention. Especially since in Armenia we now live surrounded by irresponsible journalism. I get the impression that news outlets and journalists work without having any proof or justification and are sure they won’t be confronted with any accusations or punishment.
Let me cite an example. Recently, in an interview I gave to one of the [local] papers I said I’m very happy to see in Armenia theatre-goers who though not well off buy tickets to performances, as they want to watch the performance in comfort, in a good seat. Of course, we all know that not everyone can pay 4,000 AMD [a little less than $10 USD], but I really am very happy that someone is ready to pay that amount to go to the theatre. The paper had completely distorted this statement of mine, taking it out of context and writing, “Narek Duryan is happy that his performance’s 4,000-dram tickets are being sold.” I never said such a thing, and there was never even any talk about my performances.
From that day forward, I’ve decided not to give interviews to newspapers. I speak only to those journalists who I blindly trust.
But you take part in television programs…
I don’t appear on air that often — I neither have my own program nor participate in [comedy] sketches. Also, on television, I stand behind my words.
“Suddenly try to tell the journalist that you want to say something important, but please don’t write about it. If you said it, you can be sure that he’ll write it like that”
Even if your words are edited?
Even then. While newspapers and news websites can write anything they please. I’m a very sensitive guy, and I can’t withstand journalists’ attacks. There are those who read any news written about them with ease, even with pleasure (even the lies, because they know they’ll respond to them), while I can’t sleep at night from the stress.
Generally, I escape from the media; let journalists not talk about me; I don’t need it. Journalists come to meetings without preparing, even without watching the performances.
In our [Armenia’s] news media, you won’t find articles analyzing the performances or issues of theatre. In the best case scenario, they either describe the subject of the performance or film or say who was in the hall.
You’ve lived in Paris for many years (and you’re often there now). Have you noticed a difference in the work of journalists?
I don’t want to talk about Diasporan Armenian papers, since it’s ubiquitous dilettantism [that is, publishers of such papers do it for the love of it; the publications cannot be considered professional]. And French media works completely differently than Armenia’s media. First, it’s not the media that goes running after you, but you who does everything to deserve the media’s attention. Journalists are very high and in some cases nearly inaccessible beings.
In France, there are two types of journalists. One [type who] writes for money and doesn’t hide it (once I wanted Figaro to write about me, and I found out that one line of ad content in that newspaper costs 7,000 francs!). The second type of journalist writes what she wants. And you have to go after both types of journalists because even if you’ve paid 7,000 francs for the sentence “Narek is a good guy” that doesn’t mean the journalist will write it like that, since he still has to think whether he’s going to write it or not.
And when a journalist agrees to interview you, you first send an entire library of information about you to her for her to become acquainted with you [and your work]. And then she begins to search online — to complete the information. The journalist comes to the interview restrained, detached, and with a cold attitude.
|“In France, it’s not the media that goes running after you, but you who does everything to deserve the media’s attention”|
By the way, French journalists would never allow themselves to speak longer than the agreed-upon time (so you don’t suddenly change their mind, become sympathetic). Everything is done so that there isn’t even a glimpse of subjectivity in the interview. Suddenly try to tell the journalist that you want to say something important, but please don’t write about it. If you said it, you can be sure that he’ll write it like that.
For example, famous Russian journalist Alexander Lyubimov (with whom I worked in Paris as a translator years ago) in an interview to Figaro told the journalist, “Let me tell you a secret.” And the article was published with that headline — “Let me tell you a secret”. That is, not only was the “secret” published, but also it became the basis of the article. I consider that normal, since that’s how the journalist profession is. The journalist didn’t write anything false, right? She’s in charge of what she wrote.
It’s noticeable that media organizations in Armenia have increased. And there’s a great demand for journalists’ work. Don’t you think that this slightly depreciates the profession?
Let me put it this way: walking in the city, you have to be prepared that at any point you might be approached by a girl with a microphone who’ll say, “I’m a journalist. What do you think about the seventh leaf of the sixth tree in the alley?”
Imagine if I approach people and say, I’m an actor. Wouldn’t they ask, what type of actor are you, where do you perform, why did you decide to approach us?
I think, journalism today has become “fast” (like “fast food”) — quickly written, nibbled, and, without being subject to long, detailed analysis, published. Generally, everything’s become “fast” — also the theatre, the government, and the stream of Members of Parliament.
What’s a soap opera? A “fast” product resembling cinema, by pressing together the different parts of which they want to broadcast something. The same goes for fast journalism… they press [it all] together and quickly write something. And with it they try to dig up a scandal out of nothing. And you end up with a very meagre result, since the scandal you found is not at all like a scandal; it’s more so filth.
Of course, in France different types of scandals arise often; people read about them, say, “Oh la la,” and quickly forget them. While in Armenia, the nation discusses every small little incident for six months continuously.
In Armenia, perhaps, there are few public figures whose opinion could be rendered in news format. This is why journalists are interested people from the arts, because they’ll always say something remarkable.
Journalists (at least those whom I’ve had the opportunity to meet) don’t know what they’re going to talk about and what they want to write in the end. For example, they call and say the elections are approaching, what do you think, who will be the presidential candidates? And you immediately realize that this journalist has nothing else to do.
Let me say, the elections don’t interest me at all. I’ve lived in Paris for 30 years, and I’ve never voted. And I don’t go to the polls in Yerevan either.
I’m a royalist by nature, and I want to have a king. I say this with complete seriousness, considering that there are nations that don’t accept democracy. For the Russians, for example, democracy is incomprehensible — they need a master, either a tsar or a patron. It’s the same in Armenia. Let’s agree that having a “master” (whose brothers and cousins will likewise occupy mini-master positions) will create a more acceptable situation for us. Let me say it in the language of theatre: the life genre we’re playing will become clearer. Otherwise it seems like we’re playing at democracy while living in a completely different environment.
Let’s remember, in Armenia, when questions related to television arose, people wrote letters to the president and not to another authoritative body, since they were probably thinking, well, who else should we write to?
“Walking in the city, you have to be prepared that at any point you might be approached by a girl with a microphone who’ll say, ‘I’m a journalist. What do you think about the seventh leaf of the sixth tree in the alley?'”
And don’t think there’s democracy in France. Recently, for example, there was a huge scandal in the right-wing party: It turned out that more people than there are members in that party had voted in the party’s leadership elections. And that happened in a single political party — I won’t even talk about the presidential elections.
And so, in this sense, there’s no difference between France and Armenia. The only difference is in the etiquette — there, politicians in ties insult each other, saying “Oh la la,” while here they say I’ll kill you.
And why can’t we [in Armenia] produce good soap operas? It seems there’s money, artistic potential, and ideas, but the onscreen novels are built only on base-level instincts.
The only good aspect of soap operas is that the actors are able to stock their fridges. And that’s it. After all, when a mother (in this case, state theatre) abandons her child (the actor), the child ends up on the street (in this case, the soap opera).
Armenian soap operas, really, are dreadful — in terms of language, taste, and characters. Frankly, I can’t watch them; I try to understand, but I can’t. After watching for 5 minutes, I start to feel ill — as Diasporan Armenians say, I am filled with anxiety.
I can cite an excerpt of the dialogue heard on one of the soap operas (if I myself hadn’t heard it, I wouldn’t have believed that such a thing could happen). One man asks another, “Brother, how are you with your love?” [said in very crude Armenian slang] The response: “Brother, very good.” “So good, that you fart and pass gas near her, brother?” “Yes, yes, yes.”
“When a mother (in this case, state theatre) abandons her child (the actor), the child ends up on the street (in this case, the soap opera)”
I heard it, and I stood there gaping. It’s hard to comprehend that the degree of love is decided with such disgraceful wording, right? But I swear I quoted them verbatim.
In France, for example, [former French president Nicolas] Sarkozy, in a televised debate with [current French President François] Hollande, let the word “putain” slip out of his mouth, and Hollande countered very naturally, ok, we got it, “putain, putain”… they said it, and smoothly moved on.
In French, cursing has become a natural part of the language, while in Armenian it comes across as quite vulgar and terribly unnatural, repulsing the audience. I mean, how can you say “fart” and then guffaw?
And if you were able to influence [Armenian] television programs, what program would you like to see on air?
I would like to see such a program that would be interesting equally to Armenians in both Armenia and the diaspora. There are many important topics of concern and it’s possible, really, to produce high-quality and interesting TV series about our life. We are, after all, both on this and on that side, right?
Interview conducted by Nune Hakhverdyan.