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Negative Space

Arthur Makaryan sets his stage for the fantastic and unconventional

January 28, 2018  |  by Creative Armenia


Creative Armenia - AGBU Fellow Arthur Makaryan has been on an extraordinary journey into the world of theatre and opera. His fantastic imagination is supported by discipline, education, and lessons learnt from some of the world’s leading directors.

CA: Why did you choose to pursue a career in opera directing?

AM: Growing up, we had quite a big kitchen with powerful acoustics where I would lock myself in to scream and to yell, and one day I discovered a sound that was quite pleasant and controlled and started experimenting with it. When I was in 5th grade, our teacher decided to take us to La Traviata opera in Yerevan. Sitting in the audience at my first opera, I had finally found a place that felt like home. I wanted so badly to join the performers on stage and sing as they did. Years passed and I enrolled in singing lessons and piano classes alongside my directing studies. At some point the question popped up — what is it you want to pursue as a career? I knew pretty well that there were better singers around, so I decided to pursue my strength — directing. Eventually, the combination of classical music and directing brought me to opera directing.

CA: How does opera directing differ from directing plays?


AM: In many ways they are the same. But the opera director must have a musical background that allows him or her to understand the musical dramaturgy of the opera. If an opera suffers from bad directing, the orchestra might save the situation — and vice versa. It is magical when both are executed well. Meanwhile, in theatre, there is no orchestra or conductor to compensate for bad directing and the director is very much in control of every single detail happening on stage, from movement to speech, from music to silence. Also, in opera, the stage director is rarely in charge of the expressivity of the words sung. That role goes to the conductor and the vocal coaches.

CA: You have studied in three major universities, and in 2017 obtained an Opera Directing Fellowship at Juilliard School. Do you consider formal education important, and in what ways did it help you?

AM: I come from a family where education was prioritized over everything. Even when finances were tight, my parents always had savings for my and my brother’s education. Through my disciplined approach to education, I have found the freedom to express myself and discover new cultures. Had I not received such a solid education, I would have never been exposed to the breadth of cultures where I have studied, nor would I have learned to speak French and English fluently. My education has opened many doors to new adventures in my professional life.

CA: You have studied in Armenia, France, and America. Were approaches and practices taught differently among the three countries and how?

AM: I received quite a vast education in Armenia and developed a unique approach to logic that I am proud of. I learned to coordinate my ideas in a very clear structure at Sorbonne University in France. My experience at Columbia University, in New York City was more focused on professional development and real-world application under the supervision of the legendary Anne Bogart. At Columbia, I engaged in very detailed laboratory work for 3 years, working in a high-pressure environment where I learned not only how to emphasize my strengths but also acknowledge my Achilles' heel.

CA: Who or what are some of your creative influences?

AM: There are three books that influenced me as a director: Woyzeck by Buchner, Bedbug by Mayakovsky and Today I Wrote Nothing by Kharms. Among leading stage-directors, I admire Poland’s Krzysztof Warlikowski, Italy’s Romeo Castellucci, and France’s Claude Régy.


CA: Tell us something important you’ve learned from working with other directors worldwide.


AM: I learned from Romeo Castellucci that the biggest movement on stage is often stillness. I learned from Ivo van Hove that the best acting often comes from pre-set rules and trust which then turn into total freedom and flight. I learned from Tadashi Suzuki that sometimes you might “urinate blood” from physical pressure but that is often the true cost of making art.

CA: What is your long-term vision for your creative career?


AM: As of now my goal is to start a company that will be focused on new works. As much as classic works are relevant, we need new creations which help to recreate and reinvent what it means to be human. I don’t see the necessity of framing myself as an artist in genres and I want to create work with an authentic signature that will go from country to country, from theatre to opera. What I love about my profession is that it allows me to travel even within 4 walls.

CA: Have you decided how you are going to use your Creative Armenia - AGBU Fellowship to develop your career?


AM: This fellowship gives me a sense of home and the possibility to fill in a gap left from last year when I did not show any activity in Armenia. I will continue to run acting workshops with professional performers in Armenia, developing projects. It is important to create a bridge between my international and Armenian collaborators, and to showcase Armenian productions on international stages in order to increase Armenia’s cultural presence.

CA: Tell us about your daily creative routine.


AM: Mostly my day is filled with meetings with actors, singers, designers, playwrights, and composers. Those meetings can often take my entire day. As I am also producing my own works recently, my day is full of organizing schedules, filing paperwork, and networking. Life gets especially busy when I am arranging international tours overseas.

CA: Tell us about Negative Space.


AM:  As romantic poet John Keats put it  — “The negative space is uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.”


I always try the "negative space" of the possible, and reach out and pull new realities into being. I allow time to visit the fantastic and the unconventional, and become aware of the moments when I avoid staying in "negative space," as it is scary to leave the comfortable conventional "positive space" and go into the negative one where you are expected to be an innovator, a leader. Once I’ve discovered something in the negative space, I use a narrative to bridge the well-known with the unfamiliar.  The hardest moment of all is to convince people to see the world as you do and show that it matters.

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