Undergraduates are supposed to spend their college careers reading other people’s work, not writing their own, right?
Not for Anoush Baghdassarian ’17, who arrived at CMC as a fully confirmed playwright.
By the time of her freshman year, Baghdassarian had staged her one-act play about the Armenian Genocide, “Found,” several times in her native New York state. As part of the Mgrublian Center for Human Right’s programming this spring for the genocide’s 100th anniversary, Anoush participated in several panel discussions and events, including one centered on her play. CMC Magazine asked Anoush to describe the inspiration and evolution of “Found.”
There aren’t many high school students who decide to write a play. Why did you write “Found”?
You’re absolutely right. The idea of a play came to me because of the New York Educational Theatre Festival. Since my freshman year in high school, I had attended the festival annually and took all the acting classes they offered. By my senior year, I’d taken all the acting workshops, and I decided to study writing plays for fun. “Found” started with a monologue I wrote for that class.
CM: But why did you pick the genocide? Why did you want to write a play about it?
AB: Raising awareness about the Armenian Genocide is something I’ve been passionate about since 8th grade. In Sunday School I remember learning that the Armenian Genocide was the “forgotten Genocide.” When Hitler was planning the extermination of the Polish Jews, he said, “after all, who today remembers the annihilation of the Armenians?” Hitler looked to history to learn how to act in the future, and I’ve always wondered if Hitler’s actions would have differed if we had paid more attention to history as well.
CM: Who are the main characters in “Found” and what crisis are they facing?
AB: “Found” is about a young girl named Lucine and her experience during the Armenian Genocide. Lucine’s family gets killed while she watches in a state of frozen panic from her bedroom door. Her younger brother Raffi runs out of the house and is chased by Turkish soldiers. He disappears. Lucine knows her parents were killed, but she still has hope that her brother is alive somewhere. She spends the next ten years of her life searching for him. Along the way, she encounters many people (two of whom are Turkish) who were victims of the genocide as well.
CM: You made an interesting decision about the staging.
AB: Yes, the stage is split in half. Stage left is the setting for “young” Lucine in 1915; stage right is for “old” Lucine in 1925. The play opens as the older Lucine experiences nightmares about the night that her parents died in 1915. She sits at a desk and begins to write about all the atrocities that ceaselessly run through her mind, and everything she writes is acted out on the portion of the stage representing 1915.
CM: How many times has the play been produced?
AB: Several times. The first was at LEVELS, our library’s cultural and arts center in my hometown of Great Neck, N.Y. The staff there helped me create all the promotion material for the event, provided me with a sound and lighting producer, and helped me push the event to the best it could be. They encouraged all my ideas and provided me with theirs, and their support was very meaningful. They even allowed for a panel discussion with professionals from the Armenian community, who held a discussion to help provide facts about the genocide beyond what the play provided. The play was produced an additional three times, both in New York and here in Claremont.
CM: What is one lesson you’ve learned from this entire theatrical journey?
AB: I’ve learned that if you reach out to others, most are willing to help and support you. I’ve always been encouraged by my mother to ask questions and to put myself out there, and it really helped in this situation. I approached CMC’s human rights center as a freshman and asked if it would be possible to stage my play during my senior year as a final project. But Professor Ed Haley, who was the center’s director at the time, encouraged me to do it my freshman year at the Athenaeum as the main program for the Armenian Genocide anniversary that year. So, just by asking, I received more than I had expected.
CM: That’s also true of your experience with publishing the play, right?
AB: Yes, in October, after I published my play with Ex Libris, my mom encouraged me to have a book signing. I rejected the idea at first, saying I was not important enough, or that my play was not good enough, but my mom encouraged me to just ask. What was the worst that could happen? If they say no, they say no. We went to our local Barnes and Noble, and they said they’d love to have me there for a book signing. In the end, the event was packed!
CM: How did the Claremont Colleges support your efforts to produce the play?
AB: The Claremont Colleges were very supportive in the whole process of producing “Found” at CMC. In addition to connecting me with the Athenaeum, Professor Haley and the Mgrublian Center for Human Rights provided me with a stipend to fund the playbills and posters for the production. ASCMC gave me a generous stipend for the production, too. The Pomona theater department was also very supportive by providing me with an advisor and rehearsal space. A physics professor at Harvey Mudd who is Armenian American also helped me create the posters and advertisement materials for the production. I am so grateful for all of this support.
CM: How does the writing of this play overlap with your major at CMC?
AB: I’m a psychology and Spanish dual major with a human rights sequence here at CMC. In addition, I am a research assistant with the Mgrublian Center for Human Rights. I believe that the writing of “Found” really ties into everything I want to do in my future. From my advocacy for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, I have gained an interest in advocating for those who have been silenced or whose rights have been taken from them. This has led me to want to become a human rights lawyer. I want to continue writing plays about the human rights atrocities I will encounter in my education and in my future work as a lawyer. A textbook can teach you the facts about an event, but a piece of theatre can make you feel what the characters are feeling. Theatre is very powerful in sending a message.