Saturday night, August 23, the Armenian Dramatic Arts Alliance (ADAA) held its third annual Celebrity Gala at Stars Palace in Glendale. It was a night of glamorous performances, awards, music and festivity.
The classic restored theater welcomed 200 people from the Armenian and American theater and film communities. The Master of Ceremonies for the evening was Richard Horvitz, actor and voice-over artist. Presenters included correspondents Jill Simonian (ReelzChannel) and Anita Vogel (FOX News Channel) and president of the William Saroyan Foundation, Haig Mardikian. The evening also featured a performance by comedian Sam Tripoli and a special video tribute to William Saroyan. The audience was also treated to anecdotes about Saroyan by his nephew Hank Saroyan, an Emmy-winning director, who told of the humor that permeated his uncle’s life and work.
Folk/rock singer-songwriters John Hodian and Bet Williams performed for a mesmerized audience. There was also a special surprise performance by Arto Tuncboyajian, founder of the Armenian Navy Band, who surprised the audience and treated them to several musical selections including his signature piece, The Bottle Song.
At the Gala, the inaugural $10,000 William Saroyan Prize for Playwriting was awarded to Lilly Thomassian for her play, Nadia. The other finalists were Kristen Lazarian’s Flesh and Tenderness and Matthew Yaldezian’s The Living and the Dead. The honorary jury, which evaluated the finalists, included Obie Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Mac Wellman, acclaimed playwright Leslie Ayvazian and founder of Playwrights Project Deborah Salzer. ADAA Officer and playwright Lisa Kirazian and William Saroyan Foundation President Haig Mardikian presented the prize to Thomassian. The award was established in January 2007 by the William Saroyan Foundation, and is granted biennially to the best play based on an Armenian theme. Next year, ADAA will host the Paul Award for Screenwriting on Armenian themes.
The audience was treated to excerpts from all three finalist plays, with the winner being announced at the conclusion of the evening. The playwrights were thrilled to have their words performed by some of the brightest talents of the Armenian community including: Katie Boland (Adoration), Ken Davitian (Borat), Magda Harout (Raising the Bar, My Life), Karen Kondazian (Master Class), Ludwig Manukian (The Shield), Anoush Nevart (General Hospital, Must Love Dogs), Anahid Shahrik (producer of the ADAA Reading Series), and Marty Papazian (Jarhead).
Also awarded during the evening was the ADAA Armenian Star Award to Michael Peretzian, Hollywood literary agent and director of Red Dog Howls. The play had its international debut in Los Angeles to wide acclaim by both the entertainment/theatre and Armenian communities. Mr. Peretzian was deeply touched by the honor and fervent in his acceptance of the award. He spoke of the shame many Armenia’s feel about our history. He encouraged the Hollywood community in attendance "to be proud of our heritage and our stories ; to tell [those stories], so that our future generations don’t feel that same shame." California State Assemblyman Paul Krekorian surprised Mr. Peretzian with the presentation of a Certificate of Appreciation for directing Red Dog Howls and telling the story of the Armenian Genocide so passionately.
Assemblyman Krekorian presented a second Certificate of Recognition to the Armenian Dramatic Arts Alliance and its president, Bianca Bagatourian. It read: "Your work in preserving and supporting Armenian drama and art is unparalleled and greatly appreciated. Congratulations on your wonderful 2008 Annual Celebrity Banquet."
Prominent members of the Armenian community were also in attendance included Vartkes Yeghiayan, attorney; Ara Najarian, Glendale Councilman; producer Bob Papazian; Harut Sassounian, editor-and-chief of the California Courier; Karen Kondazian, Ovation award-winning actor; Simon Levy, playwright and Fountain Theatre Artistic Director; directors Michael Arabian and Martin Bedoian (Syzygy Theatre Artistic Director).
The ADAA Celebrity Gala Event Committee was Bianca Bagatourian (ADAA President), Zoe Kevork (Chair), Lisa Kirazian and Anahid Shahrik. The evening was sponsored by Francis Ford Coppola Wines and Final Draft. Food was donated by Phoenicia Restaurant and Carousel Restaurant and dessert by Sweet Lady Jane. Red carpet interviews were conducted by Horizon TV and photographs taken by Karine Armen.
The ADAA "has surpassed all expectations with this evening’s event," said Anita Vogel, apparently echoing the sentimen’s of many. Funds from the gala will support ADAA’s productions and programs intended to project the Armenian voice on stage and screen around the world. For more information on ADAA, visit www.armeniandrama.org.