Hourig Papazian-Sahagian is like the Energizer bunny. She just keeps going … and going.
As producer-director-impresario of The Way We Were, Hourig is celebrating her 20th anniversary with “Hello Ellis Island,” a musical spoof on Armenian immigrants aboard a vessel bound for America during the genocide years following World War 1.
The fact she’s 83 serves as no barrier for her vitality. But putting a hip operation on hold to stage a production? That’s show biz!
A tour bus pulled up to St. Gregory Church in North Andover, MA, recently and out poured a cast of 25 performers from the New Jersey Hamazkayin. The group had embarked from the Mid-Atlantic Region at 6 a.m., presented a stirring production and hopped back on the bus for the return trip home – an 18-hour junket done in a day’s time.
At the head of the class was Papazian-Sahagian.
“I’ve dedicated all my programs to our greatest generation of survivors who have been our inspiration and our mentors,” she says. “I feel their plight very keenly. I tip my hat to their drive, resourcefulness, resilience, ambition, goals and ideals. I wish to honor them always.”
By honoring the survivors and victims, she brings homage to a community passionate for the arts and humanities. For two decades, her troupe has been in one hall and out the other. The money raised goes toward expenses.
The satisfaction in reviving traditional art and folk songs grows fervently. It’s a family within a family. Papazian-Sahagian is joined by three sons and eight grandchildren. At a time when Armenians throughout the world are reeling with protocols, “Ellis Island” affords a welcoming retreat.
“Whatever happened to those recorded testimonies?” she wonders. “Not enough money was ever spent on D.C. Lobbyists to further the Hai Tadh Cause so here we are, faced with these killer protocols which Yerevan and Turkey dared to promote.”
This is a protagonist speaking, not only someone from the stage of make-believe but a woman who for 20 years served as executive director of the Prelacy’s Armenian National Education Committee (ANEC)and was the first principal of the Hovnanian Armenian School in her community.
For this production, she arranged all the songs and worked with the musicians, perfected the sound system, handled the art and program design, secured the financing, was a scion for promotion and public relations, and presided over all rehearsals. All said, it’s Armenian Repertory Theater at its level best.
When you consider the average age of cast members to be 72, that’s even more commendable. They include picture brides, a bachelor or two, a wealthy rug merchant and a wandering minstrel, dressed appropriately in Armenian costumes and dancing to the music of their native land. The exuberance might be something you’d find at a keftime.
“No divas need apply,” she smiles. “We all sacrifice. There is diversity here and every cast member is taught to improvise if necessary. Appearing in such a venue is better than any doctor’s prescription. It’s medicine for the soul.”
Every good story deserves a sequel. Papazian-Sahagian is ready to launch another production as she begins her farewell tour of “Hello Ellis Island.” This one is called “Hye Legion – the Gamavor Story.” It tells of another breed of “forgotten heroes” who left behind the comforts of America to join the front lines of Armenia.
Two years of research have gone into this, along with casting and song rehearsals. It should be ready for the grand stage in time for the 95th anniversary of the genocide next year.
“What we have here is the unrecorded sacrifice, the untold story,” she confirms. “The volunteers who fought the noble cause represent our unsung heroes and it’s time someone patronized them.”