This Week in Armenian History

DEATH OF OVI SEVUMIAN – (May 15, 1920)

Ovi Sevumian was a renowned actor who worked for the advancement of Armenian theater.

Born Hovhannes Sevumian in Agulis, Nakhichevan, on June 21, 1878, he received his education at the Nersisian School of Tiflis (now Tbilisi). From the early onset of his career, he made efforts towards introducing reforms in the Armenian performing arts. He attended the Moscow Art Theater founded by famous theater practitioner Igor Stanislavski, becoming acquainted with his progressive principles generally known as the “system,” a follower of which Sevumian became in the Armenian world.

In 1906, at the age of 28, Sevumian, in cooperation with writer Levon Manuelian (1864-1919), who was also from Agulis, and the latter’s younger brother, actor Mikael Manuelian (1877-1944), he founded the “Director’s Theater” in Alexandropol (now Gyumri), where he applied Stanislavski’s principles. This project, however, only lasted one year because of insufficient funding. He then left for Baku to continue his acting and theatrical career.

In 1909-1910ին, Sevumian directed the theater company of Zubalov People’s House of Tiflis. He married actress, later singer Lucy Arzumanian Sevumian (1892-1969). In 1913, he presented a thorough reform plan of the Armenian theater at the Congress of the Armenian Dramaturgy Society of Tiflis. In 1914, he joined forces with his colleague Hovhannes Zarifian for a theatrical tour in Constantinople, which was received enthusiastically by the Armenian community of the city.

In 1917, Sevumian opened an actor’s workshop in Tiflis and in 1918-1919 he founded the first Soviet Armenian state theater company in Pyatigorsk, Russia. In September 1919, on the recommendation of the Minister of Culture of the Republic of Armenia, Nikol Aghbalian, Sevumian went to Constantinople, in Aghbalian’s words, to “gather new theatrical forces, to train them for the performing arts and prepare actors for the state theater I am planning, as well as students for the theatrical school to be opened in Yerevan.” After months of intensive theatrical work, Sevumian contracted tuberculosis and passed away on May 15, 1920, in Constantinople. He was buried in Tiflis.

Sevumian staged plays by European, Russian, and Armenian playwrights (Gabriel Sundukian, Alexander Shirvanzade, Levon Shant, and Derenik Demirchian). He was also noted for a number of characters he played.