Photo: ZHAM Magazine
Sisters Julie Asriyan and Kris Alberts - a shining example of successful young artists of the Armenian Diaspora. With a growing fan base their creative projects have gained recognition by an American audience. Work in film, music and theater; Their connection to Armenia; Realizing their dreams in America as the children of refugee parents having escaped Baku pogroms - our conversation with Julie and Kris.
Julie: I can't say that I grew up with an entirely «American mentality», whatever that may be. I am multi-cultural, and multi-lingual and all those worlds have taken root within me and created a somewhat complicated and nevertheless rich map of self-identity. My worlds exist for me all at once, sometimes in harmony and sometimes in dissonance – but always at once. And I continue to discover my own path within them.
My love and connection to my Armenian roots is with thanks to my parents, grandparents and my family – who have held on to the culture, the customs, the food, the music, the art – and have gifted me with it. I heard Khachaturian for the first time through my father's violin, I felt the Armenian language move me for the first time from my grandfather's poetry, my mom and aunts cooking dolma, baking baklava while my dad and uncles got the kebab on the fire and we as children ran around in the aroma – I cherish it – and don't get me started on Armenian traditional dancing – it stirs something otherworldly within me.
Kris: I was only two years old when our family immigrated to America. All I really know and remember is life in the States. At the same time, thanks to our family I am so connected with my roots. Being Armenian is a big part of who I am and the values I hold. I wouldn’t say we grew up completely in an «American household» or with an «American mentality». But that’s the beauty of this country – every household is rooted in different cultures and ethnicities and we can still proudly say – We are American. I grew up in New York and love my home and the amazing opportunities I have here. From early childhood while singing American pop music, training in contemporary dance and even graduating from an American musical theatre conservatory I was an active member of the Armenian Diaspora performing in church events, festivals and cultural gatherings. For me, I never really felt too much difficulty finding a balance between the two. It just is what it is. I am thankful for the opportunity to freely live as both.
Photo: ZHAM Magazine
Julie: Our first visit to Armenia was in 2010, a very memorable and cherished time. We stayed in Yerevan, a beautiful city rich with culture, arts and warm people. Our visit to the temple of Garni left me speechless. We drank from the sacred spring at medieval monastery Geghard, lit candles at Holy Etchmiadzin Cathedral, swam in Lake Sevan, and looked out at Mount Ararat at the Khor Virap monastery. Such immerse beauty, such history. We took a long winding road from Yerevan to Artsakh- where our roots go deep. I have a family tree that traces our ancestry several centuries, again with great gratitude to my mother and grandfather. It's remarkable, truly wondrous. I still have dear family in Artsakh. I took my first steps in Artsakh, in the garden of the home that my great-grandparents and their parents lived. I smile thinking of the significance of that.
Kris: That first trip for us was extraordinary. I always knew our roots are from Artsakh, from my mother’s stories, the pictures, and my grandfather’s poetry. Our trip to Yerevan and Nagorno-Karabakh was the most unforgettable trip that I have ever taken. We visited the beautiful historical landmarks, made memories with relatives and performed a beautiful concert at the presentation of my grandfather Alexander Javadi Mirzoyan’s book of poetry in his village of Khndzristan and Stepanakert. It reassured me what an amazing job our family did at keeping the Armenian culture in our homes in America.
Julie: For me, the arts are, and I always seem to say this – a space that magic still resides. That magic is intoxicating and it has the power to affect. The arts are infinite freedom and possibility. I crave and breathe that magic. It holds great joy for me as a storyteller.
Now, I should clarify there is great distinction between the arts and the business of the arts. But, it’s the sacred and the profane; you cannot have one without the other. I think finding your own path in the arts, is rather, building it; brick by brick. As you step, one brick ahead of the other. Nothing in my career has been linear, there is no «how to» A to Z, at least not in my case. I am forging my own path.
Kris: When your passion is performing and creating there is no «one way» to achieve the goals you strive for. We are creating our own path. As Julie said, we often use «magic» to describe this world we live in. The performing arts world is my escape, my outlet. When I’m acting in a film or on a stage – I get to live another life. I get to become someone else. That’s pretty amazing if you ask me. When I am singing, when I’m on a stage I am the most powerful version of myself. Even if I am pouring my heart’s secrets out in my lyrics – I feel the strongest I can ever be. It’s hard to answer how I determined my path. It kind of chose me as much as I chose it. Once I am at the height of where I want to be (if a place like that even exists) – I promise to explain exactly how I got there.
Julie: My calling is in visual storytelling- in front of the lens and behind it. I work in theater, film, music videos, multi-media and still photography. I’m an actor, director, filmmaker, producer, photographer and editor. I'm blessed to have a wonderful trusted artistic community of talent here in NYC. Kris being my most trusted, beloved and frequent collaborators. My most recent project in a micro-short film titled «HOME», a finalist in the «Terry George x Creative Armenia film challenge». Oscar winning director Terry George presented a challenge to filmmakers to create a micro-short film addressing a human rights issue that is dear to one's heart. This project is deeply meaningful and cherished by me for many reasons. This is the first film project that is collaborative with both Kris who stars and my mother Ivette Alexander Mirzoyan who created a beautiful musical landscape and scored the film.
«HOME» is an allegorical look at losing and finding one’s home. The plight of immigrants, displaced people and refugees is so dear and important to me both personally and as a citizen of the world, I feel it is my duty to draw focus on it as a storyteller.
Kris: I am a performing artist: a singer, an actress, a songwriter, a model. That is my creative world. Julie mentioned her short film «HOME». It is no surprise that my latest project was one that we worked on together, with our amazing mother as well. Proud that «HOME» was so well received.
I also spent time away doing some creative exploring this past month. While away my latest single «I Did» (for which the music video I recently released) won #1 in a radio song contest. «Crossing The Line» a film where I starred in the leading role won «Best Short» at the NYC Indie Film Awards and «HOME» became a finalist. I am constantly promoting my album, writing new music and searching for my next stage or set.
Julie: «Our City. Our Story» is a commercial campaign by the National September 11 Memorial and Museum which draws focus on the real diverse lives of New Yorkers. The tagline is «This is my city. This is my story». I am incredibly grateful and humbled to have been selected to share my story --as an immigrant, a refugee, an actor, a New Yorker and to have my sister be a part of it is really special. I love New York, forever and always and the souls who inhabit it - the fighters, the dreamers, the change makers. The ones who make up our unique, diverse, beautiful city and this country I call home.
The commercial was actually shot while we were in an Off-Broadway production at The Gene Frankel Theater, that I was acting in and associate-producing. It was surreal and really special to have all those worlds collide.
«Casting Call | The Project» is a creative endeavor by my dear friends and collaborators Jenna Ciralli, Laura E. Bray and myself. It is a web-video project that we developed as a response to sexist and ridiculous casting calls we have come across in our business. Our video was released online and went viral overnight, garnering 2.4 million views within days and covered in New York Magazine, Huffington Post, Nylon, Vice, BuzzFeed, Cosmo, IndieWire to name some, dubbed «Must Watch video» by RogerEbert.com and named honoree in the 2017 Webby Awards.
The success of the video has led to really excellent and needed conversations about women's representation in film and television, and has led to wonderful creative relationships for us. It has also helped me hone my focus in the type of work I seek and produce.
Kris: I am so lucky that my sister and best friend is also my partner in the world of arts and creativity. Both – «Our City. Our Story» and «Casting Call» were projects we worked on together. The success of «Casting Call» came as the most amazing surprise to us, and it meant that much more that this was Julie’s creation. I felt proud to stand up next to other amazing women artists and be a voice for something so important!
The campaign «Our City Our Story» happened to be shooting just at the same time as Julie and I were in an Off- Broadway production together. I was excited to stand by my sister as she was featured in the commercial, and was honored that our history as refugees, our move to New York and our life as artists were brought to light in a tribute to something so important.
Julie: It is unquestionable that I will be developing projects in Armenia. I currently have 2 very different projects I am developing, both of which draw from the rich Armenian history – recent and ancient. I get excited just thinking about it. Soon come...
Kris: I have been very lucky that my career has taken me to Armenia already. After the release of debut album of my original music «Not Gonna Lie» and NYC shows in 2015, I traveled to Artsakh and played 2 shows in historic Shushi and Stepanakert and experienced the warmest welcome from the amazing people there. Julie and I are always dancing together in the beautiful world of creativity and I am certain we will be back in Armenia for some more magic!
Беседовал Vladimir Petunz