Astgik, the Improv-Loving Alumna

Courtesy of Priscilla Iezzi

“I hate Orange County,” “Irvine is the worst,” “there is seriously nothing to do here” are just a few phrases that I’ve overheard during my past three years here at UC Irvine. I’ll be honest, I’ve thrown around some of them too. But for former LA County native and 2011 UCI alumna Astgik Khatchatryan, Orange County has been more than a fine place to live.

Once a literary journalism student who worked closely with department head Barry Siegel and fondly remembers his “wise, Dumbledore words of wisdom,” Astgik is now an Associate Editor at Orange Coast Magazine, whose offices are located less than four miles away from campus. Aside from immersing herself in a world full of writing and editing, Astgik also managed to become a pescatarian, learned how to play the ukulele, surf on a nine foot surfboard and join the Live Nude People Improv troupe, all while taking classes within the Campuswide Honors Program while at UCI.

Now spearheading the upcoming Disneyland issue that Orange Coast will be publishing early next year, I got to sit down and have a chat with Astgik.

Logan Payne: Can you describe your past and current positions within the editing world?
Astgik Khatchatryan: My last quarter, I was an intern here at Orange Coast and then it happened to be right when I graduated that they were opening a position for a part-time Editorial and Art Assistant, so I got that. Then some time later it became full-time and then a month or two ago I became an Associate Editor. As an Editorial and Art Assistant, it had a broad array of things I had to do. I assisted the art department in photo shoots and going and grabbing items from stores, especially for the fashion stuff and errands like that. But also, writing for the magazine for the front of book section. Really, what anyone else needed help with I kind of jumped in and helped.

LP: What do you do in your current position?
AK: So now I am basically almost like the senior editors in that I have certain sections that I take care of. I do “Best Of,” “Legends” and “Neighborhoods” and some cover features. I’m responsible for getting those in every month and getting them edited. On top of that, I read everyone else’s sections. We kind of trade off on who’s doing the cover feature every month.

LP: What’s your daily schedule like?AK: It varies a lot but mostly I always feel like I’m juggling a few things, it’s hard to spend the day just doing one thing. It’s kind of like the balls are falling and you get the one that’s lowest to the ground and you fling it back up before it hits the ground. If we have a bunch of stories up and I have to read them, I’ll spend some time reading them. If I have to assign stories, I’ll do that. If I have to do research for a story that I’m doing, I’ll do that — so it really varies day by day, which is nice, because it’s unexpected and you don’t know what you’re going to do every day.

LP: What were you involved with while at UCI?
AK: Sad to say, I wasn’t involved with too many journalism things. I did try to write for the New U once or twice but I don’t think it worked out. I never had a good enough time because I was in the honors program and they worked us pretty hard. I did make time to do Improv, I was in Live Nudes and that took up some time, it was sort of a side hobby. I did Improv all four years, but I was in Live Nudes my last year. I would audition every quarter and I finally got in my last year. Being in CHP, I got to do a senior thesis, which I did with Barry Siegel. I got to spend a whole year writing one, long story. It was a story on this guy named Chris Smith who lost his father in a tragic accident. He was a clown, a juggler and now he’s in the Blue Man Group. It was a story of dealing with loss and how he dealt with it. It was about 20 pages. I wish I had gotten it published somewhere, I really enjoyed it.

LP: What got you into Improv?
AK: I did it in high school and I was in drama, but I knew that I didn’t want to be an actor. I liked Improv and I wasn’t terrible at it — it’s kind of my thing. I take classes at Upright Citizens Brigade in Los Angeles now. I’ve been taking them for a year now. It’s mostly just for fun, it’s something to improve on. It helps with this job too. When you’re interviewing someone and you don’t quite know what to say, you kind of tap into that with a “yes, and …” and keep going with it. “Yes, and …” is kind of the mantra of Improv where you agree to the situation and keep going with it. So when you’re conversing with someone and you’re unsure of how to keep it going, you accept their viewpoint as a reality of what they’re saying and just add on to it.

LP: Did you always know that you wanted to go into magazine writing?
AK: I decided at some point, in middle school that I liked writing. I was on the newspaper staff in high school, which was terrible, but I stuck with it. I guess that proved to me that I was willing to do it, even though it was stressing me out. I didn’t like any of the people and the advisor was super harsh, considering we were all in high school and didn’t know what we were doing. But I stuck through that and I guess that made me think that I could continue on. When I was applying for schools, I was looking at Irvine and they had the literary journalism program and I thought that it sounded interesting. I didn’t even know exactly what it was before coming in, but it was journalism. When I asked people what it was, people were like, “you know, long stories …” I did try writing novels in high school but they were always so bad, I could never think of a plot. But with journalism, the stories were real and all I had to do was write down what happened!

LP: Favorite college experience?
AK: My last two years were really great, I lived with some of my close friends and I finally felt like I found my place. I was doing Improv, I was doing journalism, so I felt more at home. The first two years was kind of full of wandering around and thinking, “what exactly am I supposed to be doing here?” Of course, Live Nudes too. Every two weeks we would perform for people who would laugh no matter what, it was crazy. In my first show, I was fairly nervous, because you walk on and nobody really knows you. Everyone else was in the drama department and they were actors and I didn’t really know that many people in the drama department aside from a select few. So I thought that when I walked out people would think, “who’s this girl?” and I was afraid that I’d freeze up and not say anything. We walked out and they announced my name and people were like, “hooray!” even though they didn’t know who I was.  It was probably one of the best experiences.

LP: Out of all the things that you’ve written what has been your favorite?
AK: I really like that long one I did on Chris Smith, that was awesome to get that in-depth into a story. You hear about writers who spend a year writing a story so that was really great to do that for a year. I do like to get into the lives of the people that I’m writing about, by the end of it, it’s kind of like, “are we friends? I know a lot about you but you don’t know a lot about me.” It’s a weird relationship that you develop with people. There’s been a lot of fun stuff that I’ve written for Orange Coast as well. I liked my guide on Veggie Burgers. I got to do all my own research so I did a lot of Googling around and asked friends for recommendations. Some of those I already knew because I’m a vegetarian and I’ve been around the block. There’s not that many choices in Orange County, but I did try a few that I didn’t include because they weren’t that good. I did a “Trade Secrets” on a clock maker and it was so awesome, he was so nice. He makes clocks, but he repairs them mostly, it’s like a dying art in Orange County, it’s so cool. At the end of it, it went to print and it turned out that I had misheard his name. His last name was not Matt Finch but Matt Fitch. I felt so bad! We fixed it on the PDF and we printed it out for him, but he was so nice but I ruined his name in the biggest way!

LP: Are you glad you stayed in Orange County?
AK: I’ve grown so fond of Orange County and I never thought I would. In college I didn’t have a car for my first three years so I was like, “Wow … Irvine … not much to do.” But through this job and driving around to different places and being an assistant and going around and picking things up, I’ve probably been to almost every part of Orange County by now. It’s so interesting with the different communities. You go to one city and it doesn’t even seem like you’re in Orange County. San Clemente, Santa Ana, Costa Mesa — it’s all so different. I’m happy living here, I like it a lot. Now when I go to LA, I feel so weird being there. You go there and it’s so smoggy! When I go for my Improv classes it’s so dingy and I just want to go home and back to Orange County.

LP: Favorite restaurants in Orange County?
AK: One of my favorite places is this Ethiopian restaurant in Anaheim, in the shadiest part of town, but it’s so good. It’s this little hole-in-the-wall in the shadiest part of town. But you walk in it’s like a living room and there’s hardly anyone ever there. The ladies there are so nice. The food is mostly vegetarian, but we always get this thing that’s called the “Vegetarian Special.” It’s this big pan and on the pan is this Ethiopian bread that almost looks like a pancake, but it’s sour. It’s laid out and then on top of that it has little piles of lentils, beans and potatoes. Then, you have more bread by your side and you just rip it off with your hands and devour it.

LP: Do you have any advice for freshmen? Any advice for seniors?
AK: For freshmen I would say, please get an internship. It was stated to me many times as a freshman, sophomore, junior and senior that I should get an internship if I wanted a career in any field. I always thought to myself, “yeah, sure, okay.” If I hadn’t gotten an internship, even as a last minute thing, I’d be working at a Starbucks right now. It’s guaranteed. It’s something to put on your resume when you’re competing against all these other college graduates. Do it well, work hard and see what you can do when you’re there. Even if you’re not being paid, it will pay off in the end.
For seniors, enjoy your last year, but see what you can do to make contacts. Keep in contact with people that you graduate with who might be moving on into bigger or better things in your field or not in your field. You never know when you’ll be able to help each other out. Once I got this job, I reached out to people who were in my LJ classes and let them know that I had this position now and told them that if they had anything that they wanted to write, to let me know. If they were on that end and I needed that, I’m sure that they’d be there too. It’s nice to have that community to let you know that you’re not all alone when you graduate and to know that you’re not a small fish in a big pond.