Source: Broadway World / www.broadwayworld.com / By Stephi Wild /
This decision reflects the severe risk of reprisals they face today as some of the most prominent opponents of the Belarusian regime.
Sixteen years since it was first founded, and ten years since its co-founding Artistic Directors sought political asylum in the UK, the internationally acclaimed Belarus Free Theatre (BFT) has been forced to move its entire ensemble out of Belarus.
This momentous and previously unimaginable decision has been taken by the artistic leadership of BFT to ensure the safety and artistic freedoms of its 16-strong ensemble and their family members. This decision reflects the severe risk of reprisals they face today as some of the most prominent opponents of the Belarusian regime.
In the wake of widely disputed elections in August 2020, Alexander Lukashenko has directed a brutal crackdown on all opposition, stifling dissent and purging detractors. BFT’s acting ensemble – all previously based in Minsk – have faced violence, severe threats, and repression over the past 18 months, and five members have been imprisoned for the simple act of peaceful protest and would face criminal charges – with substantial prison sentences – if they were arrested again.
Since 2005, Belarus Free Theatre has been one of the leading resistance movements against oppression in Belarus, using theatre and art to build a movement for democracy, human rights, and artistic freedoms. Its ensemble and leadership have campaigned tirelessly over the past sixteen years, applying their award-winning global model of activism that unites artistic, geopolitical, environmental, and human rights concerns. BFT’s stage productions have consistently articulated the harsh realities of everyday life in Belarus, shone a bright light on taboos and unspeakable subjects, as well as calling for accountability on the world stage. On some occasions, their productions have foretold of events to come.
Belarus Free Theatre’s co-founding Artistic Director, Natalia Kaliada, said: “It is an unprecedented reality, when in 2021, a theatre company is forced to relocate its entire troupe out of a country in Europe for fear of persecution and torture. It is a disgrace that we allow not just artistic freedoms but basic human freedoms to be absolutely disregarded in a country that is but a three-hour flight from London. The sheer existence of Belarus Free Theatre and our continued work, despite repression, is the greatest threat to dictatorship – the will of the people to continue telling the truth is the greatest show of power imaginable. As our patron Vaclav Havel once said in an address to the Czech nation, “Living within the truth is humanity’s revolt against an enforced position”, so we ask the UK public to stand in solidarity with us at this most critical time in our history. Solidarity is crucial for our survival, and BFT’s partnership with the Barbican is a wonderful example of artists standing together to overcome global adversaries.”
Belarus Free Theatre’s Managing Director, Svetlana Sugako, said: “The tortures, screams and horrors of Okrestina jail all make for powerful storytelling, but for us it was a horrendous reality. But by continuing to perform, to share stories, to meet you in our theatre performances and workshops we hope to ensure that Belarus remains on your agenda, that we are not just a number within a statistic that you will quickly forget.”
Artistic Director of the Barbican, Will Gompertz, said: “We are delighted to be working with our friends at Belarus Free Theatre and to be able to give the company a platform for their important work at this difficult time. We will screen their documentary film, Alone, on International Human Rights Day and stage the world premiere of a new play, Dogs of Europe, next year.”