A Theater Troupe That’s Also a Support Network for Exiles

Published: September 13, 2023

When the 2 founders of the famend Belarus Free Theater claimed political asylum in Britain in 2011, they discovered themselves homeless, with few possessions and dealing with a bureaucratic labyrinth earlier than they may work.

It was solely with assist from British theater makers that the pair discovered locations to remain and have been in a position to restart their firm from exile, utilizing Skype to conduct rehearsals with actors in Minsk, Belarus’s capital.

Twelve years later, the corporate’s founders, Natalia Kaliada and Nicolai Khalezin, are utilizing that have to assist different artists fleeing political repression.

Belarus — an East European nation of about 9 million folks that borders each Russia and Ukraine — has been dominated since 1994 by President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, a dictator and ally to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. The Belarus Free Theater’s political productions have typically criticized Lukashenko’s authoritarian management and its troupe was lengthy prone to arrest. But as repression elevated, the corporate determined it was now not possible for its different members to stay in Minsk. In 2021, additionally they fled to keep away from lengthy jail phrases. Since then, Kaliada stated, she and Khalezin had been serving to the actors to seek out housing, remedy and visas.

The firm was additionally working appearing lessons for different Belarusian and Ukrainian refugees in Warsaw, Kaliada stated, that had led to full-scale reveals, and was offering assist to some Ukrainians singers, too, who might now not carry out full time of their homeland due to the warfare.

“The only thing we wanted was for people to not go through our experiences,” Kaliada stated.

In Warsaw this summer time, Kaliada and Khalezin began rehearsals for his or her newest challenge, “King Stakh’s Wild Hunt,” a chunk of experimental theater together with opera singers and video projections that may premiere on the Barbican Center, in London, on Thursday, working by way of Sep. 16.

In interviews with eight actors, musicians and manufacturing employees at these rehearsals, 4 stated they have been struggling to regulate to life in Warsaw. The composer Olga Podgaiskaya stated it was solely with a therapist’s assist that she’d come to just accept that she wouldn’t be returning to Minsk anytime quickly. In Belarus, she stated, she had been a fixture on the classical music scene: “Here, I’m a nobody. I need to prove from scratch who I am.”

Raman Shytsko, an actor, stated he nonetheless felt like a visitor in Poland — and generally an unwelcome one. Once within the metropolis of Wroclaw, he stated, he was sworn at on the street for talking Russian. “A lot of people here hate Belarusians now,” he added, due to the regime’s assist for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Many of the exiled artists stated that merely engaged on “King Stakh’s Wild Hunt,” had given them a much-needed sense of objective.

In the rehearsals, which occurred at Warsaw’s principal opera home, the forged helped one another study traces and dance strikes, and larked about between scenes. Yuliya Shauchuk, an actor, stated that the studio was the one place the place she at all times felt joyful.

This present’s plot, which is drawn from a well-liked Belarusian novel and entails a gaggle of ghostly huntsmen who terrorize a rural neighborhood, additionally felt analogous to what was taking place now in Belarus, Shauchuk stated, the place day-after-day the police monitor down and arrest individuals who have protested the president’s rule.

Several Ukrainian opera singers concerned within the manufacturing stated the rehearsals have been benefiting them, too. Mykola Hubchuk had pushed in a single day from Kolomyya, Ukraine, to participate. “This project is very important for me,” he stated. “I need emotion and singing in my life.”

Sveta Sugako, the Belarus Free Theater’s manufacturing supervisor, stated that the corporate had renewed its sense of objective in exile. Its members used to primarily “shout about Belarus,” she stated. Now, the corporate was attempting to boost consciousness in regards to the warfare in Ukraine, too, and in regards to the political scenario in Russia. It had turn into, she stated, “about the whole region.”

The troupe’s journey to exile started in 2020 with an election. That 12 months, Belarus appeared set for change, after Lukashenko’s landslide victory was extensively dismissed as fraudulent. Members of the corporate took half within the subsequent mass avenue protests, hoping Lukashenko can be pressured to step apart.

Instead, he violently cracked down on opposition and in October 2021, Kaliada and Khalezin pulled the remaining members out. They first headed to Ukraine, with some members wading by way of swamps to cross the border, earlier than some continued to Poland, and others to Britain.

Ever since, Kaliada stated, the scenario in Belarus had gotten worse. Last 12 months, Putin used the nation as a staging floor for his invasion of Ukraine, then stated he would transfer Russian nuclear weapons throughout the border into Belarus.

Helping the troupe members who reached London had proved simpler than these in Warsaw, Kaliada stated, due to the corporate’s established connections in London’s theater world. Cate Blanchett offered lodging for some members in London, Kaliada stated.

In Poland, the corporate had few relationships with equally beneficiant people, Kaliada stated, but it surely had secured low cost charges for some actors at a lodge on the outskirts of Warsaw. The Polish authorities additionally helped, letting the troupe rehearse without spending a dime on the state-run opera home.

The firm has been attempting to deepen its ties in Warsaw. Whenever it phases a present within the metropolis, together with latest productions that includes refugee youngsters, it invitations native dignitaries, and provides Polish subtitles.

With the corporate approaching the top of its second 12 months in exile, Kaliada stated its members would quickly must do extra to assist themselves. Around 100 individuals have been engaged on “King Stakh’s Wild Hunt,” she stated, and the Belarus Free Thater didn’t have the assets to assist all of them.

Many of the actors in Warsaw stated they have been already making efforts to seek out their very own work. One stated he’d taken on dubbing. Another stated they have been instructing and one other was working as a coder.

Shauchuk stated she knew she wanted “to build a life” in Warsaw and was seeking to enhance her Polish. But, she stated, she wouldn’t quit hope of returning residence. “Even if I build up a family outside Belarus,” she stated, “I want the right to go back.”

Source web site: www.nytimes.com