A theater troupe that's also a support network for exiles

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Monday, June 24, 2024

A theater troupe that's also a support network for exiles
Yuliya Shauchuk, center, and other members of the Belarus Free Theater rehearse at the Polish National Opera in Warsaw, Poland on July 22, 2023. The leaders of the Belarus Free Theater, who fled the country more than a decade ago, are helping more recent refugees to rebuild their lives while putting on a new show. (Anna Liminowicz/The New York Times)

by Alex Marshall

WARSAW.- When the two founders of the renowned Belarus Free Theater claimed political asylum in Britain in 2011, they found themselves homeless, with few possessions and facing a bureaucratic labyrinth before they could work.

It was only with help from British theater makers that the pair found places to stay and were able to restart their company from exile, using Skype to conduct rehearsals with actors in Minsk, Belarus’ capital.

Twelve years later, the company’s founders, Natalia Kaliada and Nicolai Khalezin, are using that experience to help other artists fleeing political repression.

Belarus — an East European country of about 9 million people that borders Russia and Ukraine — has been ruled since 1994 by President Alexander Lukashenko, a dictator and ally to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Belarus Free Theater’s political productions have often criticized Lukashenko’s authoritarian leadership, and its troupe was long at risk of arrest. But as repression increased, the company decided it was no longer feasible for its other members to remain in Minsk. In 2021, they also fled to avoid long jail terms. Since then, Kaliada said, she and Khalezin had been helping the actors to find housing, therapy and visas.

The company was also running acting classes for other Belarusian and Ukrainian refugees in Warsaw, Kaliada said, that had led to full-scale shows, and was providing help to some Ukrainian singers, too, who could no longer perform full time in their homeland because of the war.

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

In Warsaw this summer, Kaliada and Khalezin started rehearsals for their latest project, “King Stakh’s Wild Hunt,” a piece of experimental theater including opera singers and video projections that premiered at the Barbican Center, in London, on Thursday and ran through Saturday.

In interviews with eight actors, musicians and production staff at those rehearsals, four said they were struggling to adjust to life in Warsaw. Composer Olga Podgaiskaya said it was only with a therapist’s help that she’d come to accept that she wouldn’t be returning to Minsk anytime soon.

In Belarus, she said, she had been a fixture on the classical music scene. “Here, I’m a nobody. I need to prove from scratch who I am,” she said.

Raman Shytsko, an actor, said he still felt like a guest in Poland — and sometimes an unwelcome one. Once in the city of Wroclaw, he said, he was sworn at in the street for speaking Russian. “A lot of people here hate Belarusians now,” he added, because of the regime’s support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Many of the exiled artists said that simply working on “King Stakh’s Wild Hunt,” had given them a much-needed sense of purpose.

In the rehearsals, which took place at Warsaw’s main opera house, the cast helped each other learn lines and dance moves, and larked about between scenes. Yuliya Shauchuk, an actor, said that the studio was the one place where she always felt joyful.

This show’s plot, which is drawn from a popular Belarusian novel and involves a group of ghostly huntsmen who terrorize a rural community, also felt analogous to what was happening now in Belarus, Shauchuk said, where every day the police track down and arrest people who have protested the president’s rule.

Several Ukrainian opera singers involved in the production said the rehearsals were benefiting them, too. Mykola Hubchuk had driven overnight from Kolomyya, Ukraine, to take part. “This project is very important for me,” he said. “I need emotion and singing in my life.”

Sveta Sugako, the Belarus Free Theater’s production manager, said that the company had renewed its sense of purpose in exile. Its members used to mainly “shout about Belarus,” she said. Now, the company was trying to raise awareness about the war in Ukraine, too, and about the political situation in Russia. It had become, she said, “about the whole region.”

The troupe’s journey to exile began in 2020 with an election. That year, Belarus looked set for change, after Lukashenko’s landslide victory was widely dismissed as fraudulent. Members of the company took part in the subsequent mass street protests, hoping Lukashenko would be forced to step aside.

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 through swamps to cross the border, before some continued to Poland, and others to Britain.

Ever since, Kaliada said, the situation in Belarus has gotten worse. Last year, Putin used the country as a staging ground for his invasion of Ukraine, then said he would move Russian nuclear weapons across the border into Belarus.

Helping the troupe members who reached London had proved easier than those in Warsaw, Kaliada said, because of the company’s established connections in London’s theater world. Cate Blanchett and Juliet Stevenson had both provided accommodation for some members in London, Kaliada said.

In Poland, the company had few relationships with similarly generous individuals, Kaliada said, but it had secured cheap rates for some actors at a hotel on the outskirts of Warsaw. The Polish government also helped, letting the troupe rehearse for free at the state-run opera house.

The company has been trying to deepen its ties in Warsaw. Whenever it stages a show in the city, including recent productions featuring refugee teenagers, it invites local dignitaries, and adds Polish subtitles.

With the company approaching the end of its second year in exile, Kaliada said its members would soon have to do more to support themselves. Around 100 people were working on “King Stakh’s Wild Hunt,” she said, and the Belarus Free Theater didn’t have the resources to support them all.

Many of the actors in Warsaw said they were already making efforts to find their own work. One said he’d taken on dubbing. Another said they were teaching and another was working as a coder.

Shauchuk said she knew she needed “to build a life” in Warsaw and was looking to improve her Polish. But, she said, she would not give up hope of returning home. “Even if I build up a family outside Belarus,” she said, “I want the right to go back.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Today's News

September 19, 2023

Provenance of a museum's Greek exhibit is questioned, fueling a debate

The McNay announces new exhibition and commission by renowned artist Alice Aycock

Eskenazi Museum of Art announces exhibition of Jeffrey A. Wolin's Photography

German photographer Kathrin Linkersdorff's debut solo exhibition 'Faries' now open at Yossi Milo

Sheida Soleimani's: Birds of Passage will be on view through first week in October at Denny Gallery

Catherine Opie 'Walls, Windows and Blood' at Thomas Dane Gallery in Naples

'Coming Home: The Transformative Gift of the Janet & William Ellery James Collection' at Cape Ann Museum

Fokus Gallery to present Hugo Simberg's photographs and art

Abstract expressionism, color field, and the natural environment sources of inspiration for Vivian Suter

'Shuvinai Ashoona: Looking Out, Looking In' being exhibited at Fort Gansevoort

'Akumulatory' by Marcin Dudek at IKOB takes viewers on journey through chapters and sites of artist's past

Italian Arte Povera artist Jannis Kounellis now on view at Cardi Gallery Milan

Cui Xinming solo exhibition 'Just Arrived in This World' at Kiang Malingue

A arte Invernizzi gallery welcomes opening of 'Orizzontaleverticale' by Nelio Sonego

Treasures from the Adolphe & Stocklet Collectons will be auctioned in October at Bonhams

Story of Alexander McQueen's Taxi Driver collection told in Design Museum exhibition

The notion of the individual within a collective experience explored by Gerasimos Floratos at Mitchell-Innes & Nash

'Sacred and Profane Geometries' by Ai Weiwei and Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian at Haines Gallery

"Fire in the City: Artists in the Blitz" pop-up exhibition in Sir Christopher Wren's Square Mile Churches

Monique Meloche Gallery presents 'Sanford Biggers: Back to the Stars'

The Garment District Alliance partners with The Milliners Guild to present 'The Rose of Versailles'

Jann Wenner removed from Rock Hall board after interview

A theater troupe that's also a support network for exiles

Marley Grace Jones Discusses The Therapeutic Power of Singing: How Music Can Heal The Mind and Body

The Art of Being an Exceptional Host on HostRooster

Azam Khan Auctions Strategies to Boost Outcomes: Bidding Wars and Beyond

Football Betting for Beginners: A Comprehensive Step-by-Step Guide

Are There Any New Slot Features on the Market?

Unlocking the Power of AI-Driven Creativity with Designs.ai's Ultimate Suite

Delve into the World of Online Drawing

How the Best Call Center Software Helps Scale Up Business Growth

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez
Writer: Ofelia Zurbia Betancourt

Truck Accident Attorneys
Accident Attorneys

Royalville Communications, Inc

ignaciovillarreal.org juncodelavega.com facundocabral-elfinal.org
Founder's Site. Hommage
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site Parroquia Natividad del Señor
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful