Protests continued this week in Belarus, after newly elected Alexander Lukashenko was sworn in as President. Playwright Andrei Kureichik, has penned a piece of verbatim theatre in which Slung Low and more than 40 theatre companies from more than 10 countries, have organised readings of the play in order to shine a spotlight and metaphorically join hands with the people of Belarus.
Kureichik’s play consists of a series of monologues communicating the feelings and plight of several Belarusian’s who experienced the protests, the alleged rigged election voting system and were the victims of the over-zealous arrests of the protestors.
Many theatres in Belarus are controlled by the state, much the same as Russian theatres, so their artists are ultimately controlled by a need to earn money. There is a strong underground movement, however, and it is theatres such as ‘Belarus Free Theatre’, that performs productions that challenge the political landscape in Belarus. Many such theatre companies have found that their members have had to move away from Belarus, and now live in exile. One such theatre maker is Vladimir Shcherban, who co-founded ‘Belarus Free Theatre’, and it is his work with this theatre company that led to his exile in 2010. Since then he has gone on to set up ‘Hunch Theatre’ with his co-founder, Oliver Bennett and they manage their productions from London, but communicate with the Belarus arm of the company digitally in Minsk.
The intellectuals of Belarus created a movement called the ‘Coordination Council’ which includes prominent figures from culture and art (scholars, lawyers, journalists, economists, etc). Kureichik is a member of this Council which means he is one of the targets for Lukashenko, due to the criminal case against the members of the Council. The Council will not be deterred. Their aim is to continue to protest to bring free elections to Belarus and they have the backing of millions of Belarusians who want freedom.
With the above in mind, Slung Low live streamed the audio reading from The Holbeck, joining in with other theatres around the world in solidarity with Belarusian’s.
The play itself has been written bringing together dialogues, with real people who have experienced this regime and have to live with the reality. The characters focus is the time of the election, and it was interesting to hear from a teacher who organised the vote count at one of the polling stations. The teacher freely admitted that they were told in advance how many votes for each candidate there should be and to destroy any extra votes. In fact, the candidate challenging the President is believed to have won by a significant margin. Other characters included supporters of Lukashenko, but when we dig deeper, their support is superficial, as they depend on the state for their income and pension which they don’t want to lose. This powerful play gives a theatrical voice to this movement, and it is well worth joining in one of these readings to learn more about the minds of the people of Belarus, whose voices are often unheard.
It becomes apparent when listening to the reading, of the importance of these underground theatres in repressed countries. Telling the stories of oppression by performance is why Lukashenko and others like him, fear the freedom of these theatres to openly speak. Many people arrested and abused in custody were theatre practitioners, but as they declare – they are not afraid, and they will not stop! https://www.slunglow.org/insultedbelarus/