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Freeing Belarus through Theatre

by Betsy Mead

The Iron Curtain may have come down, but what remains is still in Belarus. Under Alexander Lukashenko’s stringent regime, the capacity for individual expression is strictly limited. Creative endeavors like plays—regardless of its politics—are censored by the government.

The Belarus Free Theatre, founded in 2005, stages modern performances addressing social issues. While the company sells out internationally, they are still forced underground at home—where plays are government-sanctioned—staging covert performances in private residences. Many involved in the Belarus Free Theatre, including co-founders Natalia Koliada, a human rights activist, and Nikolai Khalezin, a playwright, have suffered for their involvement. They have had several stints in prison and are under constant harassment by the authorities.

The group’s cause has drawn international admiration, and attention from organizations such as freeDimensional, a group which helps activist-artists, and Mischief + Mayhem, a newly established New York based publishing collective.

Hoping to spotlight Belarus’ December 19th elections, Mischief +Mayhem is producing a Belarus-themed November issue of its online magazine, Wild Rag, which will feature a video project, short essays, and narrative nonfiction. In addition, the collective is partnering with local theatres across the United States to put out readings of “Thanksgiving Day,” a play written by Khalezin, about an elderly man living alone in middle-America, and his home nurse, a Belarussian immigrant.

freeDimensional, organized by Todd Lester, Hugo Espinel, and Alexandra Zobel, seeks to protect artist-activists who live in oppressive countries by providing a safe space for artists to peacefully explore in their medium of work while also working as activists. For more information or to help this cause, visit their website.

Image courtesy of freeDimensional.

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