By Sheila Regan,
Local theater artists from Skewed Visions have initiated a national series of readings and performances to show solidarity with the Belarus Free Theatre, a group who has been in hiding following massive government crackdowns in the Republic of Belarus. So far productions in Minnesota have been presented by Skewed Visions and Nautilus Music Theater, with more planned by artists from Bedlam, Frank Theater, Pangea World Theatre, Park Square, and Commedia Beauregard.
On December 19 incumbent Alexander Lukashenko, who has run the former republic of the Soviet Union since 1994, claimed to have won 79 percent of the vote. This proclamation was followed by protests in which hundreds were arrested. As of today, 21 members of the opposition were still imprisoned in KGB's pretrial detention center in Minsk with little or no access to lawyers according to the London Telegraph, which reports that the detainees could face jail terms of up to 15 years each if found guilty.
Among those initially arrested were the husband and wife team from the five-year-old Belarus Free Theatre, Nikolai Khalezin and Natalia Kolyada. They were both released after being "roughed up," according to the New York Times. The company's manager, Artiom Zhelezniak, was tried and convicted of charges of illegal assembly.
The other members of Belarus Free Theatre were able to escape, and performed Being Harold Pinter at the Under the Radar Festival in New York City at La Mama. The play uses text from a speech Harold Pinter gave upon receiving the Nobel Prize along with excerpts from his plays, such as The Homecoming (1964), One for the Road (1984), and Ashes to Ashes (1996).
Gulgun Kayim from Skewed Visions says she was introduced to members of the troupe back in September at a Theatre Without Borders meeting at in New York. "I saw their work and met with them," Kayim says. When she found out about their arrests in December, she suggested to the Theatre Without Borders community that they organize a series of readings of Being Harold Pinter as a sign of solidarity.
Skewed Visions has launched a website which gives information and lists the various events happening around the country and internationally. On Monday, they hosted a reading of the play, directed by Kayim with performances by Charles Campbell, Jeremey Catterton, Ben Kreilkamp, and Sarah Shaylie, followed by a reading of a statement by Belarus Free Theatre.
The event at Skewed Visions utilized shadowy lighting and haunting performances by the actors. One scene from Pinter's One for the Road, which is about the torture of political prisoners, was particularly harrowing given current events, with Ben Kreilkamp depicting the cruel torturer with sickening humor and cruelty.
Tonight, Nautilus Music Theater will present Cantata for Belarus as part of their Rough Cuts series at Open Eye Figure Theatre. They will be incorporating a religious hymn that the opposition uses in Belarus. Becky Dale and Ben Krywosz composed for the 10-minute cantata.
For information about upcoming readings happening locally, see here.