Bari Hochwald

Bari Hochwald

Being Belarus Free Theatre

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James Cromwell, Ed Harris, Sharon Lawrence, Lily Knight, Eric Pierpoint, Tessa Thompson and John Sloan to perform at Belarus Free Theatre benefit

On February 25 The Global Theatre Project will bring seven actors including Ed Harris, James Cromwell, Lily Knight, Sharon Lawrence, Eric Pierpoint, John Sloan and Tessa Thompson to Los Angeles Theatre Center along with a representative of Amnesty International.

They will offer their talents, their intellect and their passion to an evening that will be the next stop on a westward movement of awareness and creative action in support of Belarus Free Theatre, a company that began in 2005 during the second term of President Alexander Lukashenko as a way to protest the oppression and censorship of his presidency.

The event will speak to the importance of international collaboration, of the power of theater and its influence on democratic society. It will focus on the courageous actions of a small theater company from Belarus that has brought the heart and voice of many from the international theater community to cry “Free Belarus” in demonstrations and performed readings throughout the U.S. and other countries.

The performance will be a staged reading of Being Harold Pinter, which is a compilation of Pinter’s words from his plays and Nobel Prize speech as well as statements by political prisoners of Belarus. The piece was created by company member Vladimir Shcherban. The company is currently performing the full production in Chicago after its stint at the Under the Radar Festival in New York.

This is a group of artists who have literally risked their lives to make theater. Being non-state sanctioned, they are breaking the law each time they perform. When they do productions in their own country, they text their audience members prior to the performance, meet them in a café and walk them to an unidentified location. Audience members are told to bring their identity cards in case there is a raid.

Belarus Free Theatre

The fervent attention on Belarus Free Theatre began in December when the capital of Belarus erupted in protests against a presidential election that international observers said was falsified. Over 1000 people were beaten and thrown into jail. Among them were members of the company. After being released they fled the country and arrived in NYC, where they performed at the Under the Radar Festival. As a result of this action, and the attention they have brought to the situation in Belarus, including the disappearance of their colleagues and friends, their return would likely guarantee them an interrogation by the Belarus KGB and a 15-year imprisonment.

The Global Theatre Project has chosen to use its inaugural event in Los Angeles to bring attention to Belarus Free Theatre for a number of reasons, the first of which is the celebration of the power of theater and its impact on society. It would be hard to separate the fact of their very public cry in New York and the rallying of the international theater community behind them, from the decision this month by the US and EU to put sanctions and restrictions on Belarus.

The next is for us to look at this event as a core example of the work of The Global Theatre Project. A colleague of mine uses this phrase a great deal: “Think globally, act locally.”Â  That is what this event is about for us. In reaching out to Natalya Kolyada, Co-Director of Belarus Free Theatre, we are looking to not only assist bringing attention to this issue but to see how we can build something positive from this new rapport, including developing a collaborative new work.

By looking outward, as far as Belarus, we have an opportunity to then reflect on our own lives and work here in Los Angeles. How can we, as American theater artists and students of the art, learn from the courage and artistry of the members of Belarus Free Theatre and apply this knowledge to how we approach our art, our community and our government here at home?

We are facing an attack right now on the value of arts and theater in this country.  What a marvelous opportunity it is to consider for ourselves what Ms. Kolyada stated in the New York Times: “Being artists, we have a hunger to produce and perform, but we also have a duty to speak for our country.”

Bari Hochwald President and Artistic Director of The Global Theatre Project

Lastly, although Being Harold Pinter is almost entirely the words of this great playwright, it is a compilation and adaptation made by a Belarusian artist struggling to be heard. As a collaborative piece between playwright and adaptor, it is a beautiful example of cultural interpretation. My intention with directing the reading with our American actors is to honor the Belarus Free Theatre in some choices that we make. We should not forget this piece was crafted by people crying from their very souls to be heard, to be seen and to be free.

The event on Feb. 25 is a benefit at Los Angeles Theatre Center, which begins at 7:30 pm. More information can be found on our website.  On Feb. 27 we will be shooting a video which will be a collective statement representing the diverse and rich theatrical community of Los Angeles in solidarity with Belarus Free Theatre. We would love to have the artistic director or representatives of LA theaters and other organizations come by to tape a very brief statement of support. For more information, e-mail info@theglobaltheatreproject.org. I thank the Open Fist and the Road for their generosity in hosting our locations.

Ms. Kolyada was also quoted saying: “As moral people, we need to scream. We appeal to artists, governments and people of good will all over the world to join us and scream on our behalf.”

So if our “scream” on the weekend of Feb. 25 is to celebrate theater, to connect to a company of people we have not yet met, to come together as a community and speak for them, we may have accomplished a great deal. But, if in doing so, we also consider our own voices as theater artists and look with new eyes at ourselves as valid, valuable members of our local and national community, then we might create a platform which not only assists Belarus Free Theatre but could motivate us in directions we may have never considered.

Bari Hochwald is President and Artistic Director of The Global Theatre Project. Contact her at info@theglobaltheatreproject.org or through visiting The Global Theatre Project website