Facing Imprisonment At Home, Belarus Free Theatre Is Welcomed Here

By Julienne Bilker in Arts & Entertainment on Jan 27, 2011 4:20PM

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photo credit Greg Wood

"They have said that if we go back, we have to face the KGB and it will be five to fifteen years in prison," Natalia Kolyada, a co-founder of the Belarus Free Theatre, told the Tribune.

That is not a quote from a play. This is really happening.

Though recognized internationally as a dictatorship, Belarus held “elections” in December - Alexander Lukashenko, the country's President for the past 16 years, won 80% of the "vote." Since then, the government has resumed its old practice of violently oppressing and/or imprisoning political dissidents. Seven of Lukashenko's opponents - who clearly presented no real threat - have been brought up on criminal charges. But the net is cast beyond the political arena.

Two company members of the Belarus Free Theatre, including Kolyada, were arrested in December. Thirteen were able to slip out of their country in order to fulfill the group’s New York engagement of Being Harold Pinter, an original piece incorporating transcripts from Belarusian political prisoners with Pinter’s work. Going back home is not an option right now. Celebrities and theatrical heavy-hitters have rallied behind the group and this critically-acclaimed production, and just ten days ago, The Goodman Theatre, Northwestern University, Chicago Shakespeare Theater and the League of Chicago Theatres announced their joint effort to offer a temporary safe haven for the company (their visas are valid as long as they are employed). We have never been prouder of the Chicago theatre community.

Because of the last-minute nature of the arrangement, the group’s performances are spread across three venues. Being Harold Pinter, presented in Russian and Belarusian with English supertitles, opens tonight to a sold-out house at the Goodman, where it will run through Saturday. Northwestern University hosts the next two weekends, and the final three performances will take place at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

Currently, the company is booked internationally through March. “This is the thing I think it’s necessary for us to do now,” Kolyada said, “While we are free, to speak on behalf of those who were arrested." [Time Out]

Being Harold Pinter, Belarus Free Theater, $20, through Saturday at the Goodman (170 N Dearborn, 312.443.3800), through February 13th at Northwestern University (Mussetter-Struble Theater, 1949 Campus Drive, 847-491-7282) through February 20th at Chicago Shakespeare Theater (Navy Pier, 312-595-5600). Contact individual venues for tickets.