The Belarus Free Theater is performing a version of its play Being Harold Pinter at an international festival in New York called "Under the Radar". The troupe's 11 actors, directors and stage managers had to go under the radar themselves in order to make it to the New York.
Being Harold Pinter is based on a mixture of statements by political prisoners in Belarus and the writings of Pinter, the late English writer, actor and political activist who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005.
The play focuses on the abuses of power in Belarus, something members of the troupe know first hand. They were caught in the crackdown that followed the nation's disputed presidential election last month, and had to sneak out of the country.
Director, Natalia Kolyada, explains that acting and politics is one and the same in Belarus .
“…Because when you talk on contemporary issues in Belarus it becomes politics," said Natalia Kolyada. "When you make people to think it becomes politics. But we talk only about the issues that worry us and it’s everything - it’s childhood, it’s suicide, it’s religion, it’s kidnappings, it’s political prisoners and it’s sexual minorities, all of it is in our performances.”
Which makes returning to Belarus problematic for Koyada and other members Belarus Free Theater. Her husband and co-director, Nikolai Khalezin:
“ If we go back now, we will just join the ranks of other people behind bars," said Nikolai Khalezin. "And there will be nobody left to coordinate our activities on the outside. Our task now is to inform the international community. “
Festival director Mark Russell believes the New York audience will get the group's message.
”One reason I am bringing this group is for their art, not just for their political relevance and for their amazing story, which does help," said Mark Russell. "If any kind of theater is under the radar, it is the Belarus Free Theatre.”
Belarus Free Theater performed Being Harold Pinter in London to high praise last year. Kevin Spacey, the two-time Oscar winning actor and artistic director of London’s Old Vic Theater, flew to New York for this festival to support the troupe.
“What’s happening in Belarus has happened throughout history, where dictatorships close the theaters, they arrest the playwrights, they throw the actors in jail, they take the intellectuals and kill them in some cases," said Kevin Spacey. "Because theater can sometimes accomplish and say more and do more than politics can.”
The Under the Radar Festival runs through mid-January. Then, on January 19, the Belarus troupe and supporters plan to picket the Belarus consulate.