(Anthony Lane’s article appeared in The New Yorker, 6/11; PHOTO: Anthony Ramos stars in Jon M. Chu’s film of the Broadway musical.Illustration by Katty Huertas.)

Jon M. Chu’s adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway musical presents an uplifting portrait of a Dominican neighborhood in New York where political strife rarely intrudes.

Morning in America, not yet six o’clock, and a couple of working stiffs, in the bright early glare of New York, are finding it hard to make a start. One of them is a crane operator, down at the docks, beside a U.S. Navy vessel. “I feel like I’m not out of bed yet,” he says—or sings, in a baritone as slow as a bear. Way uptown, close to the 181st Street subway stop, someone else has the same problem. “Lights up on Washington Heights, up at the break of day, I wake up, and I got this little punk I gotta chase away,” he says—or raps, in a voice as crisp as an apple. The first man, who is unnamed, initiates “On the Town” (1949), and the second is Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), the likable hero of “In the Heights.” Two guys, two movies, seventy-two years apart, both springing from stage musicals. Oh, and Usnavi is so called because his father, arriving from the Dominican Republic, saw a ship marked “U.S. Navy.” How much is truly new, under the sun?

(Read more)



 (Julia Jacobs’s article appeared in The New York Times, 6/11; via Pam Green. Photo:  Katori Hall in New York City last year. The playwright was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for “The Hot Wing King,” which uses a sitcom structure to explore Black masculinity.Credit…Amy Lombard for The New York Times.)

The play, which had its run cut short because of the pandemic, centers on a kitchen in Memphis, where a man is trying to concoct award-winning chicken wings.

Katori Hall, who has told stirring stories about Black life in America both onstage and onscreen, has won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for “The Hot Wing King,” a family dramedy that centers on a man’s quest to make award-winning chicken wings while personal conflict swirls around him.

The Off Broadway play — produced last year by the Pershing Square Signature Center, where it had a truncated run — drew praise for challenging conventional conceptions of Black masculinity and fatherhood.

Its main character, Cordell, has recently moved into a home in Memphis with his lover, Dwayne, whom Cordell enlists to help him make his submission to the annual “Hot Wang Festival.” Things get complicated when Dwayne wants to take in his 16-year-old nephew, whose mother died while being restrained by the police — a tragedy for which Dwayne blames himself.

In the awards announcements on Friday, the Pulitzer board called the play a “funny, deeply felt consideration of Black masculinity and how it is perceived, filtered through the experiences of a loving gay couple and their extended family as they prepare for a culinary competition.”

Hall, 40, the author of the Olivier Award-winning “The Mountaintop,” wrote a play that was full of frenetic action (stirring pots, dismembering chickens, spicing sauces), emotional exchanges and sitcom-style ribbing.

She also co-wrote the book for “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical,” which is nominated for numerous Tony Awards (including best musical and best book of a musical), and created the Starz drama “P-Valley,” which follows a crew of dancers at a strip club in the Mississippi Delta. Hall is currently working on Season 2 of the series, which is based on one of her plays.

(Read more)


(Dario Thuburn’s article appeared on Yahoo, 6/11; Photo: France24.)

Jana Shostak says her protests is ‘a scream of spite, of anger, of powerlessness over what is happening in our country’

With her blood-curdling, lung-bursting screams of protest outside the European Commission office in Warsaw, 28-year-old artist Jana Shostak has become the angry face of the Belarusian opposition movement in Poland.

Shostak began screaming last year following the disputed re-election of Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled the former Soviet republic since 1994.

“It’s a scream of spite, of anger, of powerlessness over what is happening in our country,” Shostak told AFP this week after a minute bellowing out her howl of anguish at one of the near-daily protests outside the European Commission office in Warsaw.

Shostak arrived by taxi — already rallying the protesters by shouting from the car, wearing a cotton dress in the white-red-white colours used by the Belarusian opposition.

Fellow Belarusians and Polish allies have been joining the protests. Next to outdoor cafes crowded with patrons enjoying the end of lockdown, dozens of people have joined Shostak’s screams to demand the European Union take more action against Lukashenko.

“We’ve had enough. We want real sanctions,” Shostak said.

Their screams are now being heard far beyond Warsaw.

The unusual form of protest has gone viral on social media, and this week Polish actor Bartosz Bielenia surprised the European Parliament by screaming for Belarus after receiving an award.

– ‘Ultimate way to protest’ –

One of Shostak’s screams has proved particularly popular online.

It was on May 24 — a day after Lukashenko diverted a Ryanair flight between two EU capitals, forced it to land in Belarus and arrested a dissident journalist and his girlfriend on board.

That scream also attracted controversy in Poland because of a comment by a left-wing female parliamentarian, Anna Maria Zukowska, that appeared to criticise Shostak’s low neckline.

(Read more)


(Sara Keating’s article appeared in The Irish Times, 6/9; Photo:  Naomi Moonveld-Nkosi stars as Kyla in The Ark’s What Did I Miss? by Sean Dunne, which explores and shares children’s experience of lockdown. Photograph: Ste Murray.)

Shaun Dunne’s play, in its fourth, lockdown-shaped iteration, is about to stream from the Ark

“What do you call a memory that never happened?” 13-year-old Kyla asks an imaginary group of peers as she rehearses the speech she plans to give at a belated graduation ceremony for the Class of 2020, whose primary school career was cut short by the pandemic. As she starts secondary school and says goodbye to childhood, Kyla is grieving, not just for those formal markers of transition from one stage of life to another, but for the little personal markers of her self-identity: her ability as an organiser, her talent as a dance captain.

Kyla is the central character in Shaun Dunne’s new play What Did I Miss?, which was to be the centrepiece of the Dublin Theatre Festival’s family programme in 2020, an annual partnership with the Ark, a cultural centre for children. Like all arts organisations around the country, the global pandemic presented the Ark with a challenge: how to reach young audiences when coming together is problematic.

As the Ark’s director, Aideen Howard, explained, What Did I Miss? was “actually version three” of their contribution to the Dublin Theatre Festival programme for 2020.

“There was our first international programme,” Howard said from a social distance at her standing desk in a stark white office brightened with children’s artwork. “That had to be cancelled obviously because of travel restrictions and limits on indoor gatherings. Then we came up with an idea for an outdoor production that would comply with Covid restrictions, which we could tour to schoolyards, and Shaun wrote What Did I Miss?

“Then the guidelines changed, so we decided to redesign it as an indoor production, and that’s the scenario we are working with now. Of course, we also have to have a plan for what will happen if things change again, but we are keeping our fingers crossed that nothing too dramatic happens to stop audiences coming back into us.”

(Read more)


(PA Media’s article appeared in the Guardian, 6/8; Photo: The Guardian.)

 Impresario is determined his production of Cinderella will start this month in London as planned

Andrew Lloyd Webber says he may have to sell his West End theatres if venues are forced to operate at reduced capacities. Photograph: UPI/Alamy

Andrew Lloyd Webber has said he is determined to open his theatres on 21 June regardless of whether rules are relaxed, and is prepared to be arrested if authorities try to intervene.

The composer said he may have to sell his six West End venues if the government does not remove restrictions that have forced venues to run with reduced capacities.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Lord Lloyd-Webber also revealed he had remortgaged his London home, as the live entertainment industry struggles with the pandemic’s catastrophic financial impact.

Many theatres have remained closed despite the easing of Covid-19 restrictions as it still is not financially viable for them to open with smaller audiences.

(Read more)



(Michael Specter’s article appeared in The New Yorkers, 7/7; Photo: In 1988, protesters laid siege to the F.D.A. for a day, one of many interventions designed to capture public attention.Photograph by Catherine McGann / Getty.)

The defiant group of AIDS activists was itself riven by discord. What can the movement’s legacy, of both ferocity and fragility, teach us?

One day in June, 1990, at the height of the aids epidemic, I sat in the auditorium of San Francisco’s Moscone Center and watched as hundreds of activists pelted Louis W. Sullivan, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, with condoms. Sullivan had been attempting to deliver the closing address at the 6th International aids Conference. The protesters, from the aids Coalition to Unleash Power, or act up, were there to stop him. Shouts of “shame, shame, shame” were accompanied by whistles and air horns. Like many people who were in the audience that day—I was there as a Washington Post reporter—I remember everything about the speech except what Sullivan said. Which was exactly what act up wanted. The group had been formed to force a negligent government to take aids seriously. Not every federal official came under attack that day. Just an hour earlier, Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s chief aids scientist, had received a standing ovation after he essentially endorsed the protesters’ agenda, warning his colleagues that they “cannot and should not dismiss activists merely on the basis of the fact that they are not trained scientists.”

It was a triumphant moment for act up, which had become known for its outrageous stunts. Behind what seemed like radical unity, however, the organization had already begun to split into two distinct camps. One believed that the best way to advance the cause was to continue to protest—loudly. The other did not reject public actions but didn’t focus on them; it was known as the Science Club, and had formed a kind of academy within act up.

In “Let the Record Show: A Political History of act up New York, 1987-1993” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), Sarah Schulman, a novelist, journalist, and activist, chronicles the early years of a vigorously oppositional group that was itself riven by discord and factionalism. Any history of a movement presents an argument about its identity—about which internal tendencies most faithfully represent its mission and which betray it. Schulman has strong views on this subject. On one point, though, there can be little disagreement. When act up began, its founders could not have guessed how high the group would soar; they would have been even more surprised by the particular conflicts that brought it down to earth.

By the time act up was born, in 1987, tens of thousands of Americans—mostly gay men—had died of aids, and more were dying every day, even as the government remained largely indifferent. Early that March, Larry Kramer, the writer and activist who had helped found the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, delivered a speech at New York’s Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center, on West Thirteenth Street. “O.K., I want this half of the room to stand up,’’ he later recalled saying. “I looked around at those kids and I said to the people standing up, ‘You are all going to be dead in five years. Every one of you fuckers.’ I was livid. I said, ‘How about doing something about it? Why just line up for the cattle cars?’ ”

The aids Coalition to Unleash Power was formed two days later. Its members met at the Center on Monday nights. They came to plan actions and to socialize but also to get answers. More than anything, it was a safe place for people who had nowhere else to turn. They were, Schulman writes, “a despised group of people, with no rights, facing a terminal disease for which there were no treatments. Abandoned by their families, government, and society.” The New York membership expanded from an initial hardcore cadre of several dozen to several thousand, including many people who were neither infected with H.I.V. nor at much risk of becoming so. Although plenty of other cities started their own chapters, act up ny was always at the center of the movement.

act up members lived by a creed set out by Ann Northrop, one of the organization’s more media-savvy leaders: “Actions are always, always, always planned to be dramatic enough to capture public attention.’’ The activists delivered. They wrapped the home of the North Carolina senator Jesse Helms in a giant yellow condom; invaded St. Patrick’s Cathedral during Mass; laid siege to the Food and Drug Administration (“Hey, hey, F.D.A., how many people have you killed today?”); and dumped the ashes of comrades who had died of aids on the White House lawn. These and many other high-profile interventions raised awareness about aids. But the group’s most important accomplishments were not as easily captured in headlines. Because so many people with aids were forced to live on the streets, act up members founded a philanthropy that evolved into Housing Works, which directed resources (including money raised by a chain of thrift shops) toward aids services and homelessness. act up helped establish the first successful needle-exchange programs in New York City. It also took on insurance practices like the exclusion of single men who lived in predominantly gay neighborhoods.

Nothing the organization did had a more lasting impact, however, than the work of the Science Club, whose members served on act up’s Treatment and Data Committee. They would congregate each week at the East Village apartment of Mark Harrington, who, though he had no formal scientific training, eventually won a MacArthur “genius” grant for his work on aids. Harrington, a wiry man with reddish-blond hair, seemed both constantly in motion and unusually deliberate. As Schulman recounts, the gatherings in his apartment were like a “doctor’s weekly rounds,” where attendees discussed a particular problem and “assigned themselves immunology and virology textbooks.’’

Harrington was hardly averse to public demonstrations: he helped organize act up’s “Seize Control of the F.D.A.” protest, in 1988, and its “Storm the N.I.H.” event, in 1990. But he believed that anger had to be allied with expertise. He and other members of the Science Club came to know the arcane rules and the impenetrable bureaucracy of the F.D.A. better than most of the officials who worked there. They prepared a detailed assessment of N.I.H.-sponsored clinical trials, and argued that people facing almost certain death should have access to experimental drugs that had been shown to be reasonably safe, even if they had not yet demonstrated efficacy. By 1990, the F.D.A. had adopted this approach (known as the “parallel track”), which would make selected drugs available to H.I.V.-positive patients. The slogan “Drugs Into Bodies” moved from placards to policy: act up had forced a fundamental change in the way clinical trials are conducted in the United States. Today, drug candidates for life-threatening conditions are frequently put on a parallel track for “expanded access.”

Eventually, in what Schulman refers to as act up’s period of “distress and desperation,’’ the Science Club broke away from the organization, and, led by Harrington, it formed the Treatment Action Group, to focus on accelerating the pace of research. Although the tag defection involved fewer than two dozen people, it was a painful divorce, with unexpected repercussions. act up’s ferocity concealed a genuine fragility. The group fearlessly hurled itself against the medical bureaucracy, the Catholic Church, even the White House; what proved much harder to weather was its own crisis of identity.

Although “Let the Record Show” bills itself as a history, Schulman maintains that “a chronological history would be impossible and inaccurate.” She does hope to offer contemporary activists “general principles and takeaway ideas,” but her book is best approached as a sort of modified oral history, a curated archive of nearly two hundred interviews conducted over the course of two decades. One can open this seven-hundred-page book at random and find something interesting to read: a mini-biography, firsthand recollections of major events, contentious perspectives on the goals of different groups within act up. (The interviews—which Schulman did along with the filmmaker Jim Hubbard—are available online, as the act up Oral History Project.) Schulman draws, too, on her five years as an act up member, but largely eschews other people’s research, and the book provides scant interstitial narrative; some readers may struggle to put these passages into context. Still, her labors will provide an invaluable resource for the social history of the movement that remains to be written.

(Read more)


(Julia Jacobs’s article appeared in The New York Times, 6/4; via Pam Green; Photo: National Black Theater is working with developers to replace its longtime home. This rendering shows a planned 21-story building that will include a mix of housing, retail and a gleaming new theater.Credit…Luxigon, via National Black Theater.)

The pathbreaking company plans to replace its Harlem home with a 21-story building with apartments, retail and a new theater.

It was more than 50 years ago that Barbara Ann Teer rented space in a building at 125th Street and Fifth Avenue in Harlem that would serve as the home of a nascent organization called National Black Theater.

The theater blossomed into an important cultural anchor, presenting productions by, and about, Black Americans when their stories rarely appeared on mainstream stages, and hosting artists including Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, Nina Simone, Nikki Giovanni and Maya Angelou. When the building was destroyed in a fire in 1983, many feared that the theater was doomed, said Sade Lythcott, Teer’s daughter. But Teer had another idea: She decided to buy the damaged 64,000-square-foot building on Fifth Avenue, with a vision of revitalizing it and trying to use real estate to help pay for the theater’s work.

“She saw it as the next piece of this temple to Black liberation, which is ownership,” said Lythcott, the theater’s chief executive. “Ownership would allow the real estate to subsidize the art, which was a model that would disrupt the standard practice of nonprofit theater funding.”

The move did not solve all their problems. There were struggles over the years, and a series of financial disputes that at one point left the theater on the brink of losing its home, but the work continued. Now National Black Theater is getting ready for its next act: It is replacing its longtime home with a 21-story building that will include a mix of housing, retail and, on floors three through five, a gleaming new home for the theater.

Lythcott and other National Black Theater leaders see the $185 million project, and the partnership they are entering with developers, as a new chapter with the financial and institutional backing to allow them to live out the dream of Teer, who died in 2008: to nurture a space where Black artists can thrive, and the company can work to bring a deeper sense of racial justice to the American theater industry.

“What we’re building today really has been informed in all ways by this blueprint that Dr. Teer put into place starting in 1968,” Lythcott said. “It feels like what our community of Black artists and the community of Harlem deserve.”

To realize the development project, National Black Theater has partnered with a new real estate firm, Ray, which was founded by Dasha Zhukova, a Russian-American art collector and philanthropist. Also joining the project are the subsidized housing developer L + M, the architect Frida Escobedo, the firm Handel Architects, and the design firms working on National Black Theater’s space, Marvel, Charcoalblue, and Studio & Projects.

The planning for the new development has come at a turning point in the theater world. With theaters closed for more than a year because of the pandemic, many institutions have been called on to turn inward and interrogate their own histories of racism and inequity, with many prominent voices calling for change when theaters reopen. It is the kind of discussion National Black Theater has been involved in for decades. This year Lythcott has advised Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on reopening the arts and, as chair for the Coalition of Theaters of Color, has spoken up about racial justice in arts budget negotiations.

Before they decided to work together, Lythcott and Zhukova had to have a frank conversation early on about a high-profile misstep in Zhukova’s past.

(Read more)


(via David Gibbs, DARR Publicity)

New York, NY – New Ohio Theatre is excited to announce that the 28th annual Obie Award-winning Ice Factory Festival will return to live in-person performances, featuring seven new works over seven weeks, June 30 – August 14, 2021, at New Ohio Theatre, located at 154 Christopher Street between Greenwich and Washington Streets in New York City.

Performances are Wednesdays – Saturdays at 7pm ET (Liminal Archive performances at 7pm & 8pm). Tickets are $20 and $17 for students and seniors. Purchase at http://NewOhioTheatre.org. Special closing night benefit performance of My Onliness on August 14.

Artistic Director Robert Lyons says, “It was a long walk through a global pandemic but we are still standing and open for business! NYC artists are hungry to make and show their work. This year’s line-up is an eclectic mix of artists; all fully engaged in the contemporary conversations of the moment. As always, we look to our artists to help us navigate, imagine, and build a better post-pandemic world.”

Check New Ohio’s website for the most current information on Covid restrictions. Currently, to attend a performance you must show proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test (72 hours) for admittance into the theatre. Masks are required for all audience members. However, performers will not be masked.

Time Out New York calls Ice Factory “The coolest of the summer theatre festivals,” and The New York Times says the festival’s “an annual celebration of the weird, the wild and the unexpectedly wonderful.” New York Magazine praises the Ice Factory as “New York’s #1 Summer Theatre Festival,” and The New Yorker says, “The Ice Factory Festival has a fine record for presenting intellectually challenging and artistically daring fare.” “One of downtown theater’s most beloved and reliable incubators of new voices,” cheers the Observer.

New Ohio Theatre strengthens, nurtures, and promotes a community of independent theatre artists and companies by developing and presenting bold new work in New York City. Their Ice Factory summer festival offers emerging and established companies a prime platform to develop their work. Ice Factory prides itself on maintaining extraordinary aesthetic diversity along with an unequaled standard for intelligent, imaginative theater.


June 30 – August 14
Endless Loop of Gratitude
Ongoing Sound Installation
New Neighborhood
Created by Daniel Baker, Jackson Gay, Steven Padla, Riw Rakkulchon and Ashley Thomas

Endless Loop of Gratitude is a solo, interactive sound installation that opens one hour prior to the start of each Ice Factory performance. Participants are invited to record their own reflections on gratitude or read the words of another person who is not present. In a culture that can reduce the most profound feelings to blithe hashtags, this interactive installation invites participants up to the microphone to reflect on the people, places, and events that have impacted their own lives: what are you really grateful for?

June 30 – July 3
The Extremely Grey Line

A 23.5° Tilt Production
Co-written by Kate Pressman and Elizagrace Madrone
Directed by Estefania Fadul

Come take a ride on the Extremely Grey Line – a site-specific show led by psychopomps, designed around the streets of New York which are also the graveyards of New York which is also the life of New York. Audience members can choose which experience they’re signing up for when they purchase a ticket to The Extremely Grey Line – on bicycle, on foot, or sitting inside the Underneath (although, of course, the Underneath is only available to those with the PROPER Covid documentation).

July 7 – 10
Kim Loo Gets a Redo

Written by and featuring Lisa Helmi Johanson and Kimberly Immanuel
An Original Piece Inspired by Real Women

Combining reimagined 1930 & 1940 show tunes, original music, percussive tap dance, spoken word, and personal reflections, this genre-bending work celebrates the lesser-known history of the Kim Loo Sisters, the first Asian American act on Broadway. A deeply personal response to the rise of hate crimes against the Asian community, Kim Loo Gets a Redo shifts the historical paradigm to the AAPI perspective, explores the erasure of AAPI women both past and present, and reclaims agency lost.

July 14 – 17
Liminal Archive

Al Límite Collective
Producing Directors: Leah Bachar, Monica Hunken and Dennis Yueh-Yeh Li
Featuring Leah Bachar, Shan Y. Chuang, Spicy Delight, Sanam Erfani, Monica Hunken and Philip Santos Schaffer

This immersive theatrical experience guides audiences through the intimate moments of isolation experienced by artists as they traverse the unknown during the early days of the pandemic. Liminal Archive began as an open-source platform, providing a cultural exchange for international artists to collaborate together during a lockdown and mass uprisings, and it has collected more than 40 artworks, including music, digital art and theater. Al Límite has curated these offerings into a 40-minute odyssey of live performances, projections and audio journeys where we venture through the past, the present, and find our way together into the future.

July 21 – 24
As the Sun Sets

By Dow Dance
Choreography by Caleb Dowden
Featuring Imani Gaudin-County, Andy Guzmán, Jai Perez and Caleb Dowden

What does radical Black love look like in a racist world? How do we find love when we have to fight to simply exist? This dance/media work explores how Black people continue to find happiness and joy even in the predominantly white spaces of Sundown Towns, where their very presence makes them unsafe. A kinetic, visual representation of Black stories celebrating how radical Black love has and always will flourish, even in the midst of violence.

July 28 – 31
A Grave is Given Supper

Poems by Mike Soto
Directed by Claudia Acosta
Featuring Elena Hurst
in partnership with Teatro Dallas

In this Narco-Acid Western two lovers converge in a US/Mexico border town during a raging drug war. Anchored by a series of surreal and interlinked poems, infused with rituals of love and loss, this multimedia work incorporates video projections, dance and a Nortec soundscape to explore the complicated desires of people living in the borderland.

August 4 – 7

In Tandem Lab
Created and directed by Gisela Cardenas
Created by and featuring Laura Butler-Levitt and Heather Hollingsworth
Written by Javier Antonio González

A female artist leaves an inheritance to two young women with no apparent relationship to her
or each other. But on one condition: they must create something together. Excavating the artist’s drawings and short stories, captivated by revelations about their previously unknown past, these two women emerge from isolation in the act of giving life to another woman’s story. This new work asks: how can we start telling the stories written in our genes and passed from one generation to another? Inspired by Shakespeare’s female characters.

August 11 – 14
My Onliness

One-Eighth Theatre
Text by Robert Lyons
Directed by Daniel Irizarry
Composer Kamala Sankaram
Director of ASL Alexandria Wailes
in partnership with IRT Theatre
Featuring Daniel Irizarry, Cynthia La Cruz, Kamala Sankaram, Gabriel Silva, Rhys Tivey and Alexandria Wailes

A Mad King performs his royal power as an act of martyrdom in a desperate attempt to impress a mysterious petitioner while the Master of Ceremony orchestrates songs of torture, truth, and tenderness. (The poor Writer is simply collateral damage!) Is this a glimpse of our dystopian future? Or just the structure of human consciousness? An homage to Stanislaw Witkacy and his theories of “pure forms in theatre.” Performed with fully integrated ASL interpreters.

A new collaboration between Daniel Irizarry and Robert Lyons, following the international success of Yovo (NYC/Poland/Cuba).

Special Benefit Performance August 14 at 7pm celebrating our return to live theatre! Includes post-show sunset song and toast on Pier 45. Tickets are $30/$50/$100.

New Ohio Theatre is a two-time Obie Award-winning theatre that serves New York’s most adventurous theatre audiences by developing and presenting bold work from today’s vast independent theatre community. They believe the best of this community, the small artist-driven ensembles and the daring producing companies who operate without a permanent theatrical home, are actively expanding the boundaries of where American theatre is right now and where it’s going. From their home in the West Village’s historic Archive Building, the New Ohio provides a high-profile platform for downtown’s most mature, ridiculous, engaged, irreverent, gut-wrenching, frivolous, sophisticated, foolish and profound theatrical endeavors. For info visit http://NewOhioTheatre.org, Like them on Facebook at https://www.Facebook.com/NewOhioTheatre, and follow on Twitter (https://twitter.com/NewOhioTheatre) and Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/newohiotheatre


(Nicolai Khalezin’s article appeared in The Brussels Times, 6/2; Photo: Nicolai Khalezin performing in Generation Jeans, an autobiographical duologue about rock music and resistance.)

This is an opinion article by an external contributor. The views belong to the writer.

Wear your mask over your nose and mouth and not over your eyes.” That was the motto of Artdocfest, Russia’s largest documentary film festival in Russia, which took place in April. Russian authorities, however, have firmly shown they want the mask over the public’s eyes. 

 Over the course of the film festival, showings were disrupted by the police, the consumer protection agency, homophobic Chechen nationalists and Kremlin loyalists. In St. Petersburg, authorities shut down viewings by sealing entryways into two screening halls. After the police came and didn’t allow any films to be presented, the festival moved on to Zoom and those who bought tickets were able to see films online.

These actions disrupted or stopped stories from being told: about the suffering of locals who opposed Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the government orchestrated torture of gay men in Chechnya, and the repressive measures taken against protestors in Belarus (where 354 political prisoners remain in custody) made possible by Russian support. It is erasure in its purest form.

That erasure is something I know personally. In 2010, I founded the Belarus Free Theatre in response to Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko’s crackdown on freedom of speech. To ensure security, people who wanted to see our shows had to call a phone number to learn its physical location. Even that precaution was not enough; authorities still arrested or harassed every single member of our company. After the authorities brought five baseless criminal charges against my wife and I, we were forced to leave the country and become refugees.

This experience of living with organized harassment is why spaces like Artdocfest are so important to me. That is why we entered two films into the festival, Alone and Okrestin Sisters. They provide an opportunity for voicing the truth when the authorities are silencing it.

For a long time, Russia remained a place where Belarussian creatives were able to showcase their talents. However, the Russian regime is increasingly copying the Belarusian regime and is tightening its control over the world of art and culture. This includes the recently adopted amendments to the education law that requires Russian state permission for educational activities to prevent “foreign interference.” Authentic real- life documentaries, aimed at adults, fall under this category.

Everywhere, authoritarian regimes are locking step in an autocratic push-back against democracy. These regimes want to tell grand stories about states and leaders, which only work if the public cannot see the effects of the government’s policies

Russia, like Belarus, has been increasingly defined by what isn’t televised. Belarus continues to plough ahead in this arena banning the European news channel Euronews and making it easier to block other media.

(Read more)