(Shaun Walker’s article appeared in the Guardian, 8/31; Svetlana Sugako in rehearsals for the Belarus Free theatre. Photograph: Misha Friedman.)
For 15 years, the acclaimed company has been a voice of dissent. Will it finally perform in a free country?
In the 15 years of its existence, the Belarus Free theatre has never had an ordinary season, being forced to perform in makeshift locations as it eked out a clandestine existence under Alexander Lukashenko’s authoritarian rule.
But the season due to start in a couple of weeks is the most uncertain yet, as massive protests against Lukashenko’s continued rule rock the country. Will the theatre, which has won increasing acclaim on tours abroad but puts on plays in a garage when in Minsk, finally be performing in a new, democratic Belarus? Or will Lukashenko launch a fresh crackdown that makes things even more unbearable for the arts?
Already, several members of the theatre have found themselves at the heart of the repression that followed the aftermath of Lukashenko’s declaration of victory in a flawed election three weeks ago.
Svetlana Sugako, one of the theatre’s administrators, was meant to spend much of August preparing for a planned tour to New York. That, along with a run at London’s Barbican earlier in the year, was postponed due to Covid, and instead, she spent five days in August in prison, caught up in a crackdown in which about 7,000 people were detained.
Sugako, her girlfriend and fellow BFT administrator Nadia Brodskaya and actor Daria Andreyanova were all arrested on 9 August, the night of the elections, while standing outside a polling station shortly after voting closed.