(Photo of Belarus Free Theatre from May/June 2009 issue of American Theatre.)
When members of the Belarus Free Theater head back to Minsk next week, it won’t be an ordinary homecoming. For one thing, they’ll have a trunk full of rave-review clippings for the New York run of Being Harold Pinter, their searing testament to life lived under various forms of repression, which has wowed breathless audiences and critics at the Public’s Under the Radar Festival in its three-week run, Jan. 5-16.
They will also have behind them the conspicuous support of New York and Washington, D.C. artists who are turning out to stand beside the artists of the Belarus Free Theater—one of whom, Artiom Zhelezniak, was imprisoned without trial for weeks in December as part of a government crackdown following contested elections, and all of whom only narrowly escaped a similar fate.
On Mon., Jan. 17, the piece will have a special encore reading at the Public hosted by Tony Kushner and Tom Stoppard, at which Mandy Patinkin will also appear. The performance will raise funds for the BFT. On the same night, Washington, D.C.’s Theater J will offer a reading of Being Harold Pinter, as will Baltimore, Md.’s Single Carrot Theatre.
Then a series of events on Wed., Jan. 19, on the eve of the BFT’s return journey, will constitute a show of (peaceful) force in favor of free expression. First, at noon, there will a public protest of the Belarus’ government in New York at a location yet to be named (text PROTEST to 27138 to find out more). Then at 7 p.m. at the New York club Le Poisson Rouge, PEN American Center will host a benefit, “Viva the Belarus Free Theater,” with an all-star roundup that includes the likes of Tom Stoppard, Billy Crudup, E.L. Doctorow, Don DeLillo and Iva Bittova, along with some promised “surprise guests.”
That the Belarus Free Theater made it to New York at all is something of a miracle. As a community, we can help make sure that they make it home safe, and with our vocal support at their back.