Political Asylum for Belarus Free Theatre

by Catherine Coray

in Advocacy,Global Citizenship

Post image for Political Asylum for Belarus Free Theatre

(Photo: Belarus Free Theatre’s Reply to Kathy Acker: Minsk 2011)

As many TCG members are aware, the OBIE-award winning Belarus Free Theatre, founded in 2005 by the husband-and-wife team of Nikolai Khalezin and Natalia Kaliada is banned in its homeland of Belarus– ‘Europe’s last dictatorship’–and its founding members are now forced to live in exile. Meanwhile, back home other company members are forced to work secretly, in constant fear of intimidation and political arrest, as they struggle to train the next generation of theatre makers and produce new performances.

Following their very successful run at LaMama, co-produced by the Public Theater, several BFT company members, including co-founders Natalia Kaliada and Nikolai Khalezin, applied for and won political asylum in the United Kingdom. Returning to Minsk would have meant certain imprisonment. But circumstances in Belarus continue to be dangerous for many people, and Natalia and Nikolai are tireless in their efforts to focus awareness on the abuses of power and human rights violations that are taking place there. They are frequently traveling abroad to meet with diplomats and politicians who will hopefully apply pressure on the Belarusian government to release political prisoners and bring an end to enforced disappearances.

The BFT are also busy creating new pieces they hope will make a difference, one of which, A Reply to Kathy Acker: Minsk 2011 was presented at the Edinburgh Festival. Kathy Acker received a top award of the festival, “The Scotsman Fringe First 2011″ Award for “Innovation and Outstanding New Writing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe”, as well as The Guardian’s “The Very Weighty Topics Award.”

In establishing their new home in the U.K., BFT are in the process of officially registering “Belarus Free Theatre” for charitable status (not-for-profit). They have started an online fundraising campaign to raise the money to employ a UK staff member and kick-start a tiny office in London—and to provide some means for the BFT to survive. The goal of the first leg of this campaign is £9,000 (approximately $14,000) and they are more than half way towards that goal. The deadline for the campaign is December 12th—and as any of you who’ve done an online fundraising campaign will appreciate, if they don’t reach the goal by that time, they will be liable for a high penalty.

Many have asked how they might help the Belarus Free Theatre—one way is to click on the link below and donate—whatever you can– to the company’s efforts to establish themselves in their new country, and continue their brilliant and very important work. You’ve heard this before, but it’s true: every little bit helps…

To donate, click here. And please take a moment to watch Kevin Spacey’s video appeal on behalf of the company:

CATHERINE CORAY is the director of hotINK, an international reading festival of new plays from around the world, presented at the Lark Play Development Center in late March. hotINK has presented work from over 40 countries, such as Bulgaria, Canada, Germany, Greece, India, Ireland, Libya, Nigeria, The Philippines and Uganda. She is on the faculty of NYU’s Experimental Theatre Wing and teaches and collaborates with artists in many countries, including Austria, Belarus, Chile, Cuba and Lebanon. She is currently teaching in Abu Dhabi and is planning a conference on Middle-Eastern Women in Theatre that will be hosted by the NYU Abu Dhabi Institute in NYC in early 2013.