Art in Exile

Belarus Free Theatre Brings Challenging Show to UMD
by Liam Farrell | Photos courtesy of Belarus Free Theatre

For the past six years, Natalia Kaliada has had to direct her theater company’s rehearsals from more than a thousand miles away.

The co-founder and artistic director of the Belarus Free Theatre, Kaliada lives in exile with her family in London, a consequence of running an underground performance company in what is often called “Europe’s last dictatorship.” On the one hand, she misses the daily performances in Minsk, held in private apartments, cafés and even the woods to avoid the secret police; on the other, she can lobby politicians more effectively on behalf of her actors, who face the constant threat of arrest.

“There are two parallel realities,” she says.

The Belarus Free Theatre will depict the reality faced by artists from repressive regimes in performances Oct. 26 and 27 at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. “Burning Doors,” featuring Maria Alyokhina of Pussy Riot (left), a punk band arrested for its protests in Russia, explores how artists are persecuted and survive as enemies of the state.

“We want our audience to be able to think. When people think, dictators are scared of them,” Kaliada says. “We need to have a very direct and truthful dialogue. It’s a warning.”

The Belarus Free Theatre’s performances are part of The Clarice’s Artist Partner Program, which brings artists to UMD to engage in workshops, classes and conversations with students and the broader community. While in College Park, the group will host an Oct. 24 forum on freedom of expression at MilkBoy ArtHouse and sessions with the School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies.

“Burning Doors” is one example of how The Clarice works to empower its audience on societal issues, says Martin Wollesen, executive director.

“Free speech is a complicated issue. Where are the limits? How do we navigate the complicated world?” he says. “You also see the consequences of taking free speech away.”


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