Timeless, traditional Belarus folk songs stand in stark contrast, next to violent vignettes. And Minsk 2011: A Reply to Kathy Acker is all the more potent for it's risk. The playwright left the country for what was supposed to be a few week trip and was banned from his homeland, and has been in exile in London, missing his wife and aging mother back in Belarus. Members of the company have been blacklisted, beaten, fined, lost their jobs, and have been imprisoned. Working with Belarus Free Theatre gives "taking risks" on stage a whole new depth of meaning.
ChiIL Live Shows caught opening night last night and this show is highly recommend, for those who care about human rights and multicultural storytelling. Tickets are only $20 for this short run, 6 show, limited engagement in the intimate upstairs space at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre at Navy Pier, so it's quite affordable and accessible. Do note, there is nudity, violent subject matter, and monologue heavy subtitles, so this is one for mature audiences only.
Minsk 2011: A Reply to Kathy Acker is a welcome wake up call and a compelling, unflinching look at modern day Minsk. It's easy to get compassion fatigue and tune out the tough situations people face here at home and particularly half way around the world. Theatre is a fantastic medium for the message. If visual and visceral stories are the lifeblood of a city and a society, then Minsk 2011: A Reply to Kathy Acker is akin to a blood transfusion. You WILL leave the theatre with these tales firmly imbedded in your brain and in your heart.
I'm still reeling from the imagery of spilled blood and sugar, of scars from heavy handed jackboot thugs coexisting next to average accidents, and the words "step on a body just to hear the crunch". Some shows leave a mark. Amid current police raids on underground performance spaces in the Belarus capital of Minsk last month, this brave band of actors still pushes the boundaries. The heat and pressure isn't deterring them, instead it seems to be making diamonds...gems of truth about the uncrushable, independent human spirit, in the guise of theatre arts.
In the Face of Police Raids Last Month in Minsk
Belarus Free Theatre Brings Newest Political Piece
Minsk, 2011: A Reply to Kathy Acker
To Chicago Shakespeare Theater
January 30–February 3, 2013
All Tickets $20 to Foster Dialogue and Encourage Participation
Belarus Free Theatre has made its way to the United States, despite several police raids last month at underground performance spaces in the capital of Minsk. The raids came on the eve of the company bringing its newest political piece, Minsk, 2011: A Reply to Kathy Acker, to Chicago Shakespeare Theater for performances now through February 3, 2013 in the theater Upstairs at Chicago Shakespeare. To foster dialogue and encourage participation, all tickets for this six-performance limited engagement are $20. The piece, which explores the sexual brutality and oppression by the totalitarian regime in Belarus, is one of many award-winning productions by the company, celebrated for creating art based upon the unjustly persecuted people of Belarus.
Belarus Free Theatre was formed in 2005 by Natalia Koliada and Nikolai Khalezin to provide an opportunity for commentary on conditions in their country—one of the last totalitarian governments in Europe. Enduring constant police interference, arrests, and violence under the authoritarian rule of President Lukashenko, the company must produce their work in Belarus in secret. Members of the company have lost their jobs, been imprisoned, blacklisted, and in some cases, exiled from their home. Yet Belarus Free Theatre continues to develop internationally acclaimed work with the support of artists and theater companies around the world.
Artists from London to Los Angeles have raised their voices in support of Belarus Free Theatre. In response to last month’s raids, several prominent English actors, including Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Joanna Lumley, Mark Rylance and Simon Callow, appealed to British Prime Minister David Cameron, urging him to use his political power to help free Belarusian political prisoners. The effort was organized through the Free Belarus Now project, a global campaign for the human rights of the Belarusian people. British playwright Tom Stoppard recently told The Guardian that “democracies ought to be trying to make democracy contagious,” noting his admiration for the campaigners. “They are trying to remind the world at large that the Belarus problem hasn’t gone away—it’s gotten worse.”
Belarus Free Theatre returns to Chicago for the first time since its American premiere of Being Harold Pinter at The Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival in January 2011, which earned the company an Obie Award. Following the New York premiere, the company would have been forced to return to Belarus without a subsequent U.S. engagement, placing its members at great risk. In an unprecedented Chicago theater initiative, Chicago Shakespeare Theater joined Goodman Theatre, Northwestern University, and the League of Chicago Theatres to present performances of
Being Harold Pinter in Chicago January 27–February 20, 2011, allowing Belarus Free Theatre to stay in the country while company members sought asylum from persecution at home.
Minsk 2011: A Reply to Kathy Acker, devised, written and performed by Belarus Free Theatre, and conceived, directed and adapted by Vladimir Shcherban, combines the company’s distinctive mix of experimental theater with real-life testimony and biting satire. Revealing a sexually repressed society and lamenting for the city that has lost its way, the production and its artists pine for a beloved home that has turned ugly. Taking its inspiration from the late American postmodernist writer Kathy Acker, the work addresses Belarusian society through the prism of sexuality, telling the stories of a series of exploited individuals. Following the Fringe First Award-winning performances in Edinburgh in 2011, the production moved to a critically acclaimed run at London’s Young Vic in 2012, and made its U.S. premiere earlier this month in New York before continuing on to Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s limited six-performance World’s Stage presentation of Belarus Free Theatre’s Minsk, 2011: A Reply to Kathy Acker runs now through February 3, 2013 in the theater Upstairs at Chicago Shakespeare. Run time is 85 minutes with no intermission. Performed in Russian and Belarusian with projected English translations.
Committed to fostering dialogue on the important international issues explored in this production, Chicago Shakespeare is encouraging broad-based participation by offering all tickets for $20. All patrons receive a 40% discount on guaranteed parking in Navy Pier garages. Additionally, Navy Pier is offering $10 parking after 5 p.m. through March 17, 2013.
For more information or to purchase tickets, contact Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Box Office at 312.595.5600 or visit the Theater’s website here. For more information on the Free Belarus Now project click here.
Audience Notice: The production includes some mature content and depictions of violence and brief nudity.
Social and Political Issues Take Center Stage Chicago Shakespeare Theater Announces 2013 World’s Stage Presentations Stories from Belarus, South Africa, Nigeria and Italy Come to Chicago
ABOUT CHICAGO SHAKESPEARE THEATER Chicago Shakespeare Theater is a leading international theater company, known for vibrant productions that reflect Shakespeare’s genius for intricate storytelling, musicality of language and depth of feeling for the human condition. Recipient of the 2008 Regional Theatre Tony Award, Chicago Shakespeare’s work has been recognized internationally with three of London’s prestigious Laurence Olivier Awards, and by the Chicago theater community with 70 Joseph Jefferson Awards for Artistic Excellence. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Barbara Gaines and Executive Director Criss Henderson, CST is dedicated to producing extraordinary classic productions, new works and family fare; unlocking Shakespeare’s work for educators and students; and serving as Chicago’s cultural ambassador through its World’s Stage Series.
ABOUT THE WORLD’S STAGE SERIES
Chicago Shakespeare’s presentation of Minsk, 2011: A Reply to Kathy Acker is emblematic of the wide scope of work presented through the World’s Stage Series—a program that brings the world’s most exciting theatrical events to Chicago audiences and presents Chicago Shakespeare’s work abroad. Chicago Shakespeare has collaborated with more than 600 international artists representing 16 countries on five continents, engaging audiences in a dialogue with the world’s established and emerging theater artists. Strengthening its reputation as a leader in cultural diplomacy, CST partners regularly with respected international affairs organizations, including the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Chicago Consular Corps, Chicago Sister Cities and World Business Chicago.
Since the inception of the World’s Stage Series in 2000, Chicago Shakespeare has imported international productions ranging from pedestrian-based live art events (Australia’s one step at a time like this) to grand aerial and water spectacles (France’s Compagnie Transe Express and Ilotopie); to iconic theaters such as Shakespeare’s Globe (London), the Maly Drama Theatre (St. Petersburg) and La Comédie-Française (Paris). As a leading cultural ambassador, Chicago Shakespeare has presented its work at the Royal Shakespeare Company (Stratford-upon- Avon), The Donmar Warehouse (London), on tour in Germany and Australia, and this past spring, was among the 37 international companies that came together for an unprecedented 37-play “Globe to Globe” festival for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad.