Post-gazette NOW
Belarus troupe getting exposure worldwide
Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko's efforts to silence the Belarus Free Theater Company have backfired. Now the exiled troupe is getting exposure around the world, said co-founder Natalia Koliada.

Reached in Chicago Tuesday where the company is performing at the Goodman Theater and Northwestern University, Ms. Koliada said she has scheduled appearances into 2012, with tours that will include Europe and South America.

"What we have tried to do for six years is create support for the people of Belarus with a global effort. It is working," she said.

The saga of Ms. Koliada's theater, which she co-founded in 2005, hit home in Pittsburgh Monday with a staged reading of its provocative "Being Harold Pinter" at Bricolage Production Company.

Ms. Koliada said 30 other cities including Washington, D.C., Portland, Ore., and Los Angeles are holding readings in support.

On Feb. 24, the cast of 12 actors, director Vladimir Shcherban and Ms. Koliada and husband Nikolai Khalezin leave for a Hong Kong festival, then return for a three-to-five- month residency at the Public Theater in San Francisco.

The company's repertoire includes 13 original plays, she said.

Ms. Koliada credited her brother Yuri, a Pittsburgh resident, with getting the ball rolling to pull the company out of Belarus and get it safely to New York.

"He got a text message that his sister was under arrest in Minsk, and he started a campaign to get us out of the country by contacting people he thought could help," she said.

The campaign grew to involve about 400 in the New York theater community, including actor Mandy Patinkin, who paved the way for the Belarusians to perform in Chicago.

"The reaction is absolutely wonderful here. Lots of standing ovations. Mandy Patinkin knew Chicago was an amazing theater town with wonderful people," Ms. Koliada said.

Along with her husband, she is accompanied by her youngest daughter. Unfortunately, her older child remains in Belarus.