Radio Culture is a US premiere by writer and artist Maxim Dosko, in a new English translation by Natalia Fedorova and Amber Robinson, directed by Amber Robinson. Winner of the award for Best Experimental Writing in the Belarus Free Theatre’s 2014 International Contest of Contemporary Drama, Radio Culture is a fascinating example of the “New Drama” movement in contemporary Eastern European theater. By examining a single day in the life of a young Belorussian, as if under a microscope, Radio Culture reveals how change can germinate inside of a person even within a culture that resists change at every step. Staged in an intimate installation, TUTA’s production takes a subtly profound and unexpected journey across the globe to peer in to our interior worlds, and the irresistible, transformative power of listening.

PROGRAM NOTES

NEW DRAMA AND THEATRE IN BELARUS (AND OTHER FORMER SOVIET UNION REPUBLICS):

The collapse of the Soviet Union and its communist regime in 1991 brought a new era of possibilities to the media and arts in newly independent former socialist republics.  The transitional phase of the 1990s witnessed different paths of development among these, with the mostly Slavic former republics such as Belarus, keeping close economic, political and cultural ties with the more dominant Russia. When in the early 2000s a term “new drama” came to be used to depict what was happening in Russian drama and theatre, it also became an umbrella term for the new developments in theatre arts in other post-Soviet countries, including Belarus.

“New drama” thus refers to a broad, eclectic phenomenon taking place in a particular historical moment in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and other countries “fed-up with the Chekov-Ostrovsky treadmill.”  Their goal is to avoid literary forms and come close to natural, actual speech, to achieve new level of freedom of expression, break down political and cultural barriers, to defy taboos and to provoke with arguments. Some of the most prominent theatre companies associated with the movement “new drama” are Moscow’s Teatr.doc, and the Belarus Free Theater, located in Minsk (when allowed to perform there) and abroad.

“New drama” and the theatre associated with it seek to understand the workings and the essence of life as lived in the “here and now” of their authors. They are searching for a certain reality and its truth. The plays deal with the social issues providing a subtle social commentary. They are simple and personal pieces, often stripped back to their basic components, dispensing of the plot and/or dialogue in part or in full and providing long narrations or consisting primarily of elaborate, descriptive stage directions and only several lines of dialogue. For example, in one of the Belarusian playwright Pavel Pryazhko’s most radical efforts, I am Free (2012), the “play” consists of 535 photographs to be shown as a computer slide show accompanied with a few random spoken lines.

Based on their radical aesthetics, their new style of documentary theatre with materials raging from police and court documents to witness reports and journals delivered on the stage verbatim, along with their ties with the protest movements, the new drama and its theatre became also known as “the theatre where no one acts,” “the theatre that moves” (from one basement to another underground location), and as “the theatre that does not fear.”  Some of notable examples include the Russian playwright Yelena Gremina’s (1956-2018) play Two in your House (2011), a documentary take on rigged presidential elections in Belarus, and the Minsk-based Free Theater, so radical in its efforts that it can barely perform within the borders of its own country.

Founded on the principles of freedom of speech and artistic expression in 2005, Belarus Free Theatre is at present UK-based with the approach to creating theatre akin to investigative journalism. They work across borders to create, advocate and educate. American Theatre magazine wrote about Free Theater: “It is, arguably, the theatre of firsts: the first contemporary theatre to survive, function and flourish both in exile and at home, despite repression; the first to rely on the Internet to direct and create its art; the first to campaign globally for human rights as well as basic artistic freedom; the first to perform before the U.K.’s Parliament.”

[Main source: John Freedman, “An Introduction.” Real and Phantom Pains: An Anthology of New Russia Drama. (2014)]   


THE SOCIO-POLITICAL CONTEXT OF BELARUS:

“Belarus lives!” is the battle cry of Belarusians hungry for change.

When the Soviet Union dismantled in 1991, Belarus became an independent state and enacted a constitution, with democracy and rule of law as its core principles.  But just three years later Alexander Lukashenko became the country’s president, in a highly contested election that served as a test of the nation’s commitment to democracy, and Belarus started spinning its wheels in a “transitional” stage. Today, Belarus is known as “Europe’s last dictatorship”, classified as one of the world’s fifty-five authoritarian regimes. One ruling elite has been replaced by another.  

Lukashenko is the republic’s president to this day, and throughout his time in office he has marginalized or eliminated political rivals. A controversial public referendum conducted in 2004 allowed Lukashenko to extend his stay in power beyond the limit of two five-year terms specified in the constitution. Lukashenko concentrated economic and political power in his hands ruling the country through direct, personal control and by rebuilding a Soviet-style economy.

Many observers describe the existing regime as a totalitarian system and a country “stuck in a neo-Soviet time warp.” Most state enterprises were never privatized and remain in government hands employing a majority of the workforce. The country never applied for the EU or NATO membership. Lukashenko has created various unconstitutional political, legal and economic structures that secure his hold on power. The government promotes patriarchal rule by the “father”, the state distribution of prosperity and maintaining close ties with Russia. National public opinion surveys done since 1997 reveal a lack of faith in the future, with underlying social misfortunes and sicknesses such as alcoholism and drug addiction.

The Orthodox church, with the help of the government, seems prepared and fully equipped for an attack on sexual minorities. Sexual minorities are either treated as “socially dangerous” political opponents and severely persecuted, or “treated” through conversion psychotherapy similar to the “coded” treatment of alcoholics known as “scaring alcoholics dry.”.  Traditional gender stereotypes are imposed by through the political rhetoric as well as in secondary school education.

On the other hand, the nature of the current political order is still a departure from Belarus’s Soviet past, with fifteen official political parties and over 2,000 registered NGOs creating a semblance of political pluralism. Independent media, though weak and marginalized, continues to persist against the odds, comprised of dozens of newspapers, radio stations and local television stations. While the current system is a clear departure from the democratic aspirations of the early 1990s, the Belarusian people appear to be decisively against going back in time.

(Main source: Oleg Manaev, Natalie Manayeva and Dzmitry Yuran. “More State than Nation: Lukashenko’s Belarus.” Journal of International Affairs 65.1 (2011))


-- Milan Pribisic


TUTA is partially supported by Arts Work Fund for Organizational Development, The Light A City Fund, The Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation, The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, City Arts I and the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, The Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, The Saints, and Promet Source.