A country embroiled in charges of voter fraud. An authoritarian president refusing to accept election results and declaring the coronavirus pandemic to be a hoax. Thousands of citizens protesting for democracy. Military police brutally attacking peaceful protestors.
Sound familiar? That is the current political climate in Belarus and the plot of “Insulted. Belarus(sia),” written by contemporary Belarusian playwright Andrei Kureichik, who started writing on August 19 while in hiding. He is now in exile from his homeland.
“This play tells the story of the first month of the Belarusian revolution,” says Natasha O. Ramer, founder and artistic director of Moscow Nights. “It is so important for our audiences, particularly in Louisiana, to be aware of the revolt for political reform that is occurring right now.”
Told through the perspectives of seven different characters, all based on actual people, the play ranges in emotion from humor and youthful naiveté to tragic grief. Since the start of protests that began more than two months ago, the United Nations has cited hundreds of human rights violations including illegal arrests, torture, rape and murder.
“This revolution is a revolution of people who want their freedom,” explains Kuriechik. “I am proud of people who are very far from Belarus and who are doing these readings in such a strong manner to tell the world what is happening.”
John Freedman, also a playwright and a theater critic, provided the English translation.
Special thanks for usage of the original artwork “Belarusian Venus” by artist Yana Chernova https://www.instagram.com/chernova.ya/
On September 10, 2020—a month after a controversial presidential election in Belarus that erupted into revolution—playwright and theatre critic John Freedman contacted artistic director Natasha O. Ramer about Moscow Nights presenting a staged reading of a new play from a Belarusian playwright.
“Insulted. Belarus(sia)” is Andrei Kureichik’s account of seven characters whose lives clashed immediately following the election. They are all based on actual people. Kureichik wrote the play over the course of two weeks while in hiding. Belarus dictator Pres. Alexander Lukashenko has accused artists of crimes against the state and banned theatre in the country.
With COVID-19 having also shut down live theatre in New Orleans, Ramer asked Freedman to “give me two days” to make a decision. At the time, she was rehearsing a delayed production of “Anna Akhmatova: Sketches of a Poet’s Life.” Despite having never staged a virtual production, she responded to Freedman with “yes.”
Ramer talked with Kathy Randels and Dianna Shortes, the “Anna Akhmatova” actresses, about pausing their rehearsals to stage “Insulted. Belarus(sia).” With their full support, she immediately started on the new project.
Freedman sent the original Belarusian play to her, along with his English translation. While daily protests in the streets of Minsk and throughout Belarus swelled to more than 100,000, Ramer read the play, began auditioning actors, reached out to local theatre critic Alan Smason to produce the reading online, and began fundraising.
Within a month, Ramer assembled a cast based in New Orleans, Austin and Little Rock. They rehearsed via Zoom. Smason introduced Moscow Nights to virtual theatre. Ramer continuously monitored the situation in Belarus as she selected music and graphics. Costumes were loaned by her Belarusian friends. All the while, theatre companies around the world staged readings primarily online.
On October 9, a month after the initial call from Freedman, Moscow Nights artistic director Ramer, along with actors Kathy Randels and Casey Groves, were interviewed by Smason on his “NOLA Theatre Talk” program about the upcoming production. Playwright Andrei Kureichik, also joined them from exile in Europe.
Then 16 days later on October 26, and as New Orleans braced for Hurricane Zeta, Moscow Nights—in solidarity with more than 70 theatre organizations worldwide—presented a virtual reading of “Insulted. Belarus(sia).” Again, Kureichik joined the cast online to applaud the production and express his appreciation to Ramer, Smason, the cast and crew.
“New Orleans is with us! It was one of the most emotional and brilliant of all the American readings. Thanks so much to the magical director Natasha Ramer and to her wonderful American artists. And special thanks to her producer and theatre critic Alan Smason. It was unbelievable,” said Kureichik.
With a virtual audience of nearly 1,800 for the New Orleans-based production, Ramer credits “Insulted. Belarus(sia)” with opening the door for Moscow Nights on the international stage.
Alan Smason's "NOLA Theatre Talk" with Natasha Ramer, Kathy Randels, & Casey Groves & Special Appearance by Andrei Kureichik
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