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Creative scholarship for Belarussian playwrights awarded


Contemporary social topic

I live in Minsk. Every morning, I am waiting to be captured and arrested … I am cleaning my teeth, crying. I take a shower for two minutes sharp, expecting them to storm in my apartment and drag me out, naked, grabbing my hair… I use a dozen of passwords to secure my computer and mobile. My SIM card was blocked in September.  I had a new one registered in someone else’s name. I never answer the phone if it shows an unknown number…My intercom is switched off… I have nightmares. And the bright days are gone …  

This is a passage from a letter of one of the candidates who answered the call – announced by the National Theatre in co-operation with the Prague Crossroads festival – for creative scholarships and six-week residential stays in Prague for two Belarusian playwrights. The call was intended for authors writing in Belarussian or Russian language, irrespective of their age and nationality. The residency stay is aimed to allow the authors sufficient time for writing their own play, and also to acquaint the Czech cultural public with contemporary Belarussian playwriting.

Thirteen candidates answered the call, including not only established, but also beginning playwrights. The jury, composed of Marta Ljubková, Ilona Smejkalová, Romana Maliti, Daniela Pařízková, Nina Jacques and Jan Tošovský, evaluated the received materials, motivation letters, the candidates’ completed works and the planned dramatic concepts. Two women were eventually selected by the jury – the playwrights Aksana Hajko and Alena Ivaňušenka.

Both authors arrived and were welcomed in Prague on 2 May. However, the National Theatre wishes to help also the other artists who answered the NT Drama’s call for residential stay. The excerpts of their plays were convincing and deserve to be shown to (not only) the Czech theatre public. The project will continue in the autumn.

Aksana Hajko

Born on 12 May 1976, she is a theatre directrice, actor, playwright, culture manager, theatre lecturer, and the founder of the “Belarius Free Theatre” in Brest. While she suffers from political harassment, she cannot leave the country for good – she raises her daughter while also caring for her sick mother. She welcomed the creative stay as a possibility to finish her work, which is hardly conceivable under the current situation in Belarus.  

In her letter, she wrote: “The activities of our theatre in Belarus have been suspended for a month and a half. On January 27, 2021, the Financial Investigation Office instigated a comprehensive audit of our activities, also with the aim to initiate criminal proceedings. Our bank accounts have been frozen, and all our activities paralysed.  I face arrest, like many others in our country nowadays. The reason, among others, is our continuous support for the Belarussian opposition since August 2020. While almost all cultural facilities were closed, we continued our work and discussed the problems in Belarus.

My work on my latest theatre project, “You will always be a child”, has been suspended as well. It is an autobiographic text, a series of monologues about various aspects of the life of a woman, composed of six acts – corresponding to different identities of a woman: a wife; a mother; a mistress; a victim; an artist; a hysteric… One scene deals with the situation of women under the Holocaust, another depicts solidarity among women. Now, I would like to extend the project to also include the situation of women attending the current protests in Belarus or solidarity among jailed women. Yet, I have been unable to concentrate on my work since last summer due to the constant pressure and political crisis.”

Aksana Hajko also offered to the National Theatre that she would install and present her audio project “Brest Stories Guide” about the termination of the Jewish community in Brest in 1941–1942.

Alena Ivaňušenka

Born in 1991, she is a graduate of the Faculty of Journalism of the Belarussian State University, and also the “Young Playwrights Academy” attached to the Belarussian Playwright Association. She is a playwright, and she explores in her work traumas and post-traumatic experience – the rights and needs of women after giving birth (Open your legs wider); violence; sexual education, and misogyny.

She also wrote a candid and personal motivation letter in response to the call: “Writing a play is like visiting a new country. At first sight, we all seem to live on the same planet. Yet, we need to get to know each other, listen to each other, and understand each other. When I write a new text, it’s about what I want to learn and explore. I search for new expressions and forms.  I need a space where I can be honest, candid and my true self. My plays concern traumas and traumatic experience. Last year was especially hard – in Belarus as well as in the whole world. Psychologists say we have all experienced a post-traumatic syndrome of a sort. What we have been through last year has affected us substantially, and I wish I could find a way to put this into words.”