Founders of Belarus Free Theatre, Natalia Kaliada and Nicolai Khalezin, bring their unique, explosive and brave brand of political theatre to the Melbourne International Arts Festival this October.
Trustees is a potent work examining authority, the media, self-censorship and freedom of speech in Australia. The work challenges the ‘Great Australian Silence’: the state which is seen as a struggle to speak out against atrocities both in our own country and abroad, and the danger of speaking the truth. What are the fault lines that lie beneath Australian speech?
Kaliada and Khalezin have devised a truly national piece for a local audiences – their first solely Australian work. Australian performers Tammy Anderson, Natasha Herbert, Niharika Senapati, Hazem Shammas and Daniel Schlusser, are charged with bringing it to life.
Read on as co-director of Belarus Free Theatre, Nicolai Khalezin, responds to questions about the play; the significance of it; the meaning of it; it’s relevance to the Melbourne International Arts Festival (and vis-à-vis), and much more.
The dramaturgical material that we’ve been using in this show can hardly be called a play. It’s a text resulting from almost two years of work with Australian actors and our research across Australia. Within it we wanted to travel from the general vision of what is happening today in Australia to the lives of the specific people who live here. For us, this work is very important, as it is the first performance we are creating in Australia and about Australia, therefore from one hand it was vital not to succumb to the charms of this country, and on the other hand not to mitigate the challenges that it faces today.
Australia is one of those unique countries which was created by those who came here from other countries, from other continents. During our work on the material and each one of the actors told their life stories, we found out that they all unanimously talked about their families, about the historical baggage that their families brought to the continent. All, except for Tammy Anderson, whose family came from Tasmania. In reality, the whole country consists of such stories, the roots of which make up for all the achievements and all problems of today’s Australia. We wanted to take a closer look at Australia than we did for the past ten years that we’ve been coming here more often. This is the main message of this performance to the audience to take a closer look at oneself and see what are those things that will allow them to move forward with the fewest mistakes.
We like to work with the challenges of the modern day society. The world is dynamically changing and we believe that you can’t fully grasp those changes through the works of Shakespeare or Chekhov, and to think that you can is a dangerous illusion. Despite all the genius of classical authors, they do not give us the opportunity to understand the modern world in all its diversity. Until now, people have never lived in such an intense flow of information; they didn’t face that many decisions; didn’t live in such a skewed media space; didn’t know the meaning of a “hybrid war”; nor did they understand the possible intensity of scientific discoveries … The person within this dynamically changing world is that interests us the most. Probably because we see ourselves in that context.
Perhaps, in order to explain something about “Trustees” to a person, I would ask this person three questions. First: “What would you say from the stage, if you’ve had 15 minutes and the audience willing to listen?” Second: “Why do you think that whatever you want to say will be interesting and important for the audience?” And the third: “Why haven’t you done it yet?” If a person considers these three questions and tries to answer them at least to himself, he need to come and see this show. In this regard, I would like to recall a quote from Danish futurist Ralph Jensen: “In the coming decades, the world will be run by those who can tell stories.”
It seems to me that the Melbourne Arts Festival is suitable for the”Trustees” because it is a brave festival. In the last six years we’ve presented the most significant performances of the Belarusian Free Theatre at this Australian festival. And this time, a performance staged at the Malthouse Theatre. Not every festival will be ready to show this performance from its stage. As one Russian writer said, “we need courage, to step out naked” The Melbourne Festival is ready for this, and it’s an honour for us to work with it.
For invigorating, urgent and vital theatre, Trustees is a must see, with the final word belonging to Khalezin quoting art critic Boris Groys: “Art will save the world from beauty.”
(Nicolai Khalezin responses were translated by Daniella Kaliada).
October 3 – 21