Belarus Free Theatre (BFT) is the only theater company in Europe banned by its government on political grounds. Founded in Minsk in 2005, BFT emerged as a challenge to censorship in “Europe’s Last Dictatorship,” and was quickly faced with persecution for demanding recognition for marginalized groups.
In 2011, the company’s leaders, Natalia Kaliada, Nicolai Khalezin, and Vladimir Shcherban became political refugees in the UK. BFT made a home in the Young Vic, London, and became an associate company of Falmouth University. Since then, BFT has worked across borders to campaign for human rights and artistic freedom.
In Minsk, BFT continues to perform illegally, teaching young activists through its academy Studio Fortinbras. Rehearsing between countries via Skype, the company performs in underground spaces, constantly on the run. “The bravest audiences in the world” face potential arrest for simply attending a performance. To date, BFT has performed more than 25 productions in more than 40 countries. In 2015 alone, it performed to live audiences of more than 10,000 people internationally, and more than 500,000 viewed online performances.
BFT believes that although restrictions to expression exist in Belarus, people must continue to resist limits to artistic freedom wherever they occur. It seeks to move beyond "socially-informed" theater to create real social change, following the tradition of its patrons, Harold Pinter, Václav Havel, and Sir Tom Stoppard.