Featured earlier on this website, the translation by John Freedman of the protest play Insulted. Belarus and an accompanying account of how Andrei Kureichik’s play attracted attention in the international theatrical community. In 2020, the play was streamed, produced or otherwise presented — in an act of solidarity — by actors and companies across the globe. Freedman named this movement the “Worldwide Readings Project”. Interest in producing the play in one form or another continues to grow, as this update relates.
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Insulted. Belarus Continues to Circle the Globe: An update on the Worldwide Readings Project by John Freedman
Has Andrei Kureichik, the writer of Insulted. Belarus, provided the key to a theatrical perpetuum mobile? I lost count of the number of times I took stock of the Worldwide Readings Project, which oversees the mounting of readings, radio streams, video ﬁlms, conferences, and other events presenting this extraordinary play that bears witness to a revolution that unfolded in real-time even as the author wrote it. I am amazed at the heights to which the project has risen. I think, “Surely it can’t go much further’. Each time I am proven wrong. In my earlier overview of the project here [winter 2020] I noted that we had reached 18 languages and 77 readings, productions or ﬁlms in 22 countries. Rather hopefully, as I recall it, I had added: “There are many more to come”. As I write this update three months later, we have nearly doubled the number of events (it stands at over 140), adding two languages and eight more countries. And, yes, there are still many more to come.
The phenomenon is fascinating. Consider the course of events in Kureichik’s homeland. When the ﬁrst readings of Insulted. Belarus began taking place furiously in mid-September 2020, huge demonstrations were unfolding in the capital of Minsk. Orderly, peaceful, and colourful (thanks to the opposition’s ubiquitous white-red-white ﬂag), these protests captured imaginations throughout the world. The images of protesters kissing riot policemen — who, in many cases, were brutally attacking the populace — were not only attractive; they evoked respect, as well as optimism.
Daugavpil Theatre of Latvia read Insulted. Belarus. Photo credit: John Freedman
The state of affairs now has changed drastically. Superﬁcially at least, President Alexander Lukashenko has reasserted his grip on the country. Demonstrations now are held sporadically, usually in small numbers. Friends and families are more likely to meet in the yards outside their homes for quiet, almost clandestine, acts of resistance. Occasionally, a hundred or more brave souls may march through a city carrying a white-red-white banner. Many of those leading the early demonstrations are in prison or in exile.
Despite the heady intoxication of righteous rebellion inside Belarus turning to the grind of muted opposition to power, the readings of Insulted. Belarus have continued apace. A lull set in at Christmas and New Year’s, but the theatre world is hardly done with Kureichik’s play.
A Spanish translation by Luis Sorolla is currently in preparation, ﬁnally promising access to speakers of the world’s second most popular language. Thanks to Andreas Merz-Raykov drawing attention to the play by directing it in Augsburg, it is now being embraced by German-language theatres. And if it seems that saturation is not unfavourable to any longevity that Insulted. Belarus may have as a document combining the spheres of art and politics, I would point out a remarkable marathon in Romania and Moldova of sixteen readings in sixteen days organized by translator and journalist Raluca Radulescu happening in February 2021.
Insulted. Belarus has also attracted attention in the academic world. “Art as Political Gesture”, a Czech-Slovak symposium scheduled on Belarus Solidarity Day on February 7, included lengthy discussions about the play and its place in the evolving sphere of political theatre. ln April at the Goldman School of Public Policy of the University of California at Berkeley, students will be taking a course titled “Arts and Culture Policy” that will discuss the phenomenon of Kureichik’s play and its international reception.
Finally, Covid-l9 continues to be a silent shaper of this story. lt has been the cause of cancelled readings or productions. On the other hand, thanks to Zoom and YouTube, lockdowns provoked by the pandemic have been the catalyst for restless homebound actors joining colleagues online for a project they might not have had the time for under normal circumstances. In all, over 800 actors in 28 countries have brought Insulted. Belarus to over 290,000 viewers. And there are many more similar events to come.
Ioan Paraschiv in a reading of Insulted. Belarus in Sibiu, Romania. Photo credit: John Freedman