Aliaksei Saprykin

Verity Healey

I was three years old and we lived with my grandparents. One day I was playing with a big Lego set and I heard that there were some protests in Moscow and that tanks were attacking the Russian White House. Then in summer of ‘94 there were the first presidential elections in Belarus and I went with my grandma to vote and I put my grandma’s vote in the bucket. She voted for the leader of the People’s Opposition Party. I watch his interviews now, and I can see that he has stayed in the 1990s - he has not moved on.

My childhood was full of big changes. My parents were allowed to start their own business and my father had a shop in the Kamaroŭski food market where he sold cigarettes, coffee and chocolate bars. It was really nice. But when Lukashenko became president and doled out his policies, my father’s business failed and he had to work in a printing house with a low salary. My mother worked as a doctor, which was also low pay, but nevertheless, I went to a Belarusian school and every subject such as physics, mathematics and so on was in Belarusian. Strangely, speaking Belarusian became an instrument of protest in Belarus, but people also thought that it meant you were a nationalist and part of the National Front and so on. Now things are better. 

I began playing football when I was eight. I always watched it with my father on TV and we went to matches at Dynamo Stadium. Football is my passion: watching, playing with my amateur team, playing on the PlayStation, watching in the bar in my supporters’ club. I think theatre and football have a lot in common. First actors play on the stage and players play on the pitch as a team. Both are one huge organism. Actors are like players, the director is like a coach. You are playing and acting for the common goal. But as I was coming here for this interview I was thinking OK, one football team plays against another and you are playing on stage in a theatre but not against another theatre, you are playing with your friends and colleagues. So against whom are you acting? The audience? No. The audience are my friends. They are my guests. I am playing for them like football players play for the crowds. Am I playing against myself then? Maybe, because every time I come to the stage I have to be better and stronger. It’s very psychological. In football there are a lot of football players in different teams who are very professional, they have skills, score goals, they can be a goalkeeper, they do it very well in the training grounds, they do it freestyle, but when they come to the pitch or play in a final or in the Premier League someone else always plays better. Why? Because they are playing against themselves in their brains. When you are playing football you are playing with the head.  

I stopped playing football for health reasons when I was fourteen and I joined a folk band at my school. We were playing different instruments and singing songs and travelling a lot. Then in 2009, I became a student and the folk band was only for school pupils so I couldn’t be a part of it anymore. So I thought, what should I do now? Study at the geography faculty and do some art stuff? So I did that, but I also became part of the theatre at the university for five years. Our theatre director drank a lot, he would come to the rehearsal and he would say "OK give me ten minutes to eat a pancake". Maybe an hour later, he would come back drunk. After graduating I had to work for two years for the state because I was funded for my studies at university. The commission wanted me to teach geography in a school 200 kilometres away, but as that meant they would have to give me a free flat, they decided to let me work for a company in Minsk. Around this time I heard Fortinbras was holding castings, but I decided I had no time for it as I was working and organising different cultural events to celebrate the Belarusian language. But then Belarus Free Theatre needed a place to rehearse and work from and I was asked if they could use the space at my arts venue. And that is where I saw them rehearsing for the first time via Skype with Vladimir and Pasha and Andrei. I was watching them work and I thought, "Is this legal? Is it allowed?" I was used to a drunk director rehearsing for a year. They were so fast, they had three or four rehearsals and then said: “OK, we can act.” I thought OK I want to be a part of this.

So now I am acting in Belarus Free Theatre, I am doing some stuff which is anti-government and I am doing podcasts. There have been some situations where political people like me have been taken into the army, but I avoided it. It is the hardest thing for any young man in Belarus to avoid conscription. If you have graduated then you have to serve for one year, if not you have to do one and a half years. They say you will become strong, you will be studying warfare and this shit. What for? If you would like to do it, OK, do it, you can. Anyway, I graduated in 2014, but I had a heart illness so I could put it off. And it was when I was twenty-six and so I had one year until I was twenty-seven and after that I was exempt. In time they asked me to come for a medical and I did not answer them and then I became twenty-seven and goodbye. Most young people try to do this.

The biggest challenge for me in Belarus Free Theatre is to be good enough to play on the stage with my colleagues. I have brilliant colleagues. Everybody is brilliant. Improving myself is my goal.

I don’t know what my life would be without Belarus Free Theatre. But I think Belarus Free Theatre would be part of my life even if I hadn’t entered Fortinbras in 2015. Belarus Free Theatre would have found me.

It makes me feel complex. There are a lot of things I have learned from studying in Fortinbras and from theatre as well. I have not just learned about acting, but a way of life, a way of communicating with other people. I think I have become more confident in communicating with other people. It is a very good school of life.