Stanislava Shablinskaya

Verity Healey

When the terrorist attack happened in the metro in 2011 there was a big boom inside my head and I knew that something was really wrong in this seemingly stable society and I wondered what might happen next. Of course, a lot of people woke up to the state of their country at the 2010 elections, but I think the terrorist attack was the moment when I finally grew up. There are different opinions about who did it, the state claims that it was terrorism, but another theory is that the government carried it out to make people afraid and to divert their attention away from the protests. The people who were on the metro that day were innocent victims – they are different from the people who go on protests who know they will get arrested. I thought something was really wrong with my country! None of my friends or family was harmed, but when I think that someone might have been, something inside my head changed.

My path to Belarus Free Theatre started when I was a child. I finished children’s theatre school and I tried to enter the Academy of Arts because I dreamed of becoming an actress, but I failed. So I did cultural management instead because I did not want to waste my time whilst waiting to apply again. Then I heard about Fortinbras through a friend so we both applied and I got in. It was very intensive, classes were six days a week so I could not afford to work and study and I was lucky that my parents could support me at that time. I was also lucky that it was the theatre’s tenth anniversary and I was able to accompany them to London for Staging a Revolution in 2015. Later I was auditioned for different roles.

On my first day with Fortinbras I was very nervous, I wore the biggest ring I could on that day. After the class, I remember we drank beer and we all sat on the sofa really packed in next to each other. It was really weird to be in contact with strangers in this way, it felt like a sect at first. I also found it hard to speak out in front of them and talk about myself. I think this being afraid to be out of my comfort zone is connected to how other Belarusians feel. Sometimes I have to fight it and stop it from affecting me.

The way out for myself is through theatre because we always talk about burning issues through our performances and we have a message. But we never say that someone should think in a certain way, the audience has to think for themselves, we don’t influence their conclusions. I also am learning from arguments with my friends or people who are homophobic – I am learning how people form their opinions and it is interesting what trifle can influence someone.

What about my ability to have a sense of self, especially as a woman? Well, our theatre is managed by women and in my family, my mother holds a top official managerial position in an architectural institution, although she is the only woman so she has problems being respected and listened to. In banks, women are not allowed to take top positions and if you are interviewed you are always asked about your family plans etc. All we can do is speak about this in our art. I remember meeting Natalia for the first time. She has this image of being a very kind, self-confident person, somebody you can trust and somebody you want to follow.

I was born again in the theatre. The great thing about being in Belarus Free Theatre is that you can be a child. It is not that someone does not have to have responsibilities, I don’t mean that. I mean you do not need to control your emotions, you do not need to pretend to be something you are not, you can ask stupid questions, you can be hysterical and everyone will understand and not push you away. You can be supported and be supportive. For me, it is important to be an adult child. And sincere. That means a lot to me. I find the prearranged scenario of life – grow up, study, take a job, get a family, get credit and die boring. But I am not saying that wanting this is bad. Maybe I can only say it because I have a comfortable life, but I do think that other people lack being able to see how other people live abroad, for example.

How do I feel about the future of Belarus? I know Roman is optimistic and I feel if younger people were to lose their optimism it would be disastrous, but I think for me year by year the belief in anything has dispersed. I am getting older and pessimistic and of course, I don’t want Belarus to be a part of Russia. I wish that there could be change but I also realise that a new state or a new creation would be more painful, maybe more painful than what we have now. But I also think that if an alien came to earth they would not understand why people fight.