Yuliya Shauchuk

Verity Healey

How was it for me growing up? Well, I lost my dad five years ago and I could talk to him about politics, but not my mum. I think she was too dependent on my dad and when we lost him she had to learn how to be independent and responsible, but unfortunately, she took out a lot of loans from the banks in Belarus and now she has to work in Moscow to pay off her debts – the jobs are better paid in Moscow you see. So I feel I am the older one in our relationship as I left home when I was seventeen and went to live independently in Minsk to get an education. To begin with I didn’t have a lot of confidence and it has taken me a long time to get to where I am now. I think I am still on my way and it is endless.

My path to Belarus Free Theatre (BFT) is a long story. I used to work in state theatre and I was not that interested in politics, but this was because there were no good directors or good material and there was too much censorship. Everything was one colour, one emotion and there were only stereotypical acting roles available for women... hookers, sexy confident women, grandmas – comfortable roles. I felt like I was in the wrong place, working there. Anyway one day I had an interview with an oppositional newspaper (at the time I had no idea it was oppositional) regarding state theatre performing plays about HIV in prisons. Roughly translated into English the interview was called “Not free theatre.” At the end of the interview I said if I was homeless I would commit a crime just so I could go to prison, rather than die on the streets. It was a joke of course, but my boss read it and said he couldn’t renew my contract and it would end in a few months. All because of what I said. But I am thankful because this was the most important thing to happen to me in my life because then Vladimir Shcherban, who at that time was a co-director of BFT, wrote me an email saying, “The way to go from “not free theatre” is to “free theatre.” So I joined BFT. It is funny because my director at the state theatre had dreamed of going on tour to London and the day after he fired me I went with BFT to London with Minsk 2011.

That was my first project at BFT. It was very hard, I had never worked with Vlad before and I had no idea why he was screaming at me and yelling at us so much and it hurt. I had no idea how to make improvisations and etudes and I felt very uncomfortable. And then we took the show to the Edinburgh Festival. It was press night and just at the moment I went on stage wrapped in a LGBT flag, part of my dress came undone and slipped down. So I forgot my lines and it was obvious to everyone I had forgotten my lines. I thought this is the end, this is it and I thought that maybe I shouldn’t continue to be part of BFT, I should go. Of course, Vlad yelled at me and there were some words about me leaving – I remember I went to chat with Natalia on a beach in Edinburgh and we talked about whether I should leave. She said maybe. Now things are better. But I felt completely broken and I am very thankful to Vlad for this experience. Vlad is a very good director and he has his way of working, he can take from you exactly what he needs and you forget that he shouted at you. And he was the one who gave me the confidence to write my own play and direct so I am very grateful to him. He would yell at me during rehearsals, but afterwards I could go and get a beer with him and have a laugh.

Now I feel comfortable and that BFT is the right place for me to be and that BFT is in the right place. I feel very comfortable with these people in the company and I am happy that Yura has joined BFT as an actor, I feel that now our company is balanced.

If I was not in BFT or if it did not exist I think I would still be in state theatre. It is not that bad and I am still friends with my co-workers, we studied together at the state university and they still find a way to work in independent theatre too and to make something different. But I don’t think I would have had that much courage to direct and now I am more interested in directing.

I do think I would be a different person if I was not in BFT. One of the most important things in feeling free is self-expression. I don’t think there is anywhere in Belarus apart from BFT where you feel free to express yourself and it has been like this for the last ten years.