Katie Elphick

Education Manager

I grew up in Toronto in Canada. As a child, I was very quiet and introverted, so I spent a lot of time with my imagination and I used to like having time for reflection.

I was a young person when the Columbine High School Massacre and 9/11 happened. I was shocked by Columbine, but if I think about my political awakening I think it was probably 9/11. I can remember it so clearly, I was 13 or 14, it was the first period of my Math class and someone came on the PA system  and said the World Trade Centre has been hit and there has been a bombing at the Pentagon. All of sudden there was just panic in the school and everything felt different. I also remember it because I suddenly felt the weight of my ignorance and that there was so much that happened in the past that has led to this moment that I dont understand. I felt a little lost in understanding geopolitics and that led me to feel that I needed to learn and unlearn a lot of things and to understand for myself more about the world we are living in.

Theatre has always been a part of my life, but after that little awakening I was prompted to take a class in high school called Canadian and World Issues and then I later went on in university to study a double degree in drama and international development. This was rooted in just wanting to understand how we relate to each other in a geopolitical way. At university, I was interested in community theatre and how change can happen at a community and individual level too. Whenever I told anyone what I was studying, they were like oh, who does theatre and international development? Then in my third year, I met a professor and she had a class that was called development dramas, and it lit a match. And I was reading about all these different community projects and art activism and how theatre can be used for politics and social change and it was a ravenous need to learn more and more. When I finished my undergrad I still felt I had more to learn and this is when I found out about Belarus Free Theatre(BFT) and ended up coming to Leeds University to start my MA in 2010 in the UK. I had seen my first BFT play around 2010/2011 – it was Being Harold Pinter – so as soon as I saw the stuff they were doing I thought, This is it, this is all the things I am interested in.” So I wrote my thesis on them. 

This is a weird bit of synchronicity I enjoy - I had an interview for BFT in September 2020 and the day I was told I got the job is the same day that I arrived in the UK ten years ago to begin my Masters on them! I think that I have a really strong understanding of how to engage young people because I was this kind of young person who desired to do something, but I did not know how to channel it – so I guess I am trying to say that I get it with young people. If you get an excited young person, theres so much energy that can come from their interest in something. I hope my contribution to BFT will be to harness that  energy that young people in the UK have and combine it with what BFT are doing.

BFT is so courageous. Ive had some instances in my life where I have felt afraid to speak out about something which I feel is not right, but now, in my personal life, I try to advocate for what I feel to be what is right and fair. Thats inspired by BFT – if Natalia and Nicolai and all the ensemble can take these huge risks with all the things that come their way, I can do this in my own life. Its like baby steps, micro-steps.

Belarus is very much a case study in what happens when there is so much fear and disinformation and people feeling afraid of one another, not just the government. What I see in Belarus is that this is what could happen if people dont get involved. It is not some weird outlier where things happen that cant happen anywhere else. 

It has been hard to watch the situation in Belarus. You’d think that the so called President Lukashenko would be gone by now and it’s just so hard to watch the continuation of the same thing – and looking at the UK you just feel that there are these private interests getting in the way of political action to help the democratic movement in Belarus. And in the US and Canada there are political families that hold a lot of clout and it is frustrating, because when that root is down, how can people take some collective action and have some power?