Led by the Goodman Theatre, a coalition of presenting and advocacy organizations, including Northwestern University, Chicago Shakespeare Theater and the League of Chicago Theatres, arranged for performance venues in a matter of days, securing a month of work in Chicago for the Belarus actors and, in essence, buying them time to decide if they wanted to apply for political asylum in the United States.
"What we did was fast, and it was kind of instinctive," said Robert Falls, the artistic director of the Goodman. "We felt, frankly, that there was a moral imperative to give these actors time to look at their options."
Falls also noted that the Belarus Free Theatre did not want to be seen as merely refugee-agitators looking for help from abroad and change at home but as international theater artists doing important work that could stand alone. They wanted their show to be seen and judged on its merits. "They're not just a political company," Falls said. "This is a beautiful work of art."
Indeed, emotions ran high at the Goodman Theatre opening on Jan. 27, as actors who were themselves in the middle of the Belarus protests that turned violent, spoke of prison, rape and torture including, in one especially horrific moment, an attack on a child.