Burning to Tell You

Burning to Tell You

“What is it that makes someone so scared of a man with a pen? The reason is truth. Art has to do with revealing the truth.”

-Azar Nafisi, Author of Reading Lolita in Tehran

In October of 2017, The Lab presented Burning to Tell You to a packed house at the National Press Club, which brought together artists, activists, journalists, and thinkers from around the world whose work embodies the urgency of free expression in contexts of censorship, repression and violence.

The event highlighted leading artists from a range of disciplines (theater, film, music, media arts, political cartooning), including Belarus Free Theatre, a UK-based international award-winning theatre company-in-exile, founded on principles of freedom of speech and artistic expression, the Russian feminist punk rock group Pussy Riot, acclaimed best-selling author Azar Nafisi (Reading Lolita in Tehran and The Republic of Imagination), and leading voices from Syria, Iran, and the United States. Burning to Tell You featured a roundtable discussion, documentary footage, and a special performance by award-winning actor Rick Foucheux from Harold Pinter’s Nobel Lecture, and brought together artists whose work emerged out life-threatening circumstances to have a global impact and to help to forge and sustain communities in diaspora.

Azar Final Speech

Azar Nafisi (Reading Lolita in Tehran) gives a closing reflection. (Photo by Jordan Silverman/Georgetown University)

“Exercise your freedoms while you have them. Otherwise they will be gone.”

-Natalia Kaliada, Founding Co-Artistic Director of Belarus Free Theatre

Participants included:

Natalia Kaliada, Founding Co-Artistic Director of Belarus Free Theatre (Belarus)

Maria Alyokhina, member of Pussy Riot; performer in Belarus Free Theatre’s Burning Doors (Russia)

Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran and Things I’ve Been Silent About

Nik Kowsar, Member of Board of Directors of Cartoonists Rights Network International (Iran)

Honey Al Sayed, Founder of Honey&. LLC and Director of Media and Arts for Peace Initiative at the Geneva Center for Security Policy; former award-winning radio host & producer (Syria)

Svetlana Sugako, Co-Managing Director, Belarus Free Theatre (Belarus)

Marc Behrendt, Director for Europe and Eurasia programs, Freedom House (USA)

Moderated by Derek Goldman and Cynthia Schneider, Co-Directors, The Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics (US)


Rick Foucheux at podium

Rick Foucheux performs an excerpt from Harold Pinter’s Nobel Lecture. (Photo by Jordan Silverman/Georgetown University)

“The search for the truth can never stop. It cannot be adjourned, it cannot be postponed. It has to be faced, right there, on the spot.”

-Rick Foucheux, performing Harold Pinter’s 2005 Nobel Lecture “Art, Truth & Politics”

Produced as part of Belarus Free Theatre’s production of Burning Doors, produced by The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland October 26-27, 2017.


The Lab and The Clarice, building on previous fruitful collaborations, are officially launching an ongoing partnership with Burning to Tell You and the Belarus Free Theatre residency. Recognizing our deeply shared values and significant overlap in the artists with whom we engage, and our shared commitment to the creation and support of path-breaking new work, the partnership aims to enhance the impact and global leadership of the work of both organizations. The partnership aims to maximize the synergies between The Clarice’s expansive roster of performances, and The Lab’s mission to harness the power of performance to humanize global politics, expanding the reach of both organizations’ efforts and creating new collaborative opportunities for both the Georgetown and University of Maryland campuses, and for audiences throughout the DMV region.

Burning to Tell You is produced in association with Freedom House and the Artist Protection Fund.


Photo of Svetlana in Burning to Tell you

Svetlana Sugako (Belarus Free Theatre) introduces the documentary film to a packed house at the National Press Club. (Photo by Jordan Silverman/Georgetown University)

The Artist Partner Program at The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland is committed to the creation and investigation of new work and new ways of participating in the performing arts. Through our national and international Visiting Artist Series, as well as festivals and community partnerships, we bring diverse voices and perspectives together for reflection, dialogue and engagement. Artists, scholars and creative innovators come together in performances, panel discussions, public interviews and audience roundtables designed to educate, inspire and reinforce the importance of taking action to make positive change in our society and in the world. This season, artists challenge us to address issues on race, identity, immigration, freedom of speech, privacy, government surveillance.

Belarus Free Theatre is an award-winning theatre company founded in 2005 in Minsk under Europe’s last surviving dictatorship. Its existence is illegal in a country where only state-sanctioned theatre is permitted. Since 2011, BFT has been based between Minsk and London, where founding members, husband and wife team Natalia Kaliada and Nicolai Khalezin, together with Associate Director Vladimir Shcherban, are political refugees in the UK. BFT’s permanent ensemble are based in Minsk where they campaign, educate and perform every single day of the year, underground.

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world. We analyze the challenges to freedom, advocate for greater political rights and civil liberties, and support frontline activists to defend human rights and promote democratic change. Founded in 1941, Freedom House was the first American organization to champion the advancement of freedom globally.

The Artist Protection Fund (APF) at IIE makes life-saving fellowship grants to threatened artists and places them at host institutions and art centers in safe countries where they can continue their work and plan for their future. Sponsored by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and with the host-participation of arts institutions and organizations from around the world, the APF fills a critical unmet need by providing relief and safe-haven to artists for an extended period. Threatened artists from any field of artistic practice—such as choreographers, composers, filmmakers, interdisciplinary artists, musicians, performance and theater artists, traditional artists, visual artists, writers—may be eligible.

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