“Before, each of us was like a potato — in our own skin, in our own patch. We lived next to each other for years and didn't see each other.” This line is voiced by one of the characters in Суседкi Марыi (Maria's Neighbors), a play by Belarusian playwright Maria Bershadskaya. Notably, the play was written two years after the August protests in Belarus and during the period of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The metaphor of a close, private, and chamber-like neighbourhood, encapsulated within the borders of a single residential block, can be expanded: like the characters in Bershadskaya's play, four countries, Poland, Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, lived next to each other, but, as modern history had shown, they knew very little about each other.
Floating EKA's team launched the artistic research project Sąsiedzi.Сусіди.Суседзі.Соседи. after February 24th 2022, the date after which it became clear to many: neighbouring turned into a catastrophe. Soon, four teams from four countries — Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia — joined the project to research and delve into the complex dynamics of neighbourhood relations through the medium of documentary theatre. During the whole project, theatre directors, playwrights, sociologists, and anthropologists from different countries sought to find answers to the following questions: How can we be neighbours during a war and still remain human beings? What can we learn about each other and ourselves in unbearable conditions? Who are we? What choices do we make every day? What can we consider our home and our homeland? Can we discuss these questions through different art forms? And if so, what form can this art take?
Four documentary plays created by the teams were presented to the public between February and April 2023. At the core of each play lies a real case, real experience, and real person. The voices do not belong to “exceptional” heroes but to those whom we don't always hear. These include volunteer soldiers from different countries who went to fight for Ukraine, women from the Belarusian resistance, and forced migrants who find themselves in the same house, remaining anonymous and unknown to many “permanent” residents of that house. Within the authors' perspective lies a contemplation of an identity crisis, a blend of fear of the future with hope, intertwined with a simultaneous sense of intolerance towards those perceived as OTHERS. Reflecting on the present, the teams delve into various historical periods of the “evil” 20th century, including recent ones, where the roots of today's problems may be hidden. And, of course, these works draw heavily from personal experiences: the experience of surviving bombings, underground protests, forced displacement, loneliness, and betrayal.
The documentary play “Occasional Rent” speaks about neighbouring countries in the context of forced migration. The documentary play begins by focusing on the personal narratives of Ukrainians who sought refuge in Poland amidst the war. All these voices regain their real sound thanks to the place where they are reproduced — here, at the staircase in one of the buildings in Szczecin. It serves both as a daily transit zone for forced migrants, and a theatrical stage. The residents of this building and the audience are invited to read the answers to the question “Where are you from?” posted on the doors of the apartments. Undoubtedly, the project's location is important in this case — Szczecin became part of modern Poland in 1945 after the Potsdam Conference as part of the “Recovered Territories", and the building in which we observe the performance, “Occasional Rent", witnessed temporary neighbouring during and after World War II.
WERONIKA FIBICH (POLAND) an author of several dozen theatrical actions, site-specific performances and formal experiments. She creates documentaries and artistic projects and proclaims herself an anti-disciplinary artist.
KACIARYNA BYČAK (POLAND/BELARUS) a graduate of theology and a student of religious studies. She's also a doctoral student at the Doctoral School of the University of Szczecin. She has been living in Poland since 2008 and, since then, has continued her long-term research on rituals and traditional music of Central and Eastern Europe
27.02.2023 Ośrodek Teatralny Kana, Szczecin, Poland
21.04.2023 The courtyard of the building, Bolesława Śmiałego str., Szczecin, Poland
The documentary play “FEBRUARY” explores the significance of understanding neighbouring countries beyond their borders, delving into the aspects that require attention and contemplating whether this knowledge could have impacted the trajectory of the war and resistance against Russian aggression.
The protagonist of the play, O., a mother to her young daughter, M., grapples with the challenge of explaining things that she herself struggles to comprehend. Growing out of fairytales, we somehow accept the fact that there is neither good nor bad in real life. Until we face pure evil. What drives someone to display such wickedness, and what fuels their intense hatred towards you and your country?
Furthermore, O. analyzes the events of the past 22 years of Ukraine's independence, aiming to unravel the question of why one neighbour would attack another. She sheds light on the stories of a Polish volunteer, a Ukrainian military journalist, and a Belarusian, who decided to fight on the Ukrainian side after 24 February. For them, the new year of 2023 has yet to truly begin, as the lingering “luty” (meaning “February" in Ukrainian, Polish, and Belarusian) persists.
OLESYA MORGHUNETS (UKRAINE) a graduate of the National University of Theatre, Film and Television named after Karpenko-Karyy. Since 2015 she has been a member of the jury of the International Literary Competition “Coronation of the Word”. She is a director of a dozen documentaries, including “Svichado Vichnogo” (2004), “Molfar” (2005), and “Automobiles” (2008). In 2022 she shot the historical drama “Szczedryk” based on the script by Kseniya Zastavska in co-production between Ukraine and Poland.
The documentary play “Maria's Neighbors” speaks about the experience of local neighbouring that became a lifeline for many citizens of the Republic of Belarus during the protests in August 2020. During that summer, Belarusian cities witnessed a notable increase in the formation of local chat groups, serving as platforms for people to access vital information regarding protest developments, detained individuals, those requiring assistance, and even the whereabouts of the police. This helped many avoid arrests and repression. The performance “Суседкi Марыi” shines a spotlight on one of these chats groups, where women from various age groups, who were previously neighbours, now find themselves dispersed across different countries. As forced political migrants, they gathered together for an evening to celebrate their oldest friend's birthday by collectively preparing potato pancakes.
The story revolves around the encounter of individuals who feel disconnected, not only from each other but also from their own selves. It serves as a narrative of self-identification for the play's director, exploring how each heroine grapples with fundamental questions: Who am I? What choices do I make? Where is my home, and where do I belong?
MARIA BERSHADSKAYA (BELARUS) a contemporary children's writer and scriptwriter of animated and documentary films. Graduated from the scriptwriting faculty of The Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography, a.k.a. VGIK, in 1995. Bershadskaya's first children's book “Big Little Girl” was published in 2013. After the protests in Belarus, due to persecution, she moved to Canada.
27.03.2023 European Humanities University, Vilnius, Lithuania
The documentary play “Discrediting” exposes a case of political persecution in Russia, specifically highlighting the role of denunciations. This narrative delves into the real story of discrediting, which undermines neighbourly relationships, challenge the notion of Russians as neighbours, and ultimately about the country of Russia as such.
In the play, the central character is a professor at a Russian university who, in the spring of 2022, voiced her opposition to the Russian war in Ukraine through social media platforms. Her statement was followed by several denunciations, a “comradely court” at the university, dismissal for “immoral behaviour”, threats of criminal prosecution, and, in the end, a trial under the article on “discrediting the army”. Her friends and former colleagues turned away from her, except for a few. In 2022, the state and society literally declared her an “enemy of the people”, resorting to the wording from the period of Stalinist repressions in the 1930s. Nonetheless, she remained steadfast in her convictions and did not regret her actions. Unfortunately, her life has been ruined as a consequence.
The play is based on an interview with the professor, as well as testimonies from several former students who stood by her side during the persecution and trials.
ANASTASIA PATLAY is a director of the documentary plays at Teatr. doc. In 2016 Anastasia staged the play Kantgrad which is subject to repression in Russia, dedicated to the coexistence of Soviet and German residents in Kaliningrad after WW2.
NANA GRINSTEIN is a screenwriter and documentary theatre playwright. Over the past years, she has created performances in the Teatr.doc, in Meyerhold Center, Sakharov Center, Memorial, Moscow Museum of Architecture, and Russian State Library. In March 2022, she initiated and took part in the creation of the performance ”Homo Confused” as a researcher / playwright / performer in Armenia.