As the war rages on between Ukraine and Russia, there is a clear desire amongst its populace to hold onto what bits of normalcy and expression they can in the face of violence. Of course, one of the key things people have always turned to in coping with disaster is art. There have been numerous creative endeavours in Ukraine throughout this fraught time, and one such instance is the annual PRO.ACT theatre festival.
PRO.ACT is an English language theatre festival that has been running in Ukraine since 2018, hosting both plays, workshops, and theatre laboratories in English. A festival run by the ProEnglish Theatre company, it was founded by company executive director Alex Borovenskiy. Currently running from August 13th till the 22nd, PRO.ACT is combining live theatre events in Ukraine as well as pre-recorded and streamed performances to share its works around the globe.
Partnering with streaming platform Scenesaver, PRO.ACT 2022 is bringing theatre from all over to audiences, including: Spitting In The Face Of The Devil (United States)—an autobiographical piece by Bob Brader exploring the abuse from his ex-marine father; Make Up (U.K.-Scotland)—rumination of a drag queen on changing times and living with queer identity; and the premiere of Borovenskiy’s Love At Times of War—an examination of love and relationships in the dangerous times Ukraine finds itself in.
Theatre has a long history of significance in the wake of (and during) wartime. The World Wars fractured much of the collective artistic psyche of the world, and German playwright Bertolt Brecht—who first began writing in the 1920s—came into fame with his experimental epic theatre after World War 2, with its political and informational bend. France was a hotbed for innovative theatrical thought, with Theatre of the Absurd emerging with the viewpoint of human struggle as an absurd condition, as well as Theatre of Cruelty sprouting from the tortured mind of Antonin Artaud, who saw an inherent disconnect between audiences and their primal emotions and would craft ritualistic performance to shatter these inhibitions.
But more than anything, theatre has been a way for people to return to some semblance of connection with the arts and each other after the cataclysmic events of war. PRO.ACT is doing more than staging a strong platform for English theatre in Ukraine—now, more than ever, it is connecting people amidst dire circumstances. Through their work, they are giving not only a voice to the turmoil of this war, but they are giving comfort to those who seek stories in times of pain.