‘This must be either Carnival or some sort of a theatre show’, Masha whispers in Marta’s ear. Then we ask a lady in a beautiful costume what she is doing, and she says, ‘Ah you two must be the actors playing the peasants, wonderful to have you here’! We are a bit shocked that for the first time in our time travelling someone actually thinks we belong. This will be fun!
Luckily our role in this performance was very small; looking grim and talking to each other. This is a piece of cake! But we were dying to know who here are we supposed to meet? Which one of these people all dressed up in these wonderful costumes is our Belarusian Hero? Before we left Grisha told us we were suppose to meet a woman called Urshulia Radzivill; the founder of this great theatre. Wait, what? Like Radzivill the same Radzivill of Nesvich Castle? Yes we finally made it to Nesvich! This must be the castle!
As we look around the room we see a fabulously dressed woman and know right away that must be Urshulia. From the very first second we see her we are truly amazed by this woman’s energy and passion. After introducing ourselves and telling her our story, she laughs in amusement…’I really must get you both to write some plays for my theatre! You have the most extraordinary imaginations’! Finding us very entertaining, Urshulia shares with us her own story.
She told us how this entire boring world is in need of a bit of drama, amusement, and comedy. That she enjoys writing plays and that she’s made it her mission to develop great theatre, opera, and write poetry so that people can enjoy and learn from our cultural through educational entertainment. She was so passionate about her life and the theatre that we could only stare at her and nod yes, yes, yes! ‘You see’, she continued, ‘I have come to live in this castle because I married my wonderful husband, Michael Kazimir Radzvil. I love it here, but something had to change. And, since my precious Michael is often not at home, I took over this household. I want to spend my time doing something useful. Something that people will remember me for. So, I do what I love. I produce plays and make them as assessable to everyone not just the rich but also people like yourselves’.. We nod in agreement. Ursulia is really someone who has used her intelligence, creativity, and wealth to do good in this world.
In excitement we tell her that in our time she is still remembered as a great patron for Belarusian theatre and that on this very ground festivals are held in her name. She starts to laugh so hard that tears roll down her face. We also inform her that this very castle is an internationally recognised location of importance known as a UNESCO World Heritage site. ‘UNESCO, what’, she said puzzled? As her attention is drawn to another part of the room, she suddenly stands up and while walking away, she laughingly says that this is the best joke she has ever heard and that we are definitely hired as script writers for her theatre!
We stay a bit longer and enjoy the atmosphere and even get to see several other plays. When we return to Grisha she tells us some interesting facts about Ursulia. ‘Ursulia Niasvizh was a woman of her ear. In 18th century France and other parts of western Europe, wealthy women were beginning to transform society by hosting famous Salons (parties) where intellectuals would come together to discuss cultural and political ideas. These Salons were often the starting points of revolutionary ideas. Ursulia is the perfect example of this generation of women; rich, educated, talented, and passionate not just about theatre but about her country and her legacy. While some of her contemporaries spent lavishly on fancy balls and ornate gardens, Ursulia was diligently writing and producing plays (she was the first female playwright in The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth), establishing and endowing the castle theatre in Niasvizh, in addition to being a loving wife, caring mother, and passionate patriot. Moreover, she also led the restoration of Nesvizh Castle after the devastating wars with Sweden, protected Nesvizh from Russian army raids in the 1730s, restored the castle printing house, and catalogued and expanded the castle library by 9000 books.
As we fly off in Grisha we feel empowered by Ursulia Raszivill. What an astonishing woman she was. We are so happy that her legacy is still very much part of Belarusian culture and theatre!