National Theater says actors refused US visa for non-Latvian play

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A Latvian National Theater guest performance at the US was cancelled after the performers were refused visas by the US Department of Homeland Security, say organizers. They were to to perform at the 16th Latvian Song Festival in Baltimore, Maryland this summer. 

"Our attempts to convince the US Homeland Security department to grant visas to our actors were unsuccessful," organizers say.

Furthermore the National Theater says its actors were refused visas as they would have performed a non-Latvian play.

The Latvian National Theater was to perform Homeward Bound by Canadian playwright Elliot Hayes for American Latvian audiences.

Theater spokeswoman Līga Rimšēviča told Latvian Radio that the theater received a six-page letter of refusal saying that as the play is not a work of a Latvian author, the show is not unique enough does not hold any added value.

She said the Department of Homeland Security was unswayed by the argument that it would have been performed in Latvian and for a Latvian audience. 

Up until now the National Theater had mostly toured the US with plays by Latvian authors, however Rimšēvica could not recall it ever being a criterion previously. 

Rimšēviča said the theater is perplexed as the play was picked by the organizers who wanted a small play suitable for all ages.

The US Embassy pointed out that it supports cultural exchange between Latvia and the US but that it cannot comment on specific cases.

US Embassy representative Matthew Thomson on the visa procedure
00:00 / 02:20

"If an artist or performer wants to perform in the US, they first need to get an approved petition from Homeland Security. Then they can come to the embassy and apply for a visa," US Embassy representative Matthew Thompson told Latvian Radio.

"People who organize the production in the US fill out a petition on behalf of the artist or the performer coming. Once that process is complete, then they can come to the embassy ... As far we know we've never denied any visas to Latvian performers going to the US in recent years. But it does happen," he said.

Instead of the Latvian National Theater play, viewers will be treated to a show by an amateur theater group from San Francisco.

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