The Belarusian performing art evolved from ancient folk rites, traditions of street musicians and wandering actors. A puppet theater, Batleika, emerged in Belarus in the 16th century. The theater gave performances at fairs and on squares in towns and cities. First school theaters were set up in the 16th-18th centuries, court and city theaters - in the 18th century. Some of them eventually transformed into professional theater companies. The 19th-century Belarusian playwright Vintsent Dunin-Martsinkevich is called the founder of the national theater.
The Belarusian performing art enjoyed its golden age in the early 20th century. The foundation was laid by playwrights Karus Kaganets, Yanka Kupala, Leopold Rodzevich and others. Among the outstanding persons who contributed to the development of the Belarusian theater were Ignat Buinitsky, Aleksandr Burbis, Florian Zhdanovich.
In 1920, Florian Zhdanovich set up the Belarusian State Theater (BGT-1, now Yanka Kupala National Academic Theater). In 1926, BGT-2 (now Yakub Kolas National Academic Drama Theater) was founded in Vitebsk.
There are 28 state-run professional theaters in the country; 27 of them make part of the Culture Ministry (two musical, 18 drama, seven puppet theaters), and one is part of the Defense Ministry (Drama Theater of the Belarusian Army). Their repertoire includes works by Belarusian authors, productions of Russian, Soviet and foreign classics. Four theaters in Belarus have the national theater status: the Bolshoi Theater of Belarus, the Yanka Kupala Drama Theater, the Maksim Gorky Drama Theater (Minsk), the Yakub Kolas Drama Theater (Vitebsk).
Belarus takes pride in its prominent theater artists Galina Makarova, Stefania Stanyuta, Zdislav Stomma, Gennady Ovsyannikov, Lilia Davidovich, Zoya Belokhvostik, Aleksandra Klimova, Rostislav Yankovsky, Gennady Garbuk, Maria Zakharevich, Viktor Tarasov, Avgustin Milovanov, Viktor Manayev, Arnold Pomazan, stage directors Valery Rayevsky, Boris Lutsenko, Nikolai Pinigin, choreographer Valentin Elizariev, stage designers Boris Gerlovan, Dmitry Mokhov, Zinovy Margolin and many others.
Belarus regularly hosts various theater festivals, contests and shows. Among them are the International Theater Art Forum TEART in Minsk, the International Festival of Puppet Theaters in Minsk, the International Festival of Contemporary Choreography in Vitebsk, the Slavonic Theater Meetings in Gomel, Belaya Vezha in Brest, M@rt.kontakt in Mogilev, the Dunin-Martsinkevich National Drama Festival in Bobruisk. The National Theater Award of Belarus was established in 2011.