‘It Can Happen Anywhere’: Pussy Riot plans prison theater
The frontwoman of Russian punk provocateurs Pussy Riot is planning to recreate her prison ordeal through an immersive theatrical piece with a message to audiences-it can happen to you. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova announced that the project, “Inside Pussy Riot,” would open with a six-week run later this year in London, with an interactive set in which audiences live through the rockers’ experience. An outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin, Tolokonnikova said she developed the piece out of fear that more people will be targeted for their political views amid a rise of “authoritarian and right-wing misogynist tendencies” around the world-in which she includes the election of US President Donald Trump.
“It was really important to communicate to people that what happened with us can happen with anybody. We wanted to show people in their own skin what it means to be a prisoner,” she told AFP by telephone. Tolokonnikova and bandmate Maria Alyokhina were prosecuted after sneaking into a cathedral near the Kremlin in 2012 and performing-for less than a minute-a “punk prayer” against Putin. The two were imprisoned for nearly two years on a conviction for hooliganism. Serving in a former Soviet-era gulag, Tolokonnikova protested prison conditions by going on a nine-day hunger strike, requiring medical intervention.
In position to speak out
“I did understand when I was in prison that I am more privileged in a way, because I have the opportunity to tell what’s going on there. So now I’m trying to keep doing this work,” Tolokonnikova said. Tolokonnikova announced a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to support the production, which she said would feature new Pussy Riot songs and videos and use actors to recreate the band’s odyssey. She is collaborating with London theater company Les Enfants Terribles, known for sets in which audiences enter and choose their own paths. The group previously created an interactive version of children’s classic “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”
Bandmate Alyokhina has also turned to theater, earlier this year in the United States premiering the piece “Revolution” that looks at the intellectual underpinnings of Pussy Riot’s rebellion, set to digital hardcore rock. Tolokonnikova said that she and Alyokhina were attending each other’s performances and still worked together on human rights advocacy but were pursuing different artistic directions.
Hopeful for Russia
Tolokonnikova, who cites leftist intellectual Noam Chomsky as an influence, links the surge of right-wing populism to the rise of oligarchs and the failure of mainstream political discourse to show alternatives. Tolokonnikova counts herself as an enthusiastic supporter of Alexei Navalny, an outspoken critic of corruption in Russia who has vowed to run in next year’s presidential election. She said that 2018 looked like “a very promising year” and pointed to the thousands of people who took to the streets on June 12 after a protest call by Navalny.
But Putin won a landslide victory in the last election in 2012 and has consolidated power over nearly two decades in direct or indirect power. Navalny was recently jailed for organizing unauthorized protests and election authorities say an earlier sentence makes him ineligible to run. Still, Tolokonnikova insisted that Russian authorities “cannot really shut him up.” She likened him to Bernie Sanders in the United States and Jeremy Corbyn in Britain, two campaigners whose focus on inequality has won them avid followings among young people. Meeting while in prison with inmates of diverse backgrounds, Tolokonnikova became convinced that opposition to Putin was more widespread than portrayed in state-controled media. “They are not blind. They see that corruption is eroding basic economic and civil society and media institutions in Russia and they want to see the end of it,” she said. “I understood from conversations that the Russian people are waiting for the moment when they can go to the streets,” she said.
This file photo shows Russian activist Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Russian feminist punk rock protest group, Pussy Riot, addressing the crowd from on top of a Russian military vehicle at The Park stage on the first official day of the Glastonbury Festival of Music and Performing Arts on Worthy Farm near the village of Pilton in Somerset, South West England. — AFP