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Russian Punk Band Pussy Riot Is Creating an 'Immersive Theatre Project'

Pussy Riot, the Russian punk band whose members were sentenced to prison for a now-infamous protest against the Orthodox Church in 2012, is taking to the stage. Working with the award-winning, London-based theater company Les Enfants Terribles, band member Nadya Tolokonnikova is staging an “immersive theatre project” based on the members’ own experiences in Russian courts and, eventually, prison.

“This art project is a part of Pussy Riot’s bigger campaign for a prison reform,” Tolokonnikova tells Truthdig. “It’s easy to forget that people — just like us — are living in horrible conditions in prisons. Many of them were sent to jails because of minor offenses, some of them ended up in prison because they were saying truth to power.”

The experimental theater project, “Inside Pussy Riot,” is set to open in London in November. This isn’t the first time the band’s members have used art to send a message about Russia’s justice system — Tolokonnikova says that in 2014, once she and her fellow bandmate Maria Alyokhina were released from prison, they began “Zona Prava” (“zone of justice”), an advocacy group aimed at providing legal assistance to Russian prisoners. They also began an alternative media outlet, MediaZona, which works in collaboration with the advocacy group. And last year, according to Rolling Stone, “Tolokonnikova joined Peter Gabriel, Johnny Depp, Tom Morello and other musicians for the Voice Project’s ‘Imprisoned for Art’ campaign, which raises awareness and funds to support free expression.”

But this new experimental theater piece, which is being co-created by Tolokonnikova, will allow the audience to experience the Russian justice system firsthand. The project’s Kickstarter explains:

This wild theatrical experience will allow the audience to become a participant, experiencing exactly what Pussy Riot went through during our imprisonment – from the original Church performance, to the court trial and prison cells. We’re going to recreate Russian courtrooms, a real Russian labour colony, solitary confinement cells, priests who shout about banning abortions and many more absurd, but real-life things that exist in Russia today.

The audience will actually get the chance to re-live each one of these experiences themselves, learning what it means to be a political opponent in Russia today. We’ll take you on a journey from the cathedral altar deep into the vaults of the Kremlin itself. Hopefully, this is a journey that you’ll only have to make once in your life.

“Our goal is not just to create a breakthrough piece of theatre, but to develop something that can promote the cause of human rights protection, educate people about the problems in Russian legal and judicial processes and give audiences an idea of how fragile our seemingly safe society actually is,” adds the producer of the show, Alexandrina Markvo.

“The goal of our new project is to make you understand: what does it mean to be a prisoner, and, generally, why [is it] worth [it] to fight for our freedoms, to fight for justice,” Tolokonnikova says. “It’s important for us to be funded by small individual donors because we believe in power of the people.”

Read more about the project here.

Emma Niles
Assistant Editor
Emma Niles, an assistant editor at Truthdig, graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz, with a degree in political science. She has worked for the National Women’s Law Center and Ms. Magazine.…
Emma Niles

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