Pussy Riot: Russian Punk Rock Feminists' World Premiere

  • by Sari Staver
  • Thursday March 9, 2017
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Pussy Riot at their Red Square protest
Pussy Riot at their Red Square protest

The Russian punk rock feminist protest group Pussy Riot will present the world premiere of their new theatrical work, Revolution, on March 10 at The Warfield in San Francisco.

Announced at the last minute, the hour-long "music-theater piece" about protest, art, and political activism, is based on the book by Maria Alyokhina, one of the leaders of , and presents the group's legendary protest actions in Russia, as well as Alyokhina's arrest, trial, and imprisonment.

Alyokhina, known as "Masha" to friends, spoke with the Bay Area Reporter via Skype from Moscow to discuss the new work and the collective's upcoming U.S. tour, which begins in San Francisco.

While various members of Pussy Riot have appeared in the U.S. at conferences, festivals, and other events, their new production, Revolution, will be the first time the group has performed in the U.S., she said.

"We are all very excited," about coming to San Francisco, said Alyokhina, who identifies as queer. "The climate for gay people in Russia is really terrible. In small towns you can still be killed because you are gay."

The upcoming performances in the U.S., "have tremendous relevance" right now, she said. The climate in the U.S. reminds her of the aftermath of Putin's election to a third term in 2012, when there were widespread accusations of vote rigging. Many protests followed, the most notorious being the one by , which has had as many as 11 different members since it formed five years ago.

The group gained international attention when it staged provocative punk rock performances at unusual public places, which were then edited into music videos and uploaded online. Feminism and LGBT rights were among the themes.

"A lot of people were in the streets," said Alyokhina. "For me, it was one of the most magical times in my life because the spirit of protest was everywhere. "

Despite ongoing oppression, Alyokhina remains optimistic.

"Community is stronger than any government," she said. "We must come together if we are going to fight nationalism and sexism. That is our message and the theme of this performance."

Maria Alyokhina with members of Pussy Riot.

Alyokhina is proud of the group's notorious history, the most notable being a performance of a staged protest inside Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior, which was halted by security officers and led to her arrest and conviction for "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred." She and another protestor spent two years in prison, which included torture and cruelty described in the new stage work.

Asked about her experience in prison, she said, "The actual horror is not prison but the indifference and fear of people" who do not speak out. "I do not consider my prison experience a tragedy of any sort. The difficulties we have in our life teach us to be stronger."

Following her release from prison, it was not smooth sailing. Alyokhina and several other members of performed at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, and were attacked with sticks and pepper spray by security guards.

Using those experiences as fodder, Alyokhina wrote her first formal theatrical piece, Burning Doors, which was produced by the Belarus Free Theater, and received widespread acclaim.

The success encouraged her to start a new project, which she named Theater. Their first piece, Revolution, is based on her book of the same title.

"Some people believe revolution is an event. It is not. It is a political process within each of us. We each have a choice: we can either participate or we can let fear prevail and just stand aside. For me, it has never been a choice."

Pussy Riot performs their music-theater production, 'Revolution,' at The Regency's upstairs Lodge, 1290 Sutter St., March 10, 9pm. $25-$45. www.axs.com

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