We chat to Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina about prison, Putin and her incendiary new theatre show with Belarus Free Theatre
Maria Alyokhina is known as a member of balaclava-wearing Russian political performance artist collective Pussy Riot. She was jailed for two years for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” after the group performed an anti-Vladimir Putin punk song in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. Freed in 2014, she is now collaborating with the exiled Belarus Free Theatre (BFT) on Burning Doors, a raucous show about the reality of life for political prisoners.
In collaborating with BFT, Alyokhina joins a band of fellow enemies of state. The company, which was founded in 2005, exists in the capital city of the last dictatorship in Europe – a country where any theatre that is not sanctioned by the state is illegal. Despite being banned, BFT lives underground, its members performing politically charged work in the shadow of the KGB day after day.
Maria, what’s the purpose of Burning Doors?
One of its purposes is that not all of the people about whom we’re talking are free. [Ukrainian filmmaker] Oleg Sentsov is still in jail… it’s one of the goals to free him, because if he has to stay in for 20 years he probably will not see the end of his term. I really want to show the ordinary hell of what people in Russian prisons have to go through.
Is it difficult reliving these memories night after night?
What I’ve seen after prison has been more difficult than what I saw in it. But I wanted to show other people what I’ve seen inside and I feel that I’m really doing the right thing.
Belarus Free Theatre has had to flee Belarus. Do you still live in Russia?
I still live in Moscow. Since the annexation of Crimea, ordinary life for people who are politically active has become really terrible. You’ve probably heard about our friend Boris Nemtsov who was killed near the Kremlin walls. In less than two years we will have Putin’s fourth term and nothing will change.
Do you see Edward Snowden as a kindred spirit?
Edward Snowden is one of my heroes: we are both fighting for the truth. It was not his decision to go to Russia and he is facing a very difficult thing. He doesn’t have any place to go and if you’re living like that the whole world can feel like a prison.
People call Pussy Riot a ‘band’ as if you did stuff like play gigs – that’s not right, is it?
Erm, no: it’s a small confusion. [Laughs]. A major confusion!
Do you miss the balaclava?
Pussy Riot was known to the world as an anonymous group. But sometimes it’s important to show what’s under the mask.
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