In 2012, five members of the Russian collective Pussy Riot put on a punk rock performance inside Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior.

This act of alleged sacrilege led to three arrests, with Nadezhda( Nadya) Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina ultimately serving 21 months in prison on charges of” hooliganism motivated by religious hatred .” Now, 5 years later, Pussy Riot is symbolically returning to the scene of such crimes via an immersive theater experience, set to premiere this fall.

The project intends to fully submerge audience members in the story that so many of us watched from afar, from the church performance to the trial to the penal colonies. Voluntarily subjecting oneself to the horrors of totalitarian rule might not sound like an alluring prospect, but if Nadya Tolokonnikova’s fears of a” new conservative right-wing oppressive order” are as prescient as they currently seem, this project’s political message is one we can’t afford to put off any longer. The collective plans to fund their latest project through a Kickstarter page launching on July 24 th, targeted at” regular people who’re aroused about the idea of political immersive theater .”

Skyping with The Daily Beast from Moscow, Nadya emphasized the importance of uncovering the terrors of totalitarianism and of the Russian penitentiary system. She was contended that her and her fellow activists’ experience wasn’t as exceptional as it was made out to be, quoting large numbers of political prisoner both in Russia and around the world, as well as the sorry state of Russian and American prisons.

We discussed corruption in the Russian government, ties between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, and the importance of a free press.

So talk me through this new immersive theater project and how it comes down about .

I wanted to be in involved with an immersive theater project for a while because I was always very interested in destroying the fourth wall between the audience and the actors. I think it’s a really useful thing to try and involve the audience much more than what happens in usual theater. So this medium of immersive theater appeared in my life, and I was in London for a couple of years…so this will be my first project, but I guess not the last one. I was speaking with those people who did Sleep No More in New York. I think it’s fantastic, so we may do something like that in New York, too.

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The main idea here is to combine contemporary art installation form and immersive theater plus political agenda, because I think it’s time to build everything political, because–I entail, it seems uncontrollable at this point, so I think you just have to be engaged as a citizen. That’s why when I was visiting immersive theaters before, I always thought, what would happen if we were to bring our political agenda to it? And it looks like we’re doing it!

It is based on the story of Pussy Riot, and it is primarily about an oppressive system and the activist who is trying to fight the oppressive system. So it is based on our Russian tale, but I think you can say that it speaks to people in other countries as well. Because for me, this is an eternal opponent between activists and people who want to speak truth to power and the power itself, who always want to–all elites are about concentration of wealth, and then you have the activists, the people who are trying to get their fair share. So it is based on our prison story. We wanted to recreate the court room, the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, and the audience will go through our experience and they will know what it means to be political activists in a country where you do have authoritarian rule. You will go through prison, you will see solitary confinement, you will see conditions in the factory, and then hopefully you will go to liberty. But, then again, who knows? Who knows what will happen at the end of the story.

On a personal level, did you find it difficult to return to and reconsider these traumatic experiences? What was the rationale behind returning to the events of 2012 ?

Strangely, the decision to talk about my prison experience was very therapeutic to me. It helped me a lot when I was in prison, and I supposed maybe it’s not a waste of time if I can talk about living conditions in Russian prisons. This started in 2014 when we started a foundation to help prisoners, and we founded a media outlet which is called MediaZona where we talk about living conditions in Russian prisons, conditions in the tribunals and in our police departments. So it’s just part of this big program to tell about the penitentiary system and attempt to improve it. So it can be psychologically hard sometimes to go back to that narrative, but I think it’s crucial, and I think it’s my is under an obligation make this.

The amount of media attention that the church performance and subsequent trial got must have felt totally surreal. Were you surprised by all of the international coverage? Was there any aspect of the tale that you feel like the coverage under-emphasized or elided ?

The whole supporting from media and global activists was genuinely surprising and great in 2012 when we find ourselves in prison. And I can describe it as a pure miracle, because I still can’t really assure the reasons why we have to be so supported, because there are a lot of political prisoners right now in Russia and all around the world, and they don’t seem to attract that much attention. So it was a miracle. And the voice that we have right now, I don’t really feel like it’s my own voice–it’s a collective force-out. It’s the collective force of all the people who supported us during our trial and during our prison time. So what I would love to do is to bringing a little more attention in all this media attention to the conditions in the penitentiary system. And I would love to start a dialogue not just about Russian prisons but about American prisons, too. I expended awhile in America and I spoke with people who went through the American penitentiary system, and it’s privatized, and conditions are genuinely cruel to people, and it seems like the presidency of Donald Trump will just make things worse.

I wanted to talk a little bit about the present climate of political disagreement in Russia, where you’re seeing these huge anti-corruption protests. What does it take to get people protesting in the streets when it can be so dangerous? Why do you think it’s happening now ?

It’s a really interesting question. We actually only discussed this issue with Alexei Navalny who is one of those who’s in charge of bringing all those young people to the streets, and he has a foundation against corruption in Russia. He’s constructing really interesting documentaries about corruption in the Russian government that are full of humor but also truth. We think that it’s somehow connected to the fact that those people who come to protests now, they’re 16, 17 years old often, and they didn’t see in “peoples lives” anything besides Putin. And they’re highly disappointed with him. And when you have Putin throughout your entire life, you just have this growing question, which is: When will it come to an end ? We see that the quality of life is dropping, and it’s dropping because oil and gas costs are falling, and Putin wasn’t able to develop the Russian economy, and he heavily relies merely on the oil and gas industry. Which seems genuinely stupid to all those people who take to the street! They find corruption, and they see that basically our government has privatized all national resources, and they make their own private wealth out of it, and we don’t see anything. So we are mad! I think that’s the reason.

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Do you believe in the possibility of substantive change, even revolution in your lifetime ?

I think it’s highly possible. You never can say for sure, but I believe that when young people be submitted to streets, it means that changes are in demand — and that we will not stop. But you can never predict what Putin will do. We discussed this with Navalny too, if[ Putin] can bring tanks, military to the streets. And the answer is yes, definitely, in case of emergency if his power is in danger, he’s capable of killing people, unfortunately. And this scenario is one I wouldn’t want to see. I hope that it’s possible to create enough pressure through different artistic and political actions and rallies in order to persuade those people that are in power that it’s really day for them to go away. But this is my dream scenario. You really can’t see what will happen, but we’re trying to make it happen.

So the prospect of Russian collusion, particularly this Donald Trump Jr. session , is plainly a huge tale in the U.S. right now. Have you been following that at all? Or do you find it to be a distraction ?

I think as an activist you need to perceive the world as a whole thing, so we do care about what’s going on in America, and we didn’t really like that Trump was elected president…regarding Russian collusion, Putin is a KGB agent. And as a matter of fact, you don’t have ex-KGB agents. And he’s done it before and he will continue to do it — he will interfere in foreign affairs and other governments. He’s not really unique in this regard — the U.S. government has done this too. But yeah, Putin did it. He did it with Ukraine, he brought troops to Ukraine and he said,” Oh, there are no troops ,” and yet … he clearly tried to change the course of the government in Ukraine. He did it in France and he didn’t succeed. So I have no doubts that he did it. But I think that his role is a little bit inflated by American media. I think that he’s not that effective. I suppose actually his government is highly ineffective. So he really tried, but I don’t think he’s as artful as your American media portrays Putin to be. I wouldn’t give him that much credit. I think he really enjoys it, but you don’t really need to all portray him as such a powerful man.

In the past, you’ve compared Trump and Putin. So even if there hasn’t been collusion, do you feel as though Trump is modeling himself after Putin ?

Don’t get me wrong, there is collusion, I simply don’t think that Putin is as powerful as MSNBC or CNN portrays him. It’s irritating to me to see how powerful they think he is. He’s not. In regards to aesthetic or ideological similarities between Putin and Trump, they genuinely do have the similarities: they’re both patriarchal assholes who, genuinely, the only one stable ideology that they have, I guess, is to get as much fund as they can. And I don’t really think that they do care about conservative values as they say, because a person who says” only grab her by the pussy “– he truly cannot be called a conservative. I think he’s just an asshole without any real political beliefs. And he does share this quality with Putin, who changed his mind throughout his rule a lot. He started as someone who wanted Russia to join NATO, and now NATO is our biggest foe. It is clear to me that he only wants to steal as much money as he can and maintain his power.

And when it comes to the media, people are plainly concerned about Trump’s attitude towards the free press. But you know firsthand what state-controlled media actually looks like .

Almost all Russian media is state-controlled, or they are openly state-owned. Regrettably, Russian taxpayers have to pay their own fund for the bullshit that comes out. And it’s sad and, again, annoying! If you try to speak without censorship and you are a journalist in big Russian media, you will be immediately fired. So basically the only way to get real info is through small independent media outlets that were created by activists, like the one that we created, MediaZona, or Navalny’s channel on YouTube. So you need to really dig and scratch in order to get the truth.

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