Pussy Riot Makes a Comeback at UVA

Last Saturday, October 7th, was the closing night of the UVA Drama Department’s most recent production, We Are Pussy Riot Or Everything is P.R. This play was originally written by Barbara Hammond, and the production was directed by Professor Marianne Kubik. This political protest theatre is based on the true story of the feminist punk rock protest group called Pussy Riot, which was formed in 2011. However, they became renowned in 2012 when they protested Putin’s reelection and his ties to the Orthodox Church through a performance at the Moscow Cathedral of Christ the Savior that became a viral sensation. The play recounts the trial of three of the members of Pussy Riot after they were arrested for this performance and two were subsequently charged with two-year sentences for hooliganism. This play offers a timely and apt reminder about the short life cycle of the media and public attention.

In 2012, Pussy Riot was a huge topic in the West, and continued to be until about 2014, after the two imprisoned members were freed. Celebrities commented on their protest and their arrest. Madonna expressed solidarity with them during a performance in Moscow, Bjork announced her support, Yoko Ono wanted to help free them, and Western politicians expressed concern. The members of Pussy Riot wanted their opinions to be heard and their protests to be understood, but they were sensationalized and misunderstood by media outlets, even as they were offered support, which the play does an amazing and interesting job of highlighting. The character of Nadya Tolokonnikova’s husband Peytr was used for this purpose, as almost all of his dialogue was answering interview questions, giving statements, and responding to celebrity support.

The tagline of the play “Everything is P.R.” was perhaps even more central to the play than the retelling of the Pussy Riot trial. It refers to Pussy Riot as an idea. Pussy Riot in actuality and depicted on stage have stressed the fact that anybody can be Pussy Riot if they put on a balaclava and fight against issues that they believe to be wrong.

Photo via @nadyariot on Instagram

“Everything is P.R.” could mean something else, too. The play focuses a lot on how Pussy Riot’s fame, trial, freedom, etc. was about public perception and public relations. A male character named Sergei, who was arrested while passing out pamphlets outlining part of the Russian Constitution, is juxtaposed against the members of Pussy Riot. He does not get a trial, he has no celebrity support. He is just a man who would rather starve himself to death than continue an unjust imprisonment seemingly without end. Pussy Riot had a trial because their protest videos reached millions of people. They were granted amnesty because the whole world was interested and concerned. Everything truly is about public relations and public opinion. Pussy Riot is all but forgotten now, even though the group released a song called “Make America Great Again” in 2016 about Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy.

Both of these interpretations of the tagline serve as important reminders in America’s current political situation where the media races through issues and crises and disasters so quickly. You can easily be overwhelmed by incoming news and forget about important issues from a week, a month, a year ago that are still happening. It is also an incredibly important message in the face of the presidential response, and sometimes lack thereof, to protests that have recently been taking place in this country. Everything is PR. Anyone and everyone can embody Pussy Riot.