A few years ago I presented a paper on Pussy Riot’s 2012 feminist intervention in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. At that time, wearing neon-colored dresses, tights, and balaclavas, the group performed their now world-famous punk prayer beseeching the Mother of God to evict the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, from power. This paper follows up the theme of activism and Pussy Riot. It uses the performance of Pussy Riot – a Punk Prayer, premiering at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm on February 5, 2016, as an example.
The play, which is based on Masha Gessen’s 2014 book Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot, is addressed to youth audiences. It presents three young feminist women – Nadja, Mary, and Kat – who are burning with desire to change society. They are rebels and riot grrrls, but their struggle for freedom of expression, democracy, and human rights faces tough opposition. As this year’s theme of the feminist Working Group is feminist traditions, the paper uses the production to examine the mainstream dramatization of feminist political actions for young audiences who are filled with tremendous energy, but may not always know where to direct it.
Because the mise-en-scéne presents an action story, the paper asks whether the show is a piece of pop feminism focusing on girl power and images of rebellious women in order to attract younger audiences interested in empowerment but uninterested in activism and social change; or is it a serious attempt to introduce feminism to a new generation? Drawing on feminist rebellious traditions and theories, the paper considers that it may be both of the above, as Jack Halberstam argues, since personal investment in popular culture provide not only an understanding of our oppression, but a key to our liberation.
International Federation for Theatre Research: Presenting the Theatrical Past”, Stockholm, 13-17/6, 2016