By Aisha Sharipzhan

Subjecting themselves to verbal assault and physical torture, political artists from theatre company Belarus Free Theatre perform a brutally disturbing declaration that they will not be silenced.

Banned in Belarus, the UK-based theatre company is bringing their provocative production Burning Doors to The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center Oct. 26 and Oct. 27. Performed in Russian and Belarusian with English subtitles, the production’s cast features former political prisoners.

The name Pussy Riot may sound familiar. The Russian feminist rock band made international headlines when they were arrested in 2012 for their 40-second anti-Putin protest. Pussy Riot’s Maria Alyokhina has joined the cast for Burning Doors to express her own oppression, subjecting herself to displays of torture.

Sitting in a bathtub, Alyokhina attempts to recite a poem, gasping desperately, as another performer dunks her head repeatedly underwater.

Martin Wollesen, executive director of The Clarice, describes the production as demanding, forcing the audience to not only reflect on the silencing of artists in other countries, but also the challenges of freedom of speech and expression relevant in the United States.

“You cannot be passive as an audience member,” Wollesen said. “[The production] is very clear that in terms of building and supporting democracy you have to do that every day …  you can’t be a passive citizen and hope all will be taken care of.”

The production includes the words of political prisoners Petr Pavlensky and Oleg Sentsov. Political performance artist Pavlensky is famously known for nailing his scrotum to Moscow’s Red Square in 2013 as a metaphor for apathy in Russia. He is currently facing charges for arson in France.

Oleg Sentsov is a Ukrainian filmmaker who was convicted by Russian courts and sentencedto 20 years in jail on what observers believe to be falsified charges of terrorism. Sentsov’s pro-Ukrainian political films are not well-received in Russia due to the conflict in Crimea. Belarus Free Theatre launched a campaign last year, I’m with the Banned, calling for the release of Kremlin hostages, including Sentsov.

The trailer for the production offers snippets of what audiences can expect: performers screaming, face slapping, hung high from the ceiling, tied up and desperately running in place. According to The Clarice website, the performance will also include nudity, adult language and real unsimulated urination.

“It’s not often that we get to see theatre like this.,” Wollesen said. “It’s tough, it’s disturbing, it’s hard, but I also think it’s very essential.”

This performance at The Clarice is a part of the Visiting Artist Series that focuses this year on artists using their work to address social issues, such as violence, race, oppression and freedom of speech and expression, according to Wollesen. The series aims to give these artists a platform for their controversial message and to have the community and students engage with these messages.

Tickets are available here for $25 for the general public or $10 for students and youth. UMD students are eligible for free tickets at The Clarice box office while supplies last.

Featured Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Nicolai Khalezin.

Aisha Sharipzhan is a senior journalism major and can be reached at aisha.echelon@gmail.com.

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