A few weeks ago I attended a participatory theater program with a Lithuanian-American friend of mine.  Held in a Soviet-era bunker outside of Vilnius, the two and a half hour program is intended to give participants a taste of what Soviet life was like in 1984.

We first had to sign a release form stating that we understood the program might involve physical and/or emotional intimidation.  We were instructed to remove our own jackets and put on musty-smelling quilted jackets — presumably reminiscent of Soviet-era coats, although I don’t remember ever seeing Soviet citizens wearing such coats in the mid-1980s.   The group of approximately 30 participants then had to line up outside and count off 1-2; this process divided people who came together (such as my friend and me) into two separate groups since, of course, we were standing next to each other.  Finally we marched into the bunker and into another world.

The entire program was conducted in Russian. Three actors dressed as KGB officers put us through our paces.   First we were taken into a room where we watched Soviet-era television.  We stood at attention for the Soviet national anthem, cheered General Secretary Brezhnev and the May Day parade, and applauded the progress of Soviet Lithuania.  Secondly, we were given instructions on how to wear a gas-mask.  We visited a clinic and had our reflexes tested while hearing about the modern practices of Soviet medicine in a scary-looking examination room.  Because all Soviet citizens had to work, we moved a pile of junk from one side of a room to the other — and back again.  Finally, we were interrogated by a KGB officer.  In between each component, we had to run through the halls of the bunker — with a German shepherd barking at us from a side corridor.  Our last stop was a visit to a shop with “deficit” items such as coffee, toilet paper, and bras.  The whole experience was capped off by a meal of canned meat (heated in the can), bad coffee, and vodka — and an opportunity to pet the German shepherd, who turned out to be very friendly!

They didn’t allow us to take cameras so I don’t have any photos of me at the Soviet Bunker, but you can see a video of the program and check out the Soviet Bunker web site.   You can read about my reflections on the experience in tomorrow’s post.