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Singing for Irida: Local activists stage musical fundraiser for Russian immigrant in sanctuary 

  • Rise Up co-founders and directors Kyle Boatwright, left, and Nichole Wadleigh sing during last year’s “Hamilton” sing-along fundraiser to benefit MA Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition.  Photo courtesy of Rise Up Productions 

  • Rise Up co-founder Nichole Wadleigh, right, conducts Rise Up staff member Emma Cohen, board president Kara Wolf, and co-founder and director Kyle Boatwright.  Photo courtesy of Rise Up Productions 

  • Rise Up Productions co-founder Kyle Boatwright  hugs undocumented Russian immigrant Irida Kakhtiranova, who has been living in sanctuary for the past eight months in Northampton.  Photo by Chris Goudreau 



Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 05, 2018

For the past eight months, undocumented Russian immigrant Irida Kakhtiranova has been living in sanctuary at the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence church in Northampton. Many in the Valley have helped Kakhtiranova, the mother of three children, retain a sense of normalcy to her life despite the daily realities of living in refuge from deportation and separation from her family.

But there are still bills for Kakhtiranova to pay and other responsibilities in her life. That’s why the Valley artistic collective Rise Up Productions is hosting a cabaret-style benefit for Kakhtiranova and her family at the church this Saturday, starting at 7:30 p.m., in partnership with the Unitarian Society and the Pioneer Valley Workers Center.

Kyle Boatwright, co-founder of Rise Up Productions, said the revue will feature local musical theater performers, accompanied by piano and a percussionist, offering a small-scale version of Broadway shows such as “Hamilton,” “Rent,” and “Dear Evan Hansen.”  

“We’re going to do a few songs from ‘Hamilton,’ enough to paint a picture of the show, and then we’re also going to delve into ‘Rent,’ ‘Dear Evan Hansen,’ and ‘Songs for a New World,’ ” she said. “It’ll kind of be a cabaret/revue production of all of this.” 

Kakhtiranova, who spoke with the Gazette within her living space in the basement of the church, said she and her family have been overwhelmed by the support of the local community.

“Usually whenever there are functions, they are always somewhere else,” she said. “I’m very happy that Rise Up Productions are doing this here, so that way I can join in and enjoy the fun.”

Boatwright said she thinks that though Valley residents tend to be favorable towards social causes, the community can do more.

“There’s an activist mindset, and there’s a panicked-liberal mindset, and frequently there’s a give-money mindset, but there’s not always a ‘let’s go do a thing’ mindset,” she said. “I think that all of us gathering outside Town Hall with a Black Lives Matter sign is awesome [but] it’s not enough.

“So with Rise Up,” Boatwright  added, “it’s an easy way for those of us who are part of the collective to take action even though we’re maintaining our paltry musician lives. There are always ways to make it all happen.”

Rise Up Productions was founded after the 2016 presidential election as a way for local musical theater performers to support immigrants in the Pioneer Valley through past events such as a “Hamilton” sing-along, Boatwright said.

“I’m not a fan of art for the sake of art,” she said. “I’m art for the sake of life. What are we doing otherwise? What’s the point?”

During the event, Kakhtiranova will be selling homemade perogies at the church, which helps her support her 11-year-old son, four-year-old twin daughters, and her husband, who has a long-term autoimmune illness, as well as pay for the family’s rent, legal fees, and daily living expenses.

“When I make perogies, it’s like I’m giving something back to the people who are giving me money, and it actually makes me feel good,” she said. “Unfortunately, it’s not as much as I’d be making if I was out of here. Rent doesn’t stop. Bills don’t stop … Here and there I need financial help and I hate to ask for it directly.”

During the past seven months, the church has hosted a spaghetti dinner with food cooked by Kakhtiranova, a reiki fundraiser. Following the “Rise Up for Irida” show, she plans to sell homemade desserts during the holiday season.

“I just try to bury myself in work, so I don’t see what’s really going on,” she said of her life in sanctuary.

Kakhtiranova said she and her family are “damn lucky” to have found a congregation and a community that supports them as though they were family.

“Even my children now feel like they are part of the family,” she said.

Nancy Sardeson, a member of the sanctuary team at the church, said the church’s congregation has been transformed with the rallied support for Kakhtiranova and her family.

“This place is often very lively and vibrant,” Sardeson said. “There’s something about how it has transformed our congregation. I think we all think of Irida’s children as ours at this point. We have significant relationships with them. It’s sort of like family.”

Chris Goudreau can be reached at cgoudreau@gazettenet.com.

“Rise Up for Irida: A Musical Revue” will take place this Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence, 220 Main St., Northampton. Doors open at 6:45 p.m. Tickets are $25 for general admission and $10 for students and youth. To purchase tickets online, visit https://riseupforirida.brownpapertickets.com/