This thesis explores the ways in which personal narratives in dramaturgy can be read as political statements on the example of creating and staging my autobiographical queer play Neptune over the course of two years (March 2021-March 2023). My research questions include:

-           What circumstances can evoke a creative desire to transform personal into political through art mediums? To what extent performance art can be effective as a tool to convey political messages?

-       How to convey political messages through personal narratives in dramaturgy\playwriting? What makes a narrative political and what can be defined as a political narrative? What does ‘being political’ mean specifically for a queer artist\dramaturge?

-       What methodology, aesthetical, directorial and acting choices can be made to further enhance and underline political message of an autobiographical narrative, specifically in queer context?

Since my main research questions use the terms of ‘dramaturgy’ and ‘playwriting’, I want to make myself clear on the distinction in their use in this paper. In my thesis, I understand and discuss dramaturgy in the way it was defined by the German philosopher Gotthold Ephraim Lessing who coined this term in his collection of essays on the principles of drama called Hamburg Dramaturgy (1767-1769). According to Lessing, dramaturgy is the study of dramatic composition that can be applied to arranging of various elements of drama in the entire staging process. In that sense, dramaturgy becomes distinct from playwriting or directing, even though it can combine elements of both. In broader terms, dramaturgy can be understood as adapting a story to actable form by giving it a certain structure, which is often reflective of current socio-political issues and ideologies. (Lessing 2021) While discussing Lessing’s notions of dramaturgy, Professor Patrice Pavis argues that contemporary dramaturgy emphasizes the staging and function of drama, and thus, it becomes not only important when writing and producing a play but also in enabling people to analyze and understand it properly. (Pavis 1998, 124) Based on this information, I will be using the term ‘dramaturgy’ to discuss various aspects of creation of Neptune, from its conceptual birth to the production premiere, and, more importantly, I will be referring to ‘dramaturgy’ to position my creative process within a broader political and cultural context. As for ‘playwriting’, I will only be using this term to describe a straightforward process of writing a play.


It is also important to note that since the play Neptune itself (as well as its conception and writing) was my artistic part and the overall focus of this research project, I will not dive deep into exploring my role as a dramaturg in the staging process here. In her book Dramaturgy in the Making: A User’s Guide for Theatre Practitioners, researcher and dramaturg Katalin Trencsényi states that due to the emergence of a variety of new theatre- and performance-making, “the traditional ‘two-steps process’– the writer writes a play and the director stages it in collaboration with the dramaturg – has dissolved into myriad new ways of working, with more and more stress on the processes through which a performance is created." (Trencsényi 2015, 110). The ways of new dramaturgy are important and exciting; however, my involvement in the production process was mostly as described as ‘traditional’ in this quote. I wrote a play, and then the director staged it with my help mostly as a playwright (my dramaturgical input was minimal since I promised not to get too involved in the artistic process of staging for reasons which will be explained later in this thesis). Thus, I cannot fully examine my dramaturgical work on this production as something related to what Peter Eckersall called ‘expanded dramaturgy’ (Eckersall 2006), which would require dissolving the hierarchy in decision making and more of a collaborative and process-led framework. Nevertheless, the aim of this text is to navigate between personal materials and memories, artistic work, political context, and social issues, as well as to utilize and combine different kinds of sources and create new connections, which can potentially bring in new dramaturgical insights.

My research questions will be examined in a detailed account of writing my own documentary play Neptune in the year of war and strengthening of oppression in Russia, and subsequent staging of this play. My play had three distinct layers: meta-level (where the narrator talked about her recent political experiences in the year 2022), memory level (subjective memories of a lost love), and fictional level (different characters acting in thematically-relevant vignettes). Therefore, I want my thesis to be reflective of the same structure: it will have three main chapters - Meta, Memory, and Fiction – with the overall reflection at the end. It is important to note that the names of chapters only reflect certain creative and aesthetical choices: they do not contain specific philosophical and theoretical meanings, and, therefore, will not be examined as such.

In the first chapter (Meta), I will describe political and personal situation that made me want to create such a project in the first place, specifically focusing on questions of censorship, political oppression, and the lack of queer and feminist theatre in Russia. Here, I will be giving a historical overview of Russian protest art scene of the last decade (including such art collectives as Voina, Pussy Riot, and Eve’s Ribs), as well as discussing theoretical aspect of effectiveness of art as political statement in general. The chapter will give account of my personal artistic background as an activist performer and my involvement with several Russian art and human rights organizations.  It will also contain a brief description of political events in Russia in the year 2022 which led to a complete change of the structure and the main themes of my project.

In the second chapter (Memory), I will focus on the creative process of writing my documentary play Neptune. In terms of theoretical context, I will be looking at the current discourse around queer, autobiographical, and political theatre, since those debates are contextually relevant for my play. In terms of artistic influences, I will be looking into certain plays that served as my inspirations, such as: Sparks by Jessica Butcher, What Girls Are Made Of by Cora Bissett, and Fleabag by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. My main case study in this chapter will be the play that influenced me the most, both structurally and thematically – Darkroom by tester98. Apart from aforementioned contextualization, I will be discussing a level of pop-culture references that exists in Neptune and explaining why certain choices were made from a political and historical perspective, using the lens of queer reading as well. Finally, I will address some ethical, creative, and structural issues that I encountered while writing my play.

The third chapter (Fiction) is centered around the production process, where the process of staging Neptune will be described and backed up by documented materials. Here, I will focus on methodology and aesthetical choices, influenced by traditional queer theatre elements, including drag, camp, and cabaret, and exploring the significance of those elements for queer art in general. In terms of theory, I will be looking into debates around queer performances being produced in institutional spaces and the overall juxtaposition of institutional and queer, as well as exploring the role of humor and the element of entertainment in political narratives. I will also give account of the rehearsal process and address certain practical challenges that arose during it, as well as analyze feedback from the audiences and the production team on the overall experience.

Overall aim of this thesis is to trace the process of creating an autobiographical play from its creative conception (and reasons behind it) to turning it into a theatre production, and by doing so, to examine if it succeeded in its initial goal of conveying a certain political message, and if so, how this result was achieved.