1.4 Russian political art should still exist at all costs – even if not in modern Russia.

In the following chapters, I will focus on the process of writing Neptune, on particular structural and aesthetical choices, and on the overall influences. I will also discuss the production process and some challenges that arose during it. However, in this last part of the first chapter, I first need to talk about the conceptual process and to describe how the idea of Neptune came to be as a result of everything that I discussed previously.


Even though a persistent thought of writing a queer play had not left me since meeting Birksted-Breen, it took me almost a year to come up with an actual concrete idea. I knew almost immediately that if I were to write a play it would need to be about my own experiences. Every performance I have ever made has been autobiographical. My priority always lies in expressing honest and often raw emotions, and those, for me as an artist, cannot be hidden under a mask of someone non-existing. With that being said, I needed to find a particular queer experience in my life that I could write about. As with a lot of other performances I have made over the years, a certain song became a starting point, a catalyst. For this project, it was the song called Neptune by Sleeping at Last. The chorus of the song goes like this: “I'm only honest when it rains, An open book with a torn-out page, and my ink’s run out, I wanna love you but I don’t know how”. To me, those lyrics always sounded like a confession of being a failure in love due to inability to open up and truly connect with your partner. It can, of course, be applied to any kind of relationship, but in my experience, it even more often becomes the case in queer partnerships due to much more than just personal or emotional reasons.


As a queer woman, born and raised in Russia, I was not allowed to openly express any feelings and desires towards other women. It was the matter of my upbringing (my family was quite religious) and my social environment. To admit to being queer would have ruined my professional and social reputation, and I was already not in the strongest position by being a young woman from a poor working-class family. Consequently, up until the age of twenty-six, I was deeply closeted and somewhat homophobic, at least towards myself. Inner and outer repressions quite literally led me to inability to express love. “I want to love you but I don’t know how” – that line, that whole song was my life story, so I chose it as the premise of my play, my main idea, conflict, and even title.


Originally, it was supposed to be a play about the inability to love, about political and social oppression that can cripple a person emotionally and leave a lasting albeit often invisible damage. The play was conceived as an exploration of my failed relationship with a black American woman, who I lived with for several years. In my first concept, the main thing I wanted to explore was the external powers and politics that shape a person, and the cultural and racial differences that no love can overcome. It was supposed to be a play about not just a failure to love, but a failure of love itself – how it can never be stronger than certain predetermined circumstances. That was meant to be my political statement: look at me, I am a Russian queer woman, the system broke me, and I can never be fixed but at least I see the issue now and I want to share it with the ones who had similar experiences, so we could perhaps grieve, or be angry together, and then move on. With that specific idea I applied for Masters degree at the Uniarts Helsinki, so I could write my queer play in peace and even produce it, which I, of course, could not imagine doing in Russia, since it would be banned immediately.


However, the initial core message of the play had a 180-degree turn due to the events of the year 2022. In February 2022, Russian troops invaded Ukraine, and my life was changed in the matter of days. Most of my colleagues were either arrested or forced to flee the country. We were receiving threats daily. The organizations I described previously ceased to exist. Every expression of disagreement with the party line would now lead to six years in prison. So, in March 2022, I had to abandon my home permanently and go first to Finland and then to Germany. To be honest, at that time I could neither think of the play, nor of my studies overall. However, my studies were the only legal reason that would grant me the right to stay in Europe, and I could not go back to Russia, so I forced myself back into the learning process. Year 2022 took away almost everything I loved and cared about – my home, my family, my friends, even my artistic and political activities in which I finally found myself. Thus, by the end of the year, around October 2022, when the deadline for finishing my play was approaching, I acutely realized that under no circumstances could I make myself write what I originally planned.


I was staring at my notes, describing the idea of inability to love, describing my past failed relationship. By October 2022, I had lost almost everything, not just that relationship. So, if there was no possibility to love for a queer person, for a person like me, if love was impossible, then why should I even bother writing this? And more importantly, if love, as I so wanted to state, will fail against oppression, then why was I still even alive? What was the point in everything I had been doing in Russia in the last few years? It sounds overly dramatic, perhaps, but the choices I made with this project cannot be described otherwise. To me, it was the question of giving up, not just the play, but my own – if not existence, then at least career, - or looking at it from a different angle.


My reason for being was love. My reason for being political was love. The reason I wanted to write this play in the first place was love. It was love that I felt for my Russian queer community, for women who I wanted to protect somehow, for my country - even when it was publicly destroying itself. I wanted to see the day when I would be proud to be Russian because my country is just and because people who live there are happy and safe. This naïve idealistic belief was the driving force for all my activism and, essentially, for my art. So, if I were to write a queer Russian play, the only message it was allowed to convey was that love was possible, and, even more so, it would prevail, and win against all odds, and save – as much as it was hard to believe in. With that understanding, I found new strength and new inspiration for finishing this project.



Chapter 2. Memory