3.2 Production: creative and aesthetical choices.

After describing my initial thoughts and concerns about the production elements, I now want to focus on the actual process and the choices that were made during it. This could have potentially been a massive chapter because it covers the whole production process, but since none of it was my direct work (apart from acting) and, therefore, it is not the focus of this thesis, I will only touch upon each of the aspects very briefly and using my own interpretation and memories of the tasks given.


Aesthetics, style and visuals: cabaret, drag, camp, audience participation.

‘Queerness’ of the Neptune story was its core element, so, while discussing aesthetical components, Greta and I agreed that the production should be clearly influenced by queer performance culture.


Cabaret and audience participation. What I personally understand as cabaret aesthetic and what I think can be seen in the show is, firstly, the exclusion of the fourth wall and the inclusion of active audience participation, and, secondly, ‘variety show’ or ‘collection of vignettes’ sort of structure. Both things were already written into the play itself. In the second chapter, I briefly described themes of each month’s episode, however, I did not mention that every episode either had a musical number, or a game with the audience (sometimes both). There were two main reasons for inclusion of those elements both in the play, and in the production: element of entertainment and fun, the importance of which I tried to justify earlier in this paper; and the overall inherently queer nature of cabaret as a performance practice. By writing ‘inherently queer nature’, I mean the variety of genres and certain freedom of expression that cabaret provides. I personally believe that cabaret is a performative form closest to representing diversity. It is also a more accessible form, both for performers and for audiences, which often leads to an enhanced feeling of inclusion. Moreover, it is so happened that historically, a typical queer show has often been a variety\cabaret show (or vice versa), since it gives performers a chance to use their personal skills – for example, in music, dance, or impersonation – to express their gender and/or sexual identity freely. There is also, of course, a figure of MC, Master of Ceremonies, most common for cabaret performances, who usually serves as a narrational thread of the evening – which is also a big part of both the play and the production of Neptune.

Neptune: Personal Questions game. Photo by Roosa Oksaharju.

Audience participation, being another common trait of a cabaret performance, was a very important element for me, and not just for reasons of entertainment. The story of Neptune is extremely personal, often quite embarrassing, at other times, almost traumatic. With all those difficult emotions being on display, I did not want to feel disconnected from the audience, or the audience to be disconnected from the narrative. I did not want people to think: so, what? Or: why should we care, it’s your life? I wanted to somehow show that what I was talking about could affect all of us, I wanted not just to tell the story, but to share this experience. Re-telling a personal story has always been a dialogue for me, not a monologue. This is also in a way how I perceive queer community, or at least how I want to perceive it – as a group of people accepting and understanding each other.  There were various games in the show, including ‘A list of increasingly personal questions’, ‘Porn Randomizer Wheel’, ‘A Tarot reading’, etc, which included different modes of participation. In some cases, audience members needed to be more involved: to answer personal questions or to stand for certain characters that were not on stage (e.g. my parents) and read their lines. At other times, they only needed to interact minimally – choosing a tarot card, or stopping a randomizer wheel at a certain point. Since the very beginning of rehearsals, Greta and I had been wary that people might not want to participate. However, surprisingly, during all performances the audiences were quite engaged and active, and I attribute this to the right directorial decisions in keeping a balance between being inclusive and not being forceful at the same time.

Neptune: Porn Randomizer Wheel. Photo by Roosa Oksaharju.

Drag and camp. Drag and camp are, without a doubt, two of the most prominent elements of queer performance culture. Drag is most often understood as a performance of gender: where drag kings and drag queens present exaggerated versions of male and female traits respectively. However, drag does not always have to deal with gender performativity. In Polari language, which is a form of secret slang that was commonly used in British gay subculture in the 20th century, ‘drag’, can indeed mean ‘a man dressing in women’s clothes’, but also more generally, just ‘dressing up’ (Tremeer 2021). So, it can also be used in reference to using costumes as part of identity performance, whatever that identity might be. Neptune production uses drag mainly in this sense – there are numerous costume and character changes for actors playing fictional parts. And thinking back to the original idea of all additional characters being masks or personas for two main characters, the drag element becomes apparent.

As for camp, Oxford English Dictionary defines it as "ostentatious, exaggerated, affected, theatrical; effeminate or homosexual", and Webster's New World Dictionary sees ‘camp’ as "banality, mediocrity, artifice, [and] ostentation ... so extreme as to amuse or have a perversely sophisticated appeal". Camp is often seen as a social practice as well as a performative style for different types of entertainment, such as pantomime, film and cabaret. Scholar Kerry Malla believes that "where high art necessarily incorporates beauty and value, camp necessarily needs to be lively, audacious and dynamic. The visual style of camp is closely associated with queer culture” (Malla 2005, 2). A lot of elements of camp can be found in the Neptune production, from exaggerated acting style chosen for fictional characters to costumes, props, and set choices. Using camp aesthetics was another way to support queer themes of the production and to add more fun and entertainment.

I chose January scene for a video example to illustrate all the aforementioned stylistic and aesthetical choices, since this episode has a musical number, a game, some MC interactions with the audience, and a vignette with fictional characters. 

Neptune: January scene. Video from a personal archive.

Creative team and tasks: music, costumes, set.

I was extremely blessed with the team working on Neptune. The material was, arguably, very complex for all departments, with constant episode changes, costume changes, and music and light cues. If I remember correctly, by the time of the premiere, we had over 500 cues for light changes only.


Sound. Juri Janis.

In my opinion, there was an extremely challenging task for a sound designer. The problem was that I already included certain songs in the play that were particularly important for the plot. All those songs had different styles and genres, and being a musical director myself, I thought that it might be a recipe for a disaster – an eclectic mesh of disparaged pieces. Juri had to painstakingly create new arrangements for each musical number, so together they would sound cohesive and stylistically similar. He also rearranged the main theme of the show – Moonlight Densetsu from Sailormoon anime – over a dozen times: each episode had its own version, from electronic 8-bit sort of parody of vintage game tunes (for the arcade episode in February) to a gentle waltz (for historical ladies who wrote letters in October). Each version contributed to the unique soundscape the show had thanks to Juri.

Microphones for all characters. Photo from a personal archive.

Costume design. Jenni Sarkkinen.

Another very challenging task awaited the costume designer. There are over thirty characters in the play overall, and all of them are played by six actors. This is not counting that some of the characters had costume changes in different scenes. Jenni had to create the whole runway collections for each performer – we literally had five full racks backstage in the middle of rehearsal period. I will talk about it more in the next part where I will discuss challenges, but I will still mention here that due to extremely fast changes of scenes, after weeks of assembly and creating costumes from scratch, Jenni had to redo almost everything so the actors would be able to change costumes more quickly. This task also required taking into account transformational aspects of all costumes and props, so Jenni needed to employ her engineering skills as well. The aesthetics that were used in costume design of fictional characters could be described as camp, while costumes for main characters were designed with a slightly different ideas in mind. Thus, costumes for the main couple, M and V, were made only in black and white colors – V’s clothes being mostly black, and M’s mostly white. This was done to underline the juxtaposition between colorful nature of fictional world and characters, and faded black-and-white nature of memories. Costumes for MC were inspired by the character of Anastasia from an animated movie of the same name. Anastasia was a Russian princess who lost her memories and wanted to reconnect with her past – so for the first act the allegory was expressed through a similar attire – mossy-green coat resembling the one Anastasia wore at the beginning of the film.

Overall, there were many ideas and associations that went into creations of costumes for Neptune, and I believe that all together they worked brilliantly.

One of the racks after costume reduction. Photo from a personal archive.

Light design. Mari Agge.

The main difficulty here was, of course, in a rapid scene change. Since we had a rigid set that could not be moved for the most part, and the place of action would be changed every five minutes if not more often, something had to be done to clearly separate those episodes. It was done mainly by lighting. Mari designed it so that each individual place and scene was clearly separated from one another. There was a unique atmosphere to most scenes as well, be it a club, an arcade, or a train station. The show also had a use of videos, both projected onto a massive screen, and onto an analog old TV from the 90s, as well as some lines of dialogue being presented in a written form which also had to be reflected in a projection somehow.

Pre-set for stage on stage. Photo from a personal archive.

Scenography. Magnús Sigurðarson

The task for a scenographer was to clearly separate two distinct worlds and layers of the play – memory layer and fictional\narrational layer. That is how the structure of theatre-in-theatre appeared. Magnús designed a built-in stage with a podium in the middle of a bigger stage. The smaller stage in the center was meant to represent a separated world of memories where M and V lived, and the main floor was designated for fictional characters and MC. There was also a liminal space – ‘the corridor’ – which plays a very important role in Neptune. The corridor is a space of love and vulnerability where M and V find themselves only in their most honest moments. This is also a place where MC makes her confessions. The corridor was basically a passage of light on the front stage that was activated in the key moments of the play. As for the color scheme, the set was also specifically designed as black-and-white, with white and grey movable cubes on the floor and white curtains on the built-in centerstage. This was done to represent two things – fading of memories as a background, and, interestingly, paper. Since the light motive of Neptune was trying to write a play, everything that happens on stage becomes a part of this writing attempt – with actual sheets of paper lying around on the floor, and the rest of materials resembling white blank pages.

Assembling of the set. Photo from a personal archive.