Avignon or Lagos: how remote (controlled) are we?

Von Rosslyn Hyams

14.07.2013 / www.english.rfi.fr

One of the plays in the Avignon Festival is actually a game. It’s called Remote Avignon, and it’s another idea from Berlin-based alternative theatre group Rimini Protokoll to provide a deeper and anthropological look at the world today through an audio-guided city walk.

The sound of cicadas fills the headphones lent by the Swiss-German theatre company as the spectator-performers straggle into the cemetery in the north east of Avignon.

It’s a peaceful place as cemeteries are, and the fifty people who are taking part in Remote Avignon perform a strange choreography as they move on the orders of a remote voice – similar to that of the disembodied female voice which directs you in cars' GPS systems.

This voice’s name is Margot in French or Rachel in English. The fifty people are Margot’s herd or horde, she says, and even if some know one or perhaps two others in the group, essentially we are all strangers.

However, we are going to share an experience as a group, and as we set off, away from the cemetery and after being asked questions about our own demise and for example “what is the difference between someone who has died and a newborn?”, the sound of gentle cattle-lowing fills the stereophonic headphones.

“It’s the perspective of an artificial intelligence entity which finds most normal problems for humans, most strange for a machine: such as dying, sickness, that we believe things, that we want to express ourselves.”

From a car park to a supermarket with human cashiers as well as automatic check-outs; a university lecture hall to out-door restaurants, a church, and a theatre, Stefan Kaegi and Rimini Protokoll devise a new way of making us think about our own behaviour as individuals and where we place ourselves in a group. He makes the participants think about their own mortality and death. This theme recurs at different resting spots during the walk, and even a short run, in the streets in Avignon.

”It’s also about manipulation, who controls what. How a director controls the audience and how does an audience, when it invades public spaces, control others through the fact that they are a majority,” explains Kaegi.

Rimini Protokoll has also played with the same concept in Berlin and Lisbon, and has plans to go further afield.

At the end of the journey together, or apart, we’re standing in a group, like a fifty-person football team, or actors in the Avignon Off festival, as smoke floats up and the participants in Remote Avignon evaporate. The Margot voice, which has become Bruno during a moment of peace in the Carmines Church, says: “this experience will change you.” Actually, it does: in a compelling and disarming way, we could possibly call ‘DIY theatre’.

Stefan Kaegi and Rimini Protokoll are also putting on Lagos Business Angels at the Avignon Festival, six shows from 14 to 18 July where Nigerian and German business people demonstrate how the North-South (in)balance in changing, and should start changing attitudes in both directions.


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