Hoofing It, or: Is That Theater?

One of the most renowned groups at the Perspectives festival in Saarbrücken is the collective Rimini Protokoll. How much courage does it take for The Walks, their latest production?

Von Silvia Buss

27.07.2021 / saarbruecker-zeitung.de

“What does the traffic light in front of you look like?” the woman in my ear asks. “Are there traffic lights in the ground yet in your town for smartphone zombies?” she wants to know. No, the wellness voice isn’t my imagination; it’s emanating from my headphones connected to my smartphone connected to the internet, and it will accompany me for about 20 minutes while I walk. At the intersection, she wants to me to get risky and cross on red, like Steff. Steff does that all the time and many more amazing things, like walking to work at the hospital in the dark, in the middle of the street, wearing all black. Steff will join me on a walk through Saarbrücken by day. And with Steff in my ear the city suddenly feels different – that’s precisely the idea.

The Walks is the name of the new work by the renowned Berlin theater group Rimini Protokoll, which premiered at Saarbrücken’s Perspectives. “World premiere” at that, according to festival director Sylvia Hamard; the test run for journalists was just a few days before the festival premiere. The collective, internationally active and a frequent guest at the Saarbrücken festival, made a name for itself with unusual formats that blend fiction and documentary. In 2008 for example, the group bundled off the Perspectives audience in the cargo space of a truck and drove them through Saarbrücken, familiarizing us with the globalized transport of fruit and vegetables.

This year, because the covid lockdown turned us all into backyard flaneurs, the team Helgard Haug, Stefan Kaegi, and Daniel Wetzel came up with something much more minimally invasive (and wrote and directed it collectively). The Walks are a kind of short radio play (concept and dramaturgy: Cornelius Puschke) you can put in your ears while walking alone or in pairs. You buy a voucher online, download the app on your smartphone, and set out on an audio walk whenever, wherever and however often you want. So far there are eight audio walks: “Departure,” “Street,” “Traffic Light,” “Roundabout,” “Park,” “Theater,” “Supermarket,” and “Cemetery,” all names of starting points from which a walk can take you somewhere else entirely. Sometimes even to faraway countries, to the protests at Gezi Park in Istanbul, for example. The nice thing is that none of the short radio plays resembles another; none of them are boring. Each one takes you by surprise.

“Departure” for example picks us up in our own four walls. A bright child takes our hand to help us rediscover our familiar surroundings playfully, like a child, and walks us through them with all kinds of questions and tasks. In “Street,” however, we join two professional walkers who have a lot to say to each other about walking, its beneficial effects, and their experiences. Here you’re inclined to take a seat, tune out your surroundings, and just listen. These two demand your full attention. To meet Steff the app recommends you “wear shoes you can run fast in.” Good thing, because the amazing Steff, a typical Rimini Protokoll “everyday expert,” pushes her listeners athletically.

The absolute highlight among the audio walks, which by the way can be listened to in any order, is “Supermarket,” which as with “Park” must be done in pairs. At the supermarket entrance you’re greeted by Italian choreographer Antonio Tagliarini, as charming as he is funny, who incites us to dance furtively in the temple of consumption. Paradise or hell? That’s another question that arises while shopping de deux to music. You’ll never forget it. Then it’s off to the “Cemetery” by choice, really? Don’t be afraid. A kind-hearted woman with a voice roughened by life guides us through final resting places with her gentle, wise humor, confounding us with philosophical questions.

Plus, with the Perspectives voucher code you can use and reuse The Walks again and again starting July 19 – other language versions are in progress. So you could save the “Cemetery” for later. Be sure to check one thing in advance: your network coverage. Except for the downloadable twosome pieces you can forget the audio walks without an internet connection.


The Walks