Real-life Drama

Rimini Protokoll creates progressive theatre without actors and costumes

05.06.2006 / Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung

When theatre people talk about theatre they like to say things like, ”I’m interested in that statement on stage”. Just like Matthias Hartmann, the new theatre-manager of the Züricher Schauspielhaus. He highlights the traditional understanding of theatre. Meaning, chair is here never a chair, it is England at least.

This summer Immanuel Schipper will go with Hartmann to Zürich. He wears a blue T-shirt with “Italia” written on it and sits barefoot in front of the rehearsal stage in Mannheim-Neckarau. He is the dramaturge of ‘Wallerstein’ – a production by the directors’ collective Rimini Protokoll which does exactly the opposite the statement. Here, a chair is a chair, and Wallenstein a CDU politician who’s got entangles with the ropes of power.

This is Rimini Protokoll’s principle: real people instead of actors, the real-life drama instead of the distant classics.

This Wallenstein is called Sven-Joachim Otto, he works a judge for the court of social justice and even was a CDU politician. Today he acts as nobody but himself. Perhaps he has his reason for his appearance, perhaps it’s like therapy for him, or late revenge, or even the second chance for a political career. (“Bild” – newspaper was here already.) Whichever way you look at it: these are real motifs of real people.

And this is what this evening is all about: A person like Sven-Joachim Otto characterises the fascination as well as the embarrassment the theatre of these three directors creates with their production of “Wallenstein”. The directors turn theatre into a sociological institution under the enigmatic name of Rimini Protokoll.

“True” and “Real” are terms which naturally cannot be used without quotation marks. And again, in “Wallenstein” which Helgard Haug and Daniel Wetzel produced for the Schiller-Days in Mannheim without their colleague Stefan Kaegi they produce the truth, or at least present it and in doing so it is already alienated. And despite all that, it is again astonishing the see how theatre can function totally different – exactly not as the gossiping feuilleton press would like us to believe, on one side the authentic texts, on the other the so-called directors’ theatre. Rimini Protokoll are therefore the proof of intelligence in a stagnating institute of culture.

Still, the thing about intelligence is here again ambivalent. There is the danger that intelligence comes across as too proud, too dry, and too moralistic. At first sight, theatre is not necessarily the right place for a high IQ. This is why all of Protokoll Rimini’s productions battle with the crispbread-factor of their own method. The three directors who work together since 2002 became famous when Wolfgang Thierse did not allow them to use the old German Parliament building in Bonn to copy a debate of the German Parliament in Berlin live with real citizens instead of designated representatives. In 2004 they were invited with their production “Deadline” to the Theatertreffen which was their aesthetic incorporation; “Deadline” is a smart theatrical meditation upon death, which brought the real people on stage dangerously close to the theatricality.

But this is exactly Protokoll Rimini’s technique: They research how theatrical, how much put into scene how structured the world, life, and the experience of the individual is, and then present their findings stumbling and awkward on stage, so that it may appear as student-theatre for adults. Or an educational coffee-trip with an extra bonus. But, of course there is method in this amateurism – it is amateurism of the form and not the contents, and it exactly this distance between the wooden aesthetics and the conceptual force which creates the charm of this theatre. Protokoll Rimini are the other end of empathy for the part, the text, the play the work, the history. It’s ‘exterior-theatre’ in the middle of the world.


The people we see in ‘Wallenstein’ appear so average, so every-day-life that it is almost embarrassing to the audience. There we have Dr. Otto, with a juvenile face, a tubby body, a blue shirt and a colourful tie; the man with the glorious idea to appear during election campaign-time at seven or eight barbecue parties with crates of beer to convince voters; who had photos taken of himself with children and alsatians who weren’t his own; who is far to awkward to be entrusted with politics; who stumbles as the CDU candidate for chief mayor of Mannheim. And the intrigue which led to his fall, is just like the fate someone like Wallenstein experiences today.

Next to Dr. Otto is Ralf Kirsten, a middle-aged man with a suit of average colour –a police officer of the Federal Republic who had the choice in 1988 between his wife who was regarded politically unreliable and a career in a country that a year later became history. These are the entanglements of power and love, of lies and decisions, which Rimini Protokoll take from Schiller’s play. These are motifs they look for in our times and they find them in the biographies of our protagonists. So, in fact, this play develops elsewhere and not in the stuffy rehearsal rooms near the railway tracks, in the ‘nowhere-lands’ of Mannheim; it grows in the lives and in the heads of these people on stage, and it all started years ago.

There is Robert Herfert, for instance, a stout man with a broad face who defended Mannheim during the second world war as member of the Luftwaffe and who sings the old songs on stage today; or there is Hagen Reich who wanted to become officer with the Bundeswehr until humanity won over obedience; or there is the Vietnam Veteran, Dave Blalock, who reports how disobedience against a cruel superior in the jungle was carried out in a non-bureaucratic way with a hand grenade which was thrown into the man’s hut; and there is Darnell Summers who also served in Vietnam and who has grey dreadlocks and now fights for the freedom a recently jailed deserter of the Irak war. These are all motifs for soldierly reality which provide the background for reading ‘Wallenstein’ today.

In the name of Schiller

In the barren concrete room are loads of yellow Reclam-booklets distributed. “Wallenstein” is the first real play which Rimini Protokoll produce. Their theatre comes into being as a commentary to their reading, in this case of Schiller – this evening more than on others. In doing so they show the play in their very own way. Their method of approach is rational and progressive, and therefore strictly traditional. They have their own way of believing in Schiller’s institution, his order which is not purely aesthetically. This why they search for structures and connections in reality. During their research the discover of course the mistake in the world which is the norm. Just like the astrologer Esther Potter takes up Schiller’s theme after she has sung “The End” by “The Doors”, and explains Dr.Otto’s and Wallenstein’s fate with the constellation of the stars; like Wolfgang Brendel who used to be chief waiter in the Weimar hotel “Elefant” and saw the powerful ones close-up; just like the partnership-agent Rita Mischereit who embodies the ridicule of tragic love like Schiller described it with her looks from a 70s “Derrick” with golden slippers, bright red hair and dignity.

And then there is the man with the pea-whistle, shorts and the red referee’s outfit, Friedemann Gassner, electrician, and Schiller-fan. He tells us how to memorise Schiller’s verses. He completes the evening in full circle. Just when he lost love in real life he found Schiller. He escaped into the claim. And all was well.

Georg Dietz

The 13th International Schiller Days are still going on until 12th June with guest performances from Hamburg to Maputo.