Von Carly Maga
11.06.2016 / The Star
The upside to Rimini Protokoll’s ambitious immersive production Situation Rooms is that it’s a very unique and enthralling experience that’s hard to describe and even more difficult to replicate. The downside is that its run throughout the 10th annual Luminato Festival is already sold out.
This means two things. First, if you’re lucky enough to have a ticket—don’t leave it unused. Situation Rooms is effective only if it has a full audience of 20 participants. If one person doesn’t show up, it’ll ruin it for everyone (volunteers will be on hand if that happens, but come on, be a good sport). Second, if you’re in need of a ticket, check for last-minute cancellations at the box office. The benefit of having the entire Luminato Festival centralized at the Hearn is that if one plan falls through, there’ll be plenty of other happenings to occupy your time.
Inside the cavernous industrial ruin of the Hearn sits a mini-structure, a labyrinth of interconnected rooms and hallways where Situation Rooms takes place. Inspired by the photo of the White House Situation Room during the takedown of Osama bin Laden, Berlin-based experiential theatre company Rimini Protokoll has developed a production that literally lets you see the world through the eyes of those involved, directly or indirectly, with the international arms trade. These Situation Rooms can be anything from a German bank CEO’s office, to a makeshift hospital in Sierra Leone, to a Mexican cemetery, to a German arms factory, to a rooftop in Homs.
Armed with an iPad and headphones, each of the 20 audience members embarks on a unique track throughout the space, sometimes interacting with the intricate set dressings and even the other participants. Using the iPad to show the way, each audience member follows 10 different seven-minute journeys from the perspective of a different character—there are 20 tracks in total, so each audience member has a different combination of characters.
While it may take the first two or three cycles to get used to the unique demands and signals that the iPad uses to guide your actions, soon the navigation will become almost second nature. Situation Rooms believes their audiences can handle performing as well as receiving the production’s message. Keeping up with the challenge is not only motivating for your own experience, but at the same time acknowledges your part in other people’s stories. You play your role well enough, and others will succeed in theirs—a visceral, physical, and localizing way of making globalization less abstract and theoretical. The experience of crossing from a boardroom into a hospital room through a single doorway is both theatrically surprising and thematically impressive. By venturing up a stepladder, you even get a view of the Hearn’s surroundings and the festival at large, situating Situation Rooms within the bigger spectacle around you.
As the stories layer on top of each other, it’s sometimes hard to stop them from blending together. But at the same time, they inform each other and build a more complicated network. Only the 13 people in that White House Situation Room photo will know what it was like to be in that room at that time, but at least the rest of us have Rimini Protokoll to get us close.