Can you trust the person on the other end of the line? Rimini Protokoll push the boundaries with intimate telephone theatre.

Von Monna Dithmer

08.09.2008 / Politiken

What is the biggest mistake you have made? The voice on the other end of the line sparkles with obliging interest.
I’m sitting here in a comfortable chair in a private apartment in Frederiksberg and a man from Calcutta has just sung the most charming song for me, then takes care of turning on an electric kettle via remote control and gets me to open a desk drawer to discover a perfumed surprise: Indian anise seeds.

Theatre at its most intimate
And straight away I’m sitting there, pouring out all sorts of personal details to this perfect stranger at the other end of the world –Mr. Soup, as I call him (Souptic Chakraborty.) The trick is that regardless of the distance, he seems to be very close at hand.
It is wildly entrancing, and in that way theatre at its best. At the same time it is one of the most puzzling, affecting performances I have attended. Telephone theatre has a future, created for today’s chat mentality, but rooted in the voice and the telephone medium’s captivating intimacy. Theatre at its most basic level: Live communication from person to person. What’s new is just –aside from the all-important interactive form- that there are over 7,000 km. between actor and ‘audience.’

Australian Accent
It is insanely exclusive to have such a unique performance, made with and for the individual audient. At the same time it is a lean outsource-theater model that, aside from a bit of skype-based equipment, bases itself on cheap Indian labor.
This is exactly what the concept is about. It is created by the German group “Rimini Protokoll,” who have set a new agenda on the international scene with their reality theatre based on what they call “everyday experts.”
Here in “Call Cutta in a Box” it concerns the Indian call center agents who are hired by international companies and who make a living out of personal, convincing communication. In contrast to Mr. Soup, whose convincing sincerity is employed to navigate a game concerning personal matters, his colleagues sitting around him in the office are in full swing selling mobile phones.
And they are instructed to act as if they live right around the corner, even adding an Australian accent if they are talking to someone from Australia. Personal communication as a commercial, global illusion?

Call Center
That awareness hit me with a shock when my telephone friend had gotten me to sing a song, and a loud round of applause sounded out in the background. Maybe this was the moment I had made my life’s greatest mistake and had been transmitted live –perhaps before a Danish audience?
Luckily it turned out to be call center routine: Everyone claps when someone sells a telephone. And Mr. Soup had clapped after my song. Leaving me with the uncomfortable feeling of having been sold for a song. It left me with a vital, necessary feeling of doubt about all this feel-good communication as commercial enterprise.

“The world’s smallest theatre”
It may well be that we are only a little, exclusive solo audience that get the opportunity to experience the telephone installation at Theatre Camp X. But not to worry, it is the concept itself that is mind blowing as a new standard of what theatre can be. Just like I got the feeling –here in “the world’s smallest theatre” of the countless phone lines stretching criss-cross around the globe. Massive.


Call Cutta in a Box