What the messenger brings

The world on the box: Rimini Protokoll’s guest performance of “Breaking News“ in Schauspiel Frankfurt.

Von Eva-Maria Magel

21.02.2008 / Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

When completely normal-looking people say, “I aim at Sirius five degrees East”, they’re talking about how they aim their satellite dish. The martial phrasing shows however, that news is not just mostly about war, it is war. It starts on your own balcony and takes forms that have barely changed in 2,500 years.

Back then, Aeschylus, who was there himself, wrote about the Hellenes’ battle against Xerxes. Now Hans Hübner, ARD’s former Africa correspondent, reads extracts from Aeschylus’ “The Persians” from above and it seems, and not just to him, that the messengers’ reports from the battle have something in common with his job; the hubris of Xerxes resembles the self-assurance of today’s war reporters. They too are messengers, arriving on the box in our living rooms – so it’s logical that the world of news, its transmitters and consumers, should turn up in front of the audiences in a theatre box, too.

The Rimini Protokoll production team’s guest performance project in Schauspiel Frankfurt is called “Breaking News”. Two hours about news, messengers and interpreters, combining the banal and the odd, just like the news from ARD, CNN, Telesur or Al Jazeera, which is played live, repeated, cut up, and commented on. A ‘daily news show’ which is different every day, depending on the current news, with the help of journalists and interpreters Símon Birgisson, Martina Englert, Djengizkhan Hasso, Carsten Hinz, Hans Hübner, Marion Mahnecke, Andreas Osterhaus, Walter van Rossum and Sushila Sharma-Haque, who interpret and comment in front of televisions, giving us an account of their professions and their lives.

Marion for example, news cutter at ZDF for decades, can predict how every new item will look, true to the journalists’ motto: “Ist der Redakteur noch so fleißig, der Beitrag bleibt eins dreißig” (“Despite the editor’s best exertions, the item is still one minute thirty”). These ninety seconds, explains Marion, provide an overview, details and then a original recording is heard. When you check, you realise that it is not only like this in the German daily news broadcasts “heute” and “Tagesschau”, but is the same everywhere. You will also see during the two hours of “Breaking News” that the images are almost exactly the same all over the world. Only the weighting is different: Djengizkhan, a Syrian Kurd, remarks casually that most broadcasters in the Arab world come from dictatorships, which, according to him, explains certain comments. Not everything in these two hours is a breathtaking novelty. And in contrast to earlier works by Rimini Protokoll, their ‘daily news show’ has high points only by chance – depending on the current news and on how protagonists are feeling on the day. You could say that the piece doesn’t have a real ending either. This production demonstrates however, what the strength of this reality theatre has been for the past eight years: the search not only for a topic that touches the lives of the spectators, the producers and their protagonists, but also for the right and searching questions that Helgard Haug and Daniel Wetzel, this time without their third Rimini colleague Stefan Kaegi, have already posed about ageing, death, call centres or Karl Marx’s “Capital”. Together with the “experts on reality” they bring to the stage, they pose these questions confidently and even in the case of the first two subjects always with a humane and fundamental cheerfulness, which ensures a positive feeling among spectators towards all the questions, even the unpleasant ones. And everyone goes home a little the wiser.

Many are now imitating the successful model that Haug, Wetzel and Kaegi have tried out in various line-ups, starting during their studies at the Institute for Applied Theatre Studies in Gießen, for example in Frankfurt’s Künstlerhaus Mousonturm , where they presented “Kreuzworträtsel Boxenstopp” (“Crossword Pit Stop”) in 2000. The first monograph about them has now been published, edited by Florian Malzacher from Frankfurt, a former fellow-student from Gießen, who is now dramatic advisor to the Steirischer Herbst festival in Graz, proving once again, in keeping with Rimini Protokoll’s projects, that it’s a small world.

Helgard Haug doesn’t find it boring to approach project after project using the same methods. Everyday issues develop a special “explosive force” in the space of the theatre, says Haug. She doesn’t want to exclude the possibility that she, in return so to speak, would stage a “real” production one day. Haug and Wetzel’s projects such as “Wallenstein” or “Breaking News” are often interwoven with genuine theatre texts. The success of these three, who have won many awards and are very popular with audiences, has proven them right. The collective now plans two years ahead and has an office and a permanent staff, as well as changing teams to work with. There are always plenty of issues that can be brought to the stage: Out of every project, says Haug, a new one emerges. Is it a kind of ’exegesis’ that they’re providing? No, says Haug quickly, that sounds too didactic. No, says Daniel Wetzel, they really don’t want to “explain and expound”. What then? „Make theatre.“


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