You can’t get better than 100%

Von Anne-Marie Peard

04.05.2012 / aussietheatre

With only three performances and a non-performer cast of 100, 100% Melbourne is already one of those were-you-there? and why-didn’t-I-know-about-this? events that a mere description cannot do justice to. With support from Arts Victoria, The Goethe Institute and the Hebbel Theatre Berlin, the City of Melbourne and Berlin-based trio Rimini Protokoll created a curious, fascinating and surprisingly moving piece of raw reality theatre that comforts and shocks in its revelations about our city’s wonderful people

The project started with one Melburnian, who works with population stats for the City of Melbourne. He had 24 hours to recruit the next person, who had 24 hours to recruit the next until the chain finished at 100 with a woman forced to flee Bosnia-Herzegovina. Each person in the chain had to meet demographic criteria (like age, gender, area you live, marital status, family composition, area of birth); so, each person represents 1% of the city, about 41,000 people. It was easy at the beginning of the chain, but got harder once most of the spots were filled.

As number one, Anton Griffith introduced the project, introduced the second percent and the giant circular stage began to revolve. One hundred people held a treasured object and told us a tiny something about themselves and their story. As we met number 100, Senada Bosnic Ekic, the circle was complete and I was wiping away tears. Sometimes all we have in life is our story and it’s an honour to glimpse what 100 people choose as their story and see the pride or trepidation they tell it with.

But the fun and the stories had only just began. Spending a lot of time in theatres, my reflection of Melbourne is rather limited and these 100 people show how tiny inner-city, arty Melbourne really is. With a projection of the circle above the stage, the 100 moved into groups to answer the demographic questions (each asked by one of the group) and, as an audience member, I was immediately struck by some of the assumptions I made. One of my favourite moments was asking who came here by boat: three older men from Europe.

As the questions moved from demographics to attitudes, opinions and beliefs, more prejudices and assumptions were laid bare – along with those of the people on stage.

With questions like who has been a victim of violence, believes in the death penalty, has suffered from depression, has seen ghosts, has committed an act of violence, has the job they dreamed of, thinks there are racists on the stage, has been in gaol, each story grew in complexity and opinions about a person’s likability or they-represent-me changed in an an instant. Do that many people really believe in the death penalty?

When asked to name their favourite (non-family) Australian, I was surprised at the number of politicians written down, which included a Julia Gillard and at least three Kevin Rudds. I don’t think I saw an Abbott, but I may have been distracted by the Dame Edna and the Matthew Newton.

The genius of 100% Melbourne is how it forces the audience to answer the questions themselves. Would we be happy/brave/stupid enough to answer them in front of strangers, let alone in front of family and friends?

In about 90 minutes, this work created an intimacy with and a rare understanding of 100 strangers. I left knowing who I’d like to know and who I’d be polite to before moving away. Who really represents is has little to do with where they live, their age or cultural background; it’s about how we think. And there are people who think differently to me!

100% Melbourne was a wonderful and moving night in the Melbourne Town Hall that for a short time unified a very diverse group of people. If you missed it, try and get a copy of the gorgeous book (yay Tom Cho) that came with the performance. I wished I’d bought extra copies for friends who are having babies this year. Filled with Melbourne stats and profiles of the 100, it’s a snapshot of now and design alone assures that it’s a keeper. Mine’s in my living room to share with visitors.


100% Melbourne