„Chinchilla Arschloch, waswas“ at Schauspiel Frankfurt

Ticking differently

By Shirin Sojitrawalla

12.04.2019 / www.deutschlandfunk.de

The directing team “Rimini Protokoll” repeatedly test aesthetical borders. The newest production focusses on Tourette syndrome. This manifests in involuntary movements, tics and uncontrollable, sometimes obscene pronouncements. Does the piece exhibit the disease? No, it celebrates the marvel that is humankind.

When people with disabilities stand on theater stages, the accusation of them being put on display and exhibited is never far away. “Freak show” is what is often proclaimed. Hence, it would be possible to accuse Rimini Protokoll's Helgard Haug's new piece of the same thing, since it centers around three people with Tourette – a nervous disease which causes sudden twitches and utterances. 

The carer for the elderly Benjamin Jürgens for example, who begins sitting in a spotlight among the audience, twitches repeatedly with his head, utters meow-sounds and harrumphs – unsettling in everyday life, an eye-catcher in the theater.

“We give the stage to a symptom. We give a symptom to the stage”, says musician Barbara Morgenstern right at the beginning. Three white platforms are set on the stage at Bockenheimer Depot, on them are orange seats and a grand piano. An e-piano is sitting in the front. All around the playing area are multiple screens which show word cascades – and short messaging dialogues.

Besides Jürgens, Christian Hempel, a professional media designer, and Bijan Kaffenberger, who sits in the state parliament of Hesse as a member of the SPD, also join the party. While the latter one has bodily tics, Hempel has coprolalia: he blurts out uncontrolled obscene strings of words – obstructive in everyday life, a hoot on stage.  All three of them are experts of their everyday life. Jürgens for instance describes what a visit to the theater means for him:

“I am trying to avoid going to the theater. It's all much too cramped, there are too many rules and too many conventions and expectations. One side has to sit here in the dark and silently watch while others in the front are trying to give their best performance. But then my ex-wife wanted something “immaterial” for her birthday (…), a special gift. And I gave her an evening at the theater.”

In 28 scenes the entertaining while multilayered evening introduces the men and their lives – at the same time confronting the on-looking audience members with themselves by making the act of on-looking a theme: Is it Tourette or is it on purpose? Is this still spectating or already gawking? Tic or timing? Disease or art?

Along the lines of those questions the evening unfolds its mostly humorous scenes. The nice thing is: Nobody is laughing at someone but everyone is laughing together. One of the highlights is the duel “who'll tic first?”, following the rules of the beloved children's game “who'll blink first?”. Jürgens and Hempel stand facing each other and try not to twitch or fall out of character in any way which leads to glorious contortions and unpredictable punch lines. Barbara Morgenstern, holding the evening together with her songs and electronically sampled background music, functions as referee. She repeatedly shows music's soothing quality. Jürgens for instance is a long standing member in a band and sings a heartfelt song, with the back to the audience. Later, Barbara Morgenstern composes a love song out of Hempel's swear words. 

After all the entertainment and complexities of the hour and a half long evening many questions still remain unanswered: questions of causes, effects and everyday occurrences. Instead the evening succeeds in imagining the theater space as a utopian space. Time and again the three protagonists negotiate on what they need, how they protect themselves and retreat. They talk of the conditions they put forward back when having been asked to take part in this production.

How would the world, or even just the theater, look, if it was set up to provide comfort to everyone? This question floats in the room during the evening. It has not turned into a “freak show” even if it certainly pleases the curiosity. “Chinchilla Arschloch, waswas” does not celebrate being different but instead celebrates the marvel that is humankind. Nobody is put on display; grown-up, straight thinking humans in all of their brokenness and all of their beauty present themselves. 


Projects

Chinchilla Arschloch, waswas