“I Have a Buffoon in My Head Annoying Me”

The group Rimini Protokoll brings people with Tourette’s syndrome to the Frankfurt am Main stage. The danger of voyeurism with this subject is great and they wonderfully avert it.

By Bernd Noack

12.04.2019 / Spiegel online

If someone shouts “asshole” or “Hitler’s whore” at you, it isn’t necessarily meant to offend and insult you. And certainly not personally. It could rather be someone uttering such insults who doesn’t have a handle on their words.

If you turn around and see him, his body frantically twitching, arms flailing, and instead of blurting out an expletive, maybe he grumbles and squeals and farts with his lips – then you don’t laugh. He or she doesn’t mean all of that but can’t help it.

Such non- or improper functioning in a world trimmed to perfection got its name in the 19th century. French neurologist and psychiatrist Georges Gilles de la Tourette diagnosed this behavior at the time as a disease of the nervous system. Even if Tourette’s syndrome is quite rare, its sufferers are labelled as very in-your-face outsiders. Their isolation is inevitable, their participation in public life limited. If you can’t control yourself, you’re out.

Helgard Haug of the theater and performance group Rimini Protokoll went for the exact opposite. She brought some people with Tourette’s syndrome, with all of their tics and quirks, to Schauspiel Frankfurt, the theater of all places. For it is, along with the tram or the farmer’s market, pretty much the most precarious place for people under the constant threat of losing their selves and their will. People who in response to inquisitive children can explain themselves with a rather nice excuse: “I have a buffoon in my head annoying me.”

In reality, their actions are generally quite harmless, never violent, sometimes more strange than threatening. On the Bockenheimer Depot stage you see three men with Tourette’s syndrome, who in a remarkably composed and casual manner, are telling of their daily battle with themselves and a system in particular that perceives them as disruptive.

For Christian Hempel, Benjamin Jürgens, and Bijan Kaffenberger the impact of the condition varies significantly. One blurts out obscure sounds, non-stop obscenities, the other one sheer incoherent nonsense. The title of the piece, Chinchilla asshole, whatwhat, puts it in a nutshell. They can’t hold a glass of water steady; their bodies are always twitching, heads shaking; their arms are no longer theirs, the manic repetition of seemingly meaningless actions. However, no one knows what’s going on inside of them, in their brains at these moments. They don’t either. Its causes have remained unexplored.

But these three are so self-controlled that they can, without shamefully denying or hiding, integrate how and why they suffer. They have families, they work. Kaffenberger even represents the SPD in the Hesse state parliament. Their immediate environment, their stomping grounds, have largely accepted that they are “different.” Of course, there are the good citizens and neighbors whose peace has been disturbed and threaten those who behave compulsively with compulsory measures of all things.

Completely disregarding the “disorders” that go into their texts or songs, on stage they’re saying, “I tick; therefore I am!” And we audience members are watching them do it. We marvel at them like wild, exotic, untrained creatures on display that we’re not allowed to feed. The danger of voyeurism is great with such theatrical actions.  Perhaps well-meaning, they usually backfire in their effect, devolving into embarrassment.

But Haug and her three performers, with musician Barbara Morgenstern’s support, turn the tables on us. They juggle our prejudices and our doubts about what’s real, which tics are being acted. Here they don’t just question Handke’s Offending the Audience when considering who holds who in their hand. Their provocations do lively somersaults until revealing themselves to be a harsh critique of tired decorum.

The surprises could be intentional, and the improvisations could be due to the usual theatrical flukes. Legerdemain perhaps, but discernible behind it is the disillusioning, demoralizing, run-of-the-mill struggle in a world that doesn’t accept or recognize otherness. And suddenly in the theater, the kind of theater that works according to its own rules becomes a performance about genuineness and false compassion, about courage and the strength to speak of one’s own inadequacies. No one can do anything about those. And there’s a world of difference between the nonsense someone with the enigmatic syndrome spouts and the nonsense a supposedly all-mentally-there AfD representative discharges – “parliament Tourette’s” as it’s succinctly called in Frankfurt.

Well, that’s how it’s done: an evening of news from the interbrain with no semblance of strained concernedness whatsoever. An honest, heart-opening review of one’s inherent inadequacies, even when you can’t get them under control. A plea for the inscrutable ulterior motives that suddenly take the spotlight and, in a way, a plea for the necessary disturbance of public orderliness sometimes.


Chinchilla Arsehole, eyey