“I have a clown in my head that's bugging me”

By Bernd Noack

12.04.2019 / Spiegel online

In Frankfurt, the group Rimini Protokoll brings people with Tourette syndrome to the stage. Yet the huge danger of voyeurism with this subject is beautifully steered clear off.

When you suddenly hear someone shout “asshole” or “hitler whore” it doesn't necessarily mean anything bad or is supposed to be insulting. And it's definitely not meant as a personal attack. It is much more likely that the person blasting out these slanders is not in control of their words. 

When you then turn around and see him, twitching uncontrollably with his body, erratically throwing his arms and instead of letting out another insult he might growl and cheep and let out fart noises through his lips – then you don't laugh: He or she doesn't want any of this, but can't control it.

Since the 19thcentury, in a world trimmed to perfection such a non – or malfunctioning has a name: the French neuroscientist and psychologist Georges Gilles de la Tourette had diagnosed this behaviour as a nervous system disease. Even if the Tourette syndrome is rare it still labels the person suffering from it as a peculiar outsider. Isolation is predetermined, taking part in everyday life is restricted: If you can't control yourself, you are dumped.

Helgard Haug from the theater and performance group Rimini Protokoll wanted the exact opposite. For the Schauspiel Frankfurt she invited some “Tourettes” with all their tics and spleens, to the theater of all places. For somebody who is regularly in danger of losing himself and his will, the theater, besides the tram or the weekly market, is one of the most precarious places because of tightness, silence and proper rule of conduct and who is only able to explain himself to questioning children with the rather beautiful excuse: “I have a clown in my head that's bugging me.”

In reality, the actions of the affected are mostly quite tame, never violent, occasionally rather comical than threatening. On stage at Bockenheimer Depot we see three men with Tourette syndrome, who tell in an astoundingly cheerful manner of their daily struggle with themselves and particularly with a system within which they are seen as disruptive.

The disease shows differently with Christian Hempel, Benjamin Jürgens and Bijan Kaffenberger. One blurts out dubious sounds, another non-stop obscenities or incoherent nonsense (the title of the evening “Chinchilla Arschloch, waswas” [en: Chinchilla asshole, whatwhat] drives that point home). They are not able to hold still: the body is constantly twitching, the head shakes, the arms are not doing as they are supposed to, seemingly pointless actions are repeated manically. Nobody knows what is going through their heads in those moments. Not even them. The causes are relatively unexplored.

But the three have integrated as well as they can without coyly renouncing or hiding what they are suffering from. They have families, are working, Kaffenberger even sits in the state parliament of Hesse as a member of the SPD. That they are “different” is mostly accepted by their immediate surroundings which they operate in. Admittedly, there are some prissy citizens and in-their-peace-disturbed neighbours who threaten the compulsive with compulsory measures…

On stage they are telling about it, disregarding any “disturbances” which intervene their texts or songs: “I tic, therefore I am!” And we as the audience are watching them do it. Do we marvel at them as wild exotics who are being presented as untamed creatures we aren't allowed to feed? The danger of voyeurism is huge with such theatrical events which might be meant well but often cause the poor opposite and go down in embarrassment.

However, Haug and her three performers (supported by the musician Barbara Morgenstern) turn the tables: They juggle with our prejudices and the doubts of what is real and which tic was just pretend; they don't just question Handke's “insulting of the audience” when they are asking who is really in control of whom; the provocations are happily tumbling around until they reveal themselves as harsh criticism on the saturated reputability.

The surprises could be on purpose and the improvisations due to the usual coincidences in the theater. A jugglery perhaps, but one behind which the disenchanting and demoralising common fight against a life which doesn't accept being different becomes visible. And suddenly at the theater, the theater which follows its own rules transforms into a game of sincerity and false pity, of courage and the power to talk of one's own deficiencies. They are nobodies fault and there is a gigantic difference between the gibberish that comes from someone with the mysterious syndrome compared to what an AfD-representative emits with allegedly full mental capacity: “Parliamentary Tourette” they concisely call that in Frankfurt.

This is how you can do it: an evening with news from the inter-brain without a hint of contortion of the affected. An honest, also heartfelt revue of deficiencies which will be part of it even if one doesn't get them under control. A pleading for the incomprehensible hidden agendas which are suddenly center stage and somehow also for the sometimes necessary disturbance of the public orderliness. 


Projects

Chinchilla Arschloch, waswas