In the body of the soldier, in the soul of the war victims

By Kaspar Heinrich

21.08.2013 / Spiegel online

In Rimini Protokoll’s new theater production, the spectator uses an iPad to slip into the roles of a variety of people united by one thing: their lives are determined by weapons.

On May 2, 2011 a dozen people have their eyes riveted to a screen. US President Barack Obama is there, as are his deputy Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. A photo captures this moment, the one in which Osama Bin Laden was killed, a moment transmitted by video into the White House's "Situation Room".

More than two years later, a production by the Rimini Protokoll theater group marks its premiere. Its title: "Situation Rooms". This time the venue is not Washington D.C. but Bochum. As part of the Ruhrtriennale program, this work is being performed in the Jahrhunderthalle, starting on Friday. "We hit upon this particular title while we were still developing the piece", says Helgard Haug, who, jointly with Stefan Kaegi and Daniel Wetzel, comprises the Rimini Protokoll. "We summoned up that image from the Situation Room when we noticed the direction that this work was taking." The topic is weapons – those people who suffer because of them and those who profit from them. It is about war victims and managers trading in armaments.

The same patterns viewed from a different perspective

Only twenty spectators can view the piece at any one time. Each of them is issued with an iPad at the start. With this mobile screen, each enters a film set created by set designer Dominic Huber. Every room has a different smell, and the temperatures also change. "The work changes not only the context, but also the countries referred to", Haug notes.

In each room, the spectators take on a different role. In doing so, they are given support by films being played on their iPad. Thus in an instant they find that they are child soldiers in the Congo or producers of weapons in Switzerland. They become a Pakistani human-rights lawyer and an Indian fighter pilot. After seven minutes in a given role, they leap back in time and move into the next room. "It is about being inside the workings of a clock, one where the same patterns are at play all the time – but with the viewer experiencing them from a different perspective each time", Haug points out.

Helgard Haug and her "companions in arms" Stefan Kaegi and Daniel Wetzel sought to bring together irreconcilable standpoints within one building. Completely different biographies, and yet all of them defined by weapons. "Observers step into the logic of someone who lives or works in a different context than they themselves do", Haug notes, summarizing the idea behind the role-play. For instance, what is the logic by which a manager for a Swiss weapons producer operates? How does he give plausibility to what he does for a living, in relation to himself and to whoever he has contact with? "Situation Rooms" aims to awaken interest in contrasting points of view.

Travelling, reading, researching

Three years ago, Rimini Protokoll began working with so-called video-walks. In Aberystwyth, Wales, they staged a walk-through installation of scenes. This was still in an urban area. "You can take it for granted that at some point the waste-disposal workers come, a dog runs past, or someone walks out of a shop", Haug says. But nothing lent itself to being timed precisely.
Now the format is the same, with the difference that now everything is staged, from first detail to last. "All the patterns of movement could run according to a perfect sequence if the spectators go along with it", Haug explains. She calls "Situation Rooms" a further stage of experimentation in the search for new modes of narrative, asking: "What is a performer and what is a spectator? In this new piece, to an even greater degree, the spectator plays a role."

Haug, Kaegi and Wetzel find the material that prompts and stimulates their work outside of classical theater: when traveling, reading newspapers, meeting people, researching. "What we do is theater", Haug notes: "But in fact the ways of staging classical-style theatrical performances and the work on "Situation Rooms" have nothing more to do with one another." Instead, and above all, the creative forces comprising Rimini Protokoll remain faithful to their concept, as they progress towards extending the concept of what constitutes theater.

Tranlation by Martina Englert


Situation Rooms