On your timeslots, set, go

Message and massage: Theatre group Rimini Protokoll improvises in “Breaking News”.

By Christine Wahl

07.01.2008 / Berliner Tagesspiegel

Russian state television channel RTR shows a coffin being carried across the screen. A couple of women, forming a guard of honour, double up in a stylish, archaic-looking choreography of lament. In the coffin lies an actor, one who was so famous in his home country that his death has relegated even the election in Georgia to second place on the news hit parade. Compared with RTR’s illustrative mass mourning, the neighbouring screen looks, it can’t be said otherwise, feeble. Susanne Daubner, newsreader of the German ARD’s daily news broadcast “Tagesschau”, sits in front of a picture of an ICE and informs us that there will be no new railway strikes for the foreseeable future, which is the top news report. To her left, in the Indian news, a cricket game is leading the news, while to the right Al Jazeera devotes its leading news report to the situation in Kenya.
“Breaking News”, the new Rimini Protokoll production in HAU 2, is a huge high-tech installation made up of lots of rows of screens on which the evening news from international television broadcasters is shown in parallel at “Tagesschau” time. As usual with Rimini Protokoll, so-called “experts of everyday life”, people well schooled in the topic because of their profession who thus are – to use the Riminis’ terminology – “playing themselves”, are on stage instead of actors. This time they are, among others, interpreters placed next to the broadcaster from the countries whose languages they speak, AFP news editor Andreas Osterhaus, ZDF cutter Marion Mahnecke and journalist Walter van Rossum, who has given vent to his feelings about the “daily news show” presented in the “Tagesschau” in various publications.
The idea behind Helgard Haug and Daniel Wetzel’s experimental arrangement is as simple as it is persuasive. The theatre as a medium of play and illusion par excellence takes the news, which claims to always present the facts, to task, and shifts the perspectives using a change of context. In the ideal case, the viewer becomes the observer of a „making of“ the evening news and some structural insights remain as the by-product of this lucid crash-test of “daily news show” and theatre performance. How is power stage-managed in one minute and thirty seconds – the time-frame set for the leading report? Is it done better with long shots or with knee shots?
This promising media confrontation could have done without the “Persians”, the mother of all antique tragedy, which former theatre critic and Africa correspondent Hans Hübner “preaches” from his elevated position a little as if from the pulpit. Aeschylus’ war report from the battle of Salamis in 480 B.C., in which the author himself fought on the victorious side, remains, however the pattern of all bad tidings and at the same time a self-reflection of (documentary) theatre, restricted to theory in this piece.
The teleconference between the individual broadcasters on the other hand, moderated by the AFP editor, develops into a real news happening. When Putin is shown skiing on Russian television and getting matey with some unsuspecting young sportsmen in the interests of media savvy, when Angela Merkel – keyword youth crime – warns on ARD that “the problem can’t be swept under the carpet” and talks about “taking the bull by the horns”, the audience is helpless with laughter. The quantity of images exponentially increases their degree of absurdity and you always just miss something that would have been more interesting. In short, the modern seeker of information is administered an increased dose of everyday experience in “Breaking News” and realises that Marshall McLuhan’s thesis still applies: the medium doesn’t contain the message, it is the message.
There are good reasons to assume that Rimini Protokoll intended to convey more than just this noise and flickering as a post-modern collective experience. In this piece Haug and Wetzel have courageously put the baton into other hands to a large extent. The content of the “Tagesschau”, as van Rossum humorously remarks, may be 90 percent worked out in advance, but the experts of everyday life, working with live broadcasts on stage, have to improvise the entire evening. That would be too much to ask even of many actors. “Breaking News” therefore lives from the charm of the chaotic. Some of the experts get confused during the simultaneous interpreting; others hardly get a word in edgeways and unfortunately keep their information, ready to transmit, to themselves. Kurdish-born interpreter Djengizkhan Hasso – President of the Executive Committee of the Kurdish National Congress, tells the audience how he was received with a delegation at the White House. The experts of everyday life re-enact this reception, the audience laughs, the actors too, and at the end Djengizkhan Hasso says, amidst the general amusement, that in Islamic countries such a re-enactment would be unthinkable. More of such moments, in which the codes comment on each other or cancel each other out, would have been welcome.
One thing is however clear about this format: the experts will perform more reliably from performance to performance, so things will definitely work out better with the meta-level in the future.

HAU 2nd, 8th-10th and 12th of January 7.30pm


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