By Peter Michalzik,Translated by Martin Pearce
01.08.2006 / Goethe Institut Webseite
The members of the directing collective Rimini Protokoll got to know each other in the 1990s while studying at the Institute for Applied Theatre Studies of the University of Gießen, something of an elite school for the German theatrical avant garde. Rimini Protokoll consists of Helgard Haug, Stefan Kaegi and Daniel Wetzel, who collaborate in various combinations under this label. All three work together frequently, while Haug and Wetzel often cooperate as a duo, and Stefan Kaegi works again and again on his own or with Lola Arias.
Rimini Protokoll put on their first projects at fringe theatres, but they have also been welcome guests on municipal stages since the beginning of the decade – in the 2006/7 season, they will be undertaking three projects at the Schauspielhaus Zurich alone.
Apart from this, they have done a great deal of work abroad in the last few years – above all on commissions for the Goethe-Institut.
No one who seeks to define what the theatrical collective or directing trio with the unusual name Rimini Protokoll does can avoid the words reality and fiction. Rimini Protokoll look to real life for their themes. Each one of their projects is developed out of a concrete situation in a specific location on the basis of exhaustive research. The group always conceives its productions in collaboration with amateur actors who play themselves. Haug, Wetzel and Kaegi prefer to call these actors, who they find while they are carrying out their research, “specialists”.
However, this is where it becomes difficult to separate reality and fiction as the actual and the imaginary shift, interact and overlap: the audience does not know where drama begins and real life stops; it is unable, and also not intended, to know where this line should be drawn. However, the group is not just taking pleasure in sleight of hand; indeed, this ambiguity makes it apparent again and again that it is only on the stage that reality is genuinely revealed. The theatre of Rimini Protokoll does not set up an opposition between the stage and the audience, but integrates the two spheres in ever changing experimental set-ups. In doing this, they are interested in perception and the knowability of the world, in particular the knowability of human beings. The aim is to break open the complex that constitutes our reality, showing it in all its facets as a way of enabling us to interrogate it. Rimini Protokoll apply their method to the world with enormous subtlety and great curiosity, bringing people and ideas together in constellations that always come as a surprise. In consequence, they have become the central figures in the documentary movement that has been making such an impact in German theatres over the last few years.
After completing their studies in Gießen and presenting their first works on the fringe scene, Rimini Protokoll had the then President of the German Bundestag, Wolfgang Thierse, to thank for their rapid rise to fame. Under the title “Germany 2”, they wanted to recreate the sitting of the German Bundestag that took place on the floor of the Reichstag Building at Berlin on 27 June 2002 in the Bundestag’s abandoned plenary chamber at Bonn. The speeches would be delivered by those on whose behalf the parliament had been deliberating, ordinary citizens. Thierse refused permission for the happening, citing the “dignity of parliament”. This response triggered a discussion about the freedom of art, the relationship between politics and art and the boundaries of drama and reality: since then, the public has known the kind of territory on which Rimini Protokoll operate. The event eventually took place at the Theater-Halle in Bonn Beuel, with the words that had been spoken by parliamentarians being played directly into the headphones of people from Bonn, who tried to repeat them as simultaneously as possible.
Working in various combinations, the three keep shaping new plays out of the material provided by real life. “Deadline” (Haug/Kaegi/Wetzel) was created by Rimini Protokoll at a venue that was subsequently to be closed, the Neues Cinema, a performance space used by the Deutsches Schauspielhaus Hamburg. On the stage – which would soon cease to be a stage – stood a series of people who encountered death in the course of their work: a mayor who was obliged to attend the funerals of prominent local citizens, a stonemason, a funeral speaker and a medicine student, who all explained how they felt about the end of life. The piece was structured so cleverly in dramatic terms, with the individual contributions enlarging on and reflecting each other, that the audience was presented with both a tableau of contemporary attitudes towards death and startling insights into the individuals concerned and their stories.
“Sabenation: Go Home & Follow the News” (Haug/Kaegi/Wetzel) was structured in a similarly sophisticated way. It was about the many thousands of employees made redundant by the Belgian airline Sabena. Once again, the performers were brilliantly chosen, as always “specialists” who played themselves. Once again, the audience learned a tremendous amount about the backgrounds and fates of these people. Once again, it found itself confronted with a multifaceted reality.
Amazingly enough, the heights Rimini Protokoll’s drama is capable of reaching were shown most clearly by, of all things, “Wallenstein” (Haug/Wetzel), which was staged at the Mannheim Schiller Festival. Their first work based on a classic dramatic text was a triumph of casting. It was astounding how much this production had to say about power and resistance and how much was revealed about these topics by a young politician who had been chosen, then dropped, as his party’s candidate to be Mayor of Mannheim, a Weimar police chief and, most of all, a veteran of the Vietnam War living in Heidelberg. The piece seemed so authentic and dense that it was hard to stop oneself from thinking one was watching the theatre being abolished, but in fact it was artfully staged drama. Reality was represented without losing its authenticity.
The directorial intelligence of Rimini Protokoll’s work was illustrated by “Call Cutta” (Haug/Kaegi/Wetzel). Each member of the audience was given a mobile telephone on which they could hear someone talking to them from Calcutta and guiding them through the streets of Berlin. They were led through the German capital by the distant call centre while becoming more or less intimate with its employees. In “Cargo Sofia” (Kaegi), the audience travel in a lorry in which they are shown films and authentic places of lorry drivers’ long journeys, as well as being able to look out at the world rolling past and observe truckers’ chance encounters at service stations. This plunges them into the world of the transport workers who drive back and forth across Europe on minimal wages. There is nothing in the German theatre at the moment that takes audiences as close to reality as the works of Rimini Protokoll.