Twenty years ago, Hans-Thies Lehmann’s book Postdramatic Theatre became the bible of a new German theatre scene: instead of merely representing, theatre should play with representation itself. Lehmann’s applied theatre studies course at Gießen University, on which the manifesto was based, turned out to be a highly formative experience for an entire generation of postdramatic practitioners and collectives from She She Pop to Showcase Beat Le Mot to Gob Squad. A key collective from this cohort is undeniably the trio of Helgard Haug, Stefan Kaegi and Daniel Wetzel – better known by the name Rimini Protokoll. The troupe has a technologically tinged approach to performance that brings “everyday experts” on stage and immerses its audiences with the help of various gadgets and gizmos. Rimini Protokoll have produced an impressive 95 performances – and as they light the candles on their 20th birthday cake, it’s well worth taking a closer look at the documentary dramatists and sci-fact pioneers.
This month, they are bringing Uncanny Valley, developed by Kaegi at the Münchener Kammerspiele last year, to the Haus der Berliner Festspiele. In robotics, the ‘uncanny valley’ describes the dip in positive human perception as machines become more lifelike: the more realistic androids become, the less happy we humans are about it. When a robot becomes completely indistinguishable from a human, however, we are none the wiser and therefore unconcerned. In this performance, Rimini Protokoll put this observation to the test. The star of the show is a humanoid robot, a digital double of the German novelist Thomas Melle (of Die Welt im Rücken fame). The Mellebot is both incredibly lifelike and also obviously mechanical, with exposed circuitry and wires at the rear of his head and hydraulic clunks of his hand gestures, making for an intriguing exploration of the relationship between the artificial and the real.
For their anniversary, Rimini Protokoll are bringing back their data-driven demographic dissection 100% City: under the title 100% Berlin Reloaded, it will return to HAU where their 2008 original first premiered before touring the world to over 40 cities with local ensembles. In the update as in the original, a sample of 100 statistically selected extras represent a cross-section of society that are assembled into ever-changing categories on a giant revolving stage: from age to gender to political persuasion to favourite pub – they form differing constellations and subsections. Twelve years later, Rimini Protokoll shine a sociological spotlight on a forever evolving metropolis. How will Berlin look on stage 11 years on?
At HAU2, 2013’s Situation Rooms, which earnt the group an invitation to 2014’s Theatertreffen, will also be recreated. It’s a labyrinthine film set through which the audience is guided by augmented reality sets as they slip into the perspectives of 20 different people whose lives have been shaped by weapons, from the Sierra Leonean doctor who carries out amputations to the Pakistani lawyer representing victims of American drone attacks. There will also be a chance to see the group’s Feast of Food virtual reality installation – a “diorama” of country life that takes a closer look at global food production and high-tech agriculture, as well as screenings of their films Call Cutta and Weltklimakonferenz.
Situation Rooms | HAU2, Kreuzberg. Jan 2-11, in German and English.
Feast of Food | HAU2, Kreuzberg. Jan 2-11.
Uncanny Valley | Haus der Berliner Festspiele, Wilmersdorf. Jan 3, 4, 5, 9, 10 ,11, with optional English translation
100% Berlin Reloaded | HAU1, Kreuzberg. Jan 9-12, with English surtitles.