Thursday, 20 August 2009

tempelhof endurance performance - first sketches

it’s always morally elevating fun to watch bearded mystical muezzins and cute capitalist kids on stage – a Protokoll on Rimini Protokoll

Since the 1970s, Greek tragedies have been produced more often in German theatres than all previous performances of Greek tragedies ever counted together. The clash between most theatres working like museums and the audiences’ longing for productions which don’t consider themselves as slaves to a small selection of canonical texts has led to the emergence of a few trendy theatre groups in Germany. One of these is Rimini Protokoll (, the name of which alone, however, also evokes associations of museums, of archiving, saving, documenting. And indeed, the productions we’ve seen by Rimini Protokoll over the past year in Berlin are museum-exhibits in the contemporary edutainment kind of way; even worse, their piece Radio Muezzin (dir. Stefan Kaegi), currently travelling through Europe, resembles anthropological museums of ye olden times of ye Empire when scholars weren’t yet afraid of in-yer-face Orientalising.
Egypt is about to centralise the muezzin's call to just one person transmitted live by means of radio to each mosque. 30 muezzins have been selected to transmit the call in alternation. Rimini Protokoll proclaims never to work with actors, but with what they call "experts of the everyday" (Experten des Alltags). In this case, they picked four Egyptian muezzins who spoke about their everyday life, introduced each other to us, showed some projected photos and videos, made tea on stage, etc. Of course, it is interesting: in the same condescending way anything ‘Oriental’ has been interesting to interested West Europeans over the past few centuries. One of the outstanding Orientalist moments is the kneeling down of the muezzins to show ‘us’ – clearly a presumed non-Muslim audience – how praying works: as one of them tells us, they will only show us "the form of the prayer; we're not really praying because it's not praying time." Orientalising aside: isn’t that acting – to show the outer form of something without feeling it, without living through it at that point? Why is acting by the "experts of the everyday" necessary after all, particularly when the performance is engaging with a religious act which is generally a holy rite for those now pretending ‘as if’? The atmosphere of Rimini Protokoll’s show makes that act of prayer banal; something which is supposed to have a really deep ritualistic function becomes a hollow form to be performed to staring Europeans who then clap each other on their shoulders for being so interested in the multicultural.
Perhaps Rimini Protokoll in fact wishes to make the prayer banal, to show it as something of the everyday rather than holy. But in that case, they seem to lack awareness of how problematic an almost scientific presentation of their “experts of the everyday” as objects on stage must be. Similar problems have turned into a troubled meta-discussion by anthropologists over the past decades. When Rimini Protokoll presents us its objects of study, by contrast, it does not in the least show any self-consciousness as to the grey area of voyeurism it is moving in. A similarly objectifying stance towards their subjects was already created in Airport Kids (dir. Lola Arias, Stefan Kaegi), an exhibition of so-called third culture kids from the International School at Lausanne who preferably talked about their nice houses and rich parents. The audience adored the cuteness of the blond little girl and enjoyed chuckling whenever one of the children would come up with a particularly materialistic childhood dream. Basically, the show seemed like a presentation of the conditioning of children under globalised capitalism – something which the children, of course, didn’t realise, talking about their lives in full earnestness. At the same time, the audience was seated above them in an ordinary fourth-wall situation and metaphorically, too, situated on a meta-level; the whole performance to what Rimini Protokoll must have known would be their usual mainly left-liberal-youngish audience suggested one main conclusion making everyone happy in their moral superiority: ‘awwwww, cute materialistic blond well-off children with their capitalist dreams of a fulfilled life.’
Of course, it’d be possible to say that all of this is true Brechtian epic theatre, exhibiting the gestures, postures, habits, conditioned minds, living conditions of various "experts of the everyday" and in this sense, true political theatre. If this is what Rimini Protokoll attempts to be, however, it fails from lack of critical engagement with its own work processes, with issues of voyeurism or agency. Ultimately, it is no worse or better than any edutaining TV show offering superficial information, in this case to theatre audiences clasping at any straw in order not to have to see the old pieces again, and again, and again…