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Why Theatre XL! program “Playful Participation” with Rimini Protokoll (2)

Written by Guido Jansen – part 2 of a series of blogposts

Whether they use gaming as an inspiration, or they work with games hands on, theatre-makers are developing ‘new forms’ of engagement in the theatre space (and outside). Rimini Protokoll is a performance collective that has been doing just this. On November 10 and 11 2016 we’ve been very fortunate to welcome Stefan Kaegi (maker) and Imanuel Schipper (dramaturg) from Rimini Protokoll in Utrecht, to talk with us on the topic of gaming aspects in performance.

This residency is organised in collaboration with Het Huis Utrecht, Theatre Studies (Utrecht University), the Media and Culture Studies Expertise Centre (Utrecht University), the Lectoraat Performatieve Maakprocessen (HKU), the master programme Scenography (HKU) and Residenties in Utrecht.

In this second blogpost (the first can be read here), I will talk about my experiences during the workshop with Rimini Protokoll on Nov. 11 2016, a day after the lecture. I’ll talk about what we’ve done and end this blog by reflecting on how this workshop with Rimini Protokoll constituted a kind of exchange.

Having to wait for people to get ready. Standing in front of someone’s camera. Almost tumbling over a person who is recording another person’s shoes. The workshop by Rimini Protokoll was a wonderfully hectic undertaking, where chaos and simultaneity reigned. Students from different Utrecht-based academies – from programmes such as Theatre Studies, Interactive Performance Design, Scenography and Media and Performance – as well as outside participants got together to explore the strategies and technologies of Rimini Protokoll.

During the lecture, Kaegi and Schipper talked about their performance Situation Rooms, where they use a combination of a handheld screen and a headphone to place the participant/spectator at the position of the protagonist (see my previous blog). Today they invited us to use this technology to create our own stories. Equipped with our smartphones, we went out to do so.

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With the strategy of Situation Rooms, Kaegi and Schipper gave us the assignment to make a short 3 minute video of us walking through the building, while we were telling a story (or not). The story we had to tell could be anything. It could describe what we were seeing, it could be a memory, or a fictional event. It had to supplement or contrast with the image that we recorded. We were asked to play with it, to come up with something interesting. I recorded a video where I described what the workshop was about and what we were doing and seeing. Artistically, this turned into a rather unimaginative product, but it is a nice playful way of recording this event. I suggest you take a look at what I recorded to get a better idea of this exercise.

What I quite like about this video, is that you can see how everyone is involved in the creation of their own little story. You can see how people dash in front of each other, avoid each other or sometimes interact, while at the same time being so thoroughly focused on this little screen, shut off from the chaos surrounding them. While recording, I felt myself disappear in the room.

The recording was a lot of fun, and also a bit messy. Getting 25 to 30 participants to start at the same time, to move around in a rather small space, while talking about many different things was particularly hectic. This aspect of the workshop highlighted the immense effort and detail that is needed to have such a set up run smoothly, as it did for Situation Rooms.

After our recordings, we switched smartphones and headphones with each other, and were to follow the story that someone else had created. Like Situation Rooms, we had to match the image on screen with the image in our real surroundings. One participant invited me to follow her on her quest for Narnia, leading to a quite exciting and playful exploration of the otherwise rather boring spaces. Another participant used mainly the images of the recording to tell her story, leading me to a powerful moment where I was making eye contact with a virtual girl, looking at me with a combination of shyness and seduction. This moment was even more powerful in its execution, for in real life, there was not a girl in front of me, but rather a guy who was as absorbed in the smartphone in his hand as I was in mine. This moment of strong connection between me and the virtual girl was juxtaposed by the disconnectedness between me and the guy in real life. This moment is in some way a good illustration of the blurring of realities that Situation Rooms can bring about.

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The second part of the workshop, we played around with a different technology. Guidigo is a software program that is focused on location based content. The idea is that when you approach a specific location, and audio-file will start playing. We were sent out into public space to look for locations we could tell stories about. One of the stories I listened to required me to stand on a bridge over the canal. I started playing the recording, and I heard a girl talk about the movie she and an unknown friend just watched. My eyes were drawn to the movie theatre, right next to the bridge, and I could imagine her and her friend walking out. While talking, it became clear this girl was on a date, and together they crossed the street to enter a café, which was there in the real world. And, as a good dramatic story goes, that is where she breaks up with him. In this brief moment, again only about 2 minutes long, I was invited in my own private sphere to experience a memory, a ghost of the past that has taken place here. The familiar street to me, that I associate with that dirty movie theatre that I do not wish to visit, turned into a place where a lot of romance has taken place, and has also been shut down. The story was very plot-driven, and perhaps not all that inventive, but it was very strong and led me to experience different spheres of reality, just as Rimini Protokoll themselves wish to do.

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By playing with the technologies, the participants were able to better understand the strategies Rimini Protokoll use. The workshop managed to make Rimini Protokoll’s strategies, discussed during the previous evening’s lecture, more tangible. With this workshop, there was also room for experimentation, to try out different things with these technologies. While talking to some other participants we noted that the way the workshop was set up did not leave a lot of room to delve more deeper into the strategies at hand and to really develop something. There was a desire for more room, more time, and more reflection, feedback and refining, as is often the case with workshops. The materials at hand were inspiring and exciting, and we were left wanting for more.

In a brief talk that I had with Schipper afterwards, I asked the question whether these kinds of workshops are not only interesting for the participants but also for makers. Schipper replied that workshops lend themselves quite nicely for testing things out. As I touched upon in the last blog, rehearsals are being used not as a final testing of the technology, but as a way of exploring technology and figuring out how to develop it further. Workshops can be moments where more than just the makers can get their hands on a certain technology and figure out what works and what does not. As this particular workshop focused on the technology of Situation Rooms, a project that is already concluded, and because the technology for Rimini Protokoll’s current project is still too early in development, this workshop could not provide such an opportunity. I believe that this is most certainly something we could come back to in due time.

In the final blogpost I wrap up this series by zooming out. The final blogpost will specifically address the aspect of exchange between different parties involved, and future opportunities. Stay tuned!