Why Theatre XL! program “Playful Participation” with Rimini Protokoll (3)
Written by Guido Jansen – part 3 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 previous blogs, I reported on the lecture and the workshop held by Rimini Protokoll. Along with showing you what these activities were about, I asked some questions about how these activities were a kind of exchange. In this third and final blogpost I take the time to reflect on those questions and present some further thoughts.
Before we begin I think we need to answer another question. Why would we discuss the topic of exchange to begin with? It has to do with the valorisation of knowledge. Put short, this means the various ways in which the university meaningfully employs its knowledge and expertise in partnerships to contribute to society and the professional field. From this follows the need to reflect on the collaboration with various partners, in order to think about how they constituted a meaningful exchange. Central to this topic for me is how the form of exchange can be mutually beneficial.
With this perspective in mind, these particular activities are more specific than just a collaboration between the university and professionals in the field. Different academies and multiple partners from the field were involved in making this exchange possible and each in their own way contributed to what and in what way knowledge and expertise was exchanged. So let us look back at how this took place.
With regards to the lecture I have noted in the first blogpost how it established a common ground for all participants, both the visitors and the respondents, about how gaming elements are part of Rimini Protokoll’s work. Each respondent asked questions from their own practice in working with, or researching gaming aspects. This helped to deepen the discussion about the work. In a way the lecture served as a round of questions for the practitioners. Rimini Protokoll were invited to share their own professional knowledge and expertise, and the academic respondents and audience were mostly contributing from the receiving end. Although this led to a lot of valuable insights about the topic, I was left wondering how all parties involved can engage with one another on a more equal level. What if we could facilitate a public moment where experts with different perspectives regarding a particular topic can come together to collectively engage with a shared problem? Lectures like these could function even more as meeting points for experts and utilize the shared presence to its best.
So what does this means for the position of the audience? As anyone who has worked in groups knows, the larger the group the harder it is to coordinate collaborations. The size of the lecture audience makes direct participation difficult or near impossible. With that comes the question whether or not it is useful to have these mutual exchanges between partners be public, if no-one can contribute. This sparks in my mind the image of an operating theatre in a hospital. What if these lectures could function in a similar manner? The audience will be able to see ‘the professionals/colleagues at work’ and be invited to the working and thinking process. When aspects of the lecture then resonate with some of the audience members (as we have seen happening), the audience member could have the opportunity to pick up conversation afterwards and in his or her own way contribute to the process or reflect on it. The difference with a regular talk at the bar is the presence to the process and knowledge of the different choices and considerations. By thinking about such a lecture as an operating theatre, we can create an openness that does not require anyone to present finished products but rather engage with questions. And the audience-member wouldn’t have to be excluded from this.
So in what way does the workshop relate to this? The workshop allowed the different educational partners to delve into the strategies discussed the evening before, creating a further understanding of Rimini Protokoll’s work, and also allowing to appropriate these strategies. In the second post I also noted that we are left wanting for more, as the workshop offered too little time to develop one’s own strategies and reflect on them. The setup of the workshop provided the participants with the tools to orientate and explore. However the setup did not provide enough space to employ the knowledge and expertise of the participants to reflect on what we have at hand and thereby limited the possibility for mutual exchange.
The partnering academies all approach their topics differently. And it is these shared skills and insights that can really make a workshop lie this beneficial not only for the participants but also for the professionals giving them. By organizing a workshop that is less based on an giving-receiving format but more as a shared process I believe new insights can be generated for all involved. Students will be able to try out and experience what knowledge and expertise they have learned and how they can apply them in practice. Professionals can contribute their own questions and experience with the topic at hand and thereby receive input for their own work. Makers can refine their methods and technologies. Immanual Schipper said the workshop could be a great moment for just this.
Although notions like openness and process have many connotations I believe them to be central to the academic attitude. When you do research you go beyond what you know and acknowledge what you do not know yet. Research may lead to finished projects that can contribute to society and the field, of course, but there are many possible processes leading up to that. By opening up these processes, we can create more room for shared knowledge and expertise.
This last blog has pointed out some aspects of the past activities to reflect on the way they took place, and to highlight some ideas regarding organizing mutual exchange. I believe these ideas can be shared between all different kinds of formats, workshops and exchanges, regardless of what field or discipline we are in. And with these ideas I hope to have inspired some organizers to try out different formats and open up processes to further kindle real exchanges.