The Scripted Realities of Rimini Protokoll

von Florian Malzacher

In: Dramaturgy of the Real on the World Stage. Hg. Carol Martin. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. 80-87.

Four women in their eighties, with their old voices and old bodies, pose as race-car drivers with signal flags, a stair lift, and zimmer frames for orientation. Speed, the proximity of death and the merging of bodies and technology are important themes in homes for the elderly as well as in Rimini Protokoll’s Kreuzworträtsel Boxenstopp (Crossword Pit Stop, 2000) with its fictional staging of “Formula 1” race resulting in astonishingly perceptive narratives about life at the end of life.

Rimini Protokoll is, in varying configurations, a company of three freelance directors, Helgard Haug, Stefan Kaegi and Daniel Wetzel, who without using actors or existing texts produce work on  major stages in important cities such as Hamburg, Vienna, Düsseldorf and Zurich. Since Kreuzworträtsel Boxenstopp the work of Haug, Kaegi and Wetzel has become unusually successful for a theatre group that does not work with actors, does not stage dramatic texts and does not fulfil the requirements of repertory theatre as it dominates German and most European stages. The members of Rimini Protokoll have been invited to the Berliner Theatertreffen twice (where theatre not created from dramatic texts is rarely represented) and recently were awarded the Mülheimer Dramatikerpreis and the Europe Prize for New Theatrical Realities. Tours of their new productions typically take place throughout Europe as well as in South America and India.

The reason for Rimini Protokoll’s success is in its presentation of a complex world in which the individual is fundamental and the truth is always a narrative. The company has hit a nerve amongst, somewhat exceptionally, theatre practitioners, critics and audiences alike, with theatre that is documentary in the sense of relating directly to the world as we experience it, an experience that often seems to evade our grasp. War, global market economy, capitalism, unemployment, old age, dying, and death all are Rimini Protokoll’s themes. They stake a claim for the particular, concrete person and against the politically generalized. Their version of documentary is one in which the very notion of documentary is juxtaposed with subjective experiences in which the individual and the social  are combined in a way that expands subjective perception.  While clear-cut theses, messages and opinions are avoided, Haug, Kaegi and Wetzel make, to loosely quote Godard, theatre political rather than political theatre.

Kreuzworträtsel Boxenstopp was the first collaborative work by Haug, Kaegi and Wetzel, three former students of the Institute of Applied Theatre Studies in Gießen/Germany. The premiere in November 2000 (before they had even given themselves the name Rimini Protokoll) exhibited almost all of the characteristics that have so unmistakably informed all their subsequent work. These characteristics include using non-professional performers as experts of both their own lives and of the everyday; the examination of the actual performance space and its surroundings (in the case of Kreuzworträtsel Boxenstopp, an old people’s home next door to the theatre); a text that is simultaneously documentary and literary and blends disparate research material (like old age and the staging of a fiction such as the “Formula 1” race) and bears clear traces of its own production; and, a dramaturgy that, like the text, developed from the material it discovered and  that always simultaneously protects and challenges the performers. Kreuzworträtsel Boxenstopp was in many respects not only the prototype for a number of major stage productions that followed, but also the starting point for site-specific projects, radio plays, audio installations, small documentaries and short profiles.