Best Before – Rimini Protokoll Stages a Multi-Player Game in Vancouver
Vancouver is a young city. It was founded 125 years ago on flat headlands between foothills of the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, and has been growing rapidly ever since. With a population of 2.2 million in the greater metropolitan area, including 50 per cent residents of foreign origin, and with nearly full employment, Vancouver always stands in polls about the “Best Town” in one of the top three places. The game industry is an important economic factor in Vancouver. The Californian “Electronic Arts”, one of the most successful global players in this branch with an annual profit of over $3.6 billion, employs over 1,500 people in Vancouver. This city, the demographic statistics, and the game industry and its products form the core of the latest production of Rimini Protokoll. With a variety of productions using “non-professional actors”, so-called “experts of daily life”, and works dispensing with literary models, the award-winning collective of three has established a contemporary form of documentary theater that not only gives us new insights into areas which we often overlook in everyday life, but also repeatedly and enchantingly celebrates the diversity of people.
Birth by pressing a button
Now in Best Before, Helgard Haug and Stephan Kaegi send not only their “experts” on stage, but also fetch each individual viewer, represented by a colorful, tubby avatar, onto the big screen. Granview-Woodlands, a quarter settled mainly by Italian immigrants, is a quiet place with a spectacular eastern view of downtown. In 2010, thanks to private support, a 100-year-old church was converted into a small multi-functional theater which, with its tiers of 200 plush seats, exudes the flair of a small opera house. This year “The Cultch”, as it is called, is one of the main venues of the annual performance festival PuSh. All together they have realized the following multi-player game. At each seat there is a game controller, like one from Playstation, which controls the avatars. The playing field is projected on a gigantic screen. The setting is reminiscent less of the most recent 3D video games than of PacMan or an early version of the Sims. In “Bestland”, as this virtual country is called, everyone is born in equal conditions and with equal opportunities. The currency is called the “besto” and each player’s wealth, property and skills depend upon the decisions he makes in the course of “his life”. “You are about to be born”, announces the game manager. “You still look like colorful little candies, but that’s because you haven’t been born yet.”
Avatars as leading actors
Brady Marks is one of the five experts this evening. Born in South Africa, she is one of Canada’s many immigrants. She is a programmer and now works mainly for art and theater projects. She wrote the tens of thousands of lines long script for Best Before. Brady leads row after row of the audience to their avatars, invites them to perform activities (“jump where you are”) and guides us, keyboard in hand, through life. Ron Samworth, in cowboy hat and with guitar, is the musical accompaniment to the game, providing it with a live-soundtrack. Ellen Schultz worked for a long time as a print journalist, but frustrated by the bad news she had to report, decided to do something “real out there”. Now she is a flagger at one of the countless construction sites in pre-Olympic Vancouver, directing traffic Duff Armour knocks his thigh against a table edge and doggedly tries “to push it through the table”, demonstrating his work as a (now unemployed) game tester. Eight hours a day he tested whether objects in a game behaved “properly”. Bob Williams is a retired urban planner and politician who loves the wilderness. At the point in “Bestland” when the female avatars become pregnant (at 15), Bob tells of his mother, who gave birth to him when she was that age. The “experts” moderate the game, counting the seasons, pressing for decisions and again and again giving insights into their “real” biographies, which are in turn linked with events in virtual “Bestland”.
The life of society in 90 minutes
After birth, we choose our sex and are assigned a name. We then pass our lives as individuals and parts of society, making political and personal decisions, falling ill, paying taxes, taking a profession, electing a president, waging war, having children, growing older and earning money. With every “besto” earned, our avatar grows, which in the course of the 110 game years affords him somewhat more resistance against the icy wind of death. But even the biggest “sphere” must die, and so after a two-hour evening at the theater and a whole lifetime, only a few abandoned orphans remain on the green plain of Bestland. In the foyer, talk is not the usual talk about the staging or the expert performers. The only subject is the real actors, the 200 avatars, and in particular each participant’s alter ego. We tell each other how life was, what sex we had, what profession we followed and when we died. A sign that the game works and that the production has been a success.
The author is a dramaturge and lecturer in dramaturgy. He directs the SNF Research Project “Yearning for Authenticity” at the Zurich University of the Arts.
Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
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