Rimini Protokoll: 100% Montréal An island, a city

Rimini Protokoll 100%City
© Rimini Protokoll/Hackney Theatre

What do we share with the other residents of our city? A space, certainly, but beyond that? Values? Beliefs? Principles? These are the types of questions that the play by Rimini Protokoll tries to answer, opening up the stage to 100 Montreal residents of all backgrounds. What the participants of 100% Montréal say is often touching, endearing, sometimes moving, and at times disturbing. Does this reflect a collective whose members generally prefer consensus over confrontation?

It is certain that the performance triggers the spectators to undergo a real test of conscience. Whenever the group – an accurate sample of Montreal’s demography – is being asked a question, we feel compelled answer it ourselves. Our answers and the answers given by the microcosm on the stage show openness, both in spirit and in the heart, but also the fear that seizes us in front of the Other, the Elsewhere and the Unknown. Whether it’s language, sexuality, religion, money, the environment or identity, fear is always there to petrify the citizens, and lure them into immobility, wistfulness and retreat. Luckily, there are the children, acting like free electrons and adding a healthy dosage of hope to the mix.
 
On the evening of the premiere at the Festival TransAmériques, on the stage of the Jean-Duceppe Theatre, there is still some oil missing in the gears of this big popular ball, which is to be expected. To make the numbers speak, Helgard Haug, Stefan Kaegi and Daniel Wetzel use various and often ingenious devices. The participants roam the stage, galvanised by the music of the band Navet confit. They express themselves on boards, posters and colourful signs and with flashlights. They even mimic, all together, their daily routine hour by hour, which is certainly one of the most accomplished instances of the performance.
 
Technology has given the citizens of the world the means to be closer to each other, this has not necessarily facilitated the encounter of residents living in the same city. Here the play acts like a counterpoint to social media, allowing the participants to discover their neighbours, leave their bubble, their familiar circle to see and listen to people who think, vote, eat, and pray differently. And to come to the conclusion that our differences are indeed assets, namely the forces that constitute one and the same society.
 
There are some individuals whose opinions shock us, and others, luckily the majority, who directly speak to our hearts. We follow these men and women on the stage, curious to hear their answers, hoping to learn more about them. It is probably for that reason, to extend the pleasure, refresh the memory, and nourish the reflection, that the theatre company Rimini Protokoll had the great idea to hand out a booklet to everyone in the audience with brief portraits of all the participants. On these pages you’ll find a humanity that is unfortunately somewhat missing from the performance.
 

  • Rimini Protokoll 100%City © Sandra Then
    Rimini Protokoll 100%City
  • Rimini Protokoll 100%Dresden © Pigi Psimenou
    Rimini Protokoll 100%Dresden
  • Rimini Protokoll 100%Yogyakarta © Ramon Pane
    Rimini Protokoll 100%Yogyakarta
  • Rimini Protokoll 100%Dresden © Pigi Psimenou
    Rimini Protokoll 100%Dresden
  • Rimini Protokoll 100%City © Rimini Protokoll
    Rimini Protokoll 100%City
  • Rimini Protokoll 100%Paris © William Beaucardet
    Rimini Protokoll 100%Paris
  • Rimini Protokoll 100%City © Sandra Then
    Rimini Protokoll 100%City

Living pictures

Interview with Helgard Haug and Stefan Kaegi from Rimini Protokoll

In what way do the participants in 100%Montréal represent all of the city’s residents?

Stefan Kaegi: They obviously do not literally represent them. It would take a gigantic outdoor theatre to fit the 1.9 million Montreal residents. It is rather a sample based on five criteria: gender, age, birthplace, neighbourhood and household structure.
 
Helgard Haug: The first participant is always the person providing us with the statistics, in this case the census numbers from 2011. In Montreal, this was Benoit Van de Walle who works in the city’s statistics team. We had given him 24 hours to recommend the second participant, and through the ensuing chain reaction, we reached the goal of 100 individuals. Therefore, there is a connection, albeit a remote one, between all the people we recruited. We asked the immigration consultant Florence Béland to supervise the entire process to make sure that the participants recruit others outside their immediate network so there are artists and businesspeople, people from the right and the left political spectrum, rich and poor.
 
How did the rehearsals go?

H. H.: Up to now, we have only assembled 25 individuals at once. But tomorrow we will have all the participants together for the first time. We have only a little time to get to know them, to let them talk about themselves and then put everything on the stage, a total of about 20 hours. Right from the beginning, we asked them to split into men and women and we realised that’s already a topic for a discussion. Some complied without hesitation, others said they had changed their gender and yet a third group questioned the meaning of these words altogether.
 
S. K.: To be honest, this play shows how limited statistics really are, how they pigeonhole people, how these preconceived categories very often do not fit and define them. While the play is based on statistics and attempts to interpret the figures, it quickly broke free from them and explored the gray zones among all the categories and the complex lives that take place behind the numbers.
 
What exactly happens on the stage?

S. K.: At the beginning, in order to answer the questions they are being asked, the participants position themselves on the right and left side of the stage as for a group picture. However, the same answer can come from completely different life stories. For example, among the people who answered positively to the question, “Have you served in the military?,” there is a man who has fought in Africa, and a petite, fragile woman whom you would never imagine being in the army. And, right next to her, a refugee who risked his life. The play brings people together in an unusual manner and draws astonishing parallels between their existences. The answers by some individuals reveal fascinating paradoxes. The play draws the big picture. However, by following individuals on stage who catch our attention we reveal the full extent of the complexity of human life.
 
H. H.: It is like a game, a question-and-answer game for which the rules are laid out from the start. Sometimes it’s playful and sometimes it’s serious. Beyond the facts and figures, there are the stories and emotions. This is why we ask the participants to speak up and to offer fragments of their life stories. Those stories are much more powerful than percentages, and much more revealing. 
 
What topics do the residents of Montreal discuss on stage?

H. H.: They are talking about a wide range of subjects in a very frank manner. People are not shy to express their opinions. Generally, the participants say they are satisfied with their life in Montreal. Without wanting to cover up this feeling, and without ignoring the quality of life and the striking open-mindedness that seems to characterise the city of Montreal, we want to shed light on the problems and shortcomings. Sure, the play is performed on the occasion of the city’s 375th anniversary. We are, however, not here to promote Montreal. Among the reasons for frustration that we have encountered so far is the language issue. You clearly feel that there is a linguistic battle going on. Some people are not satisfied with the ecological situation. Several others complain about road works. People talk about unemployment or the difficulty to find a job in one’s field. Two or three individuals demand the right to die with dignity.
 
S. K.: Several cultural groups are visually represented on the stage. It is a very colourful scene, especially if you compare it with a country like South Korea where only 1% of the participants said they were born in another country. There are more Haitians than French or US-Americans in Montreal, which surprised us. Some immigrants have very interesting histories; their stories how they ended up in this city are often complex and moving. We were also surprised that some members of the group, first-generation immigrants themselves or from immigrant families, responded “yes” to the question whether there are too many immigrants in Montreal.
 
What do the participants and the audience get out of the play?

H. H.: The play offers an outstanding opportunity to get in touch with one’s city and its cultures, the concerns, joys and pains of its residents, and to dive into a society beyond the obvious and the commonplace.
 
S. K.: For me, the most beautiful outcome of the play is to assemble individuals who live in the same city, the same neighbourhood, who in fact are often neighbours, but would have otherwise never spoken to each other. This gives the play an almost anthropological approach. It connects the different communities and hands the city residents a mirror to view themselves, thus drawing a rather accurate image of the complex society to which they belong. 
 

Rimini Protokoll: 100% Montréal is supported by the Goethe-Institut, the Federal Foreign Office of Germany, and was presented as part of “Germany@Canada 2017 - Partners from Immigration to Innovation”.