Festival Transamériques (FTA) 2017: Interview with Rimini Protokoll Re 100% Montréal director Stefan Kaegi

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Preface to   Festival Transamériques (FTA) 2017 – Interview with Interview Rimini Protokoll from Berlin Presents – 100% Montreal

 How does a city represent itself? I mean really represent itself. Represent itself, not in the proportions of a kind of advertising campaign, but rather with it’s true fabric- revealing its very marrow, or as might be said in French, “dans sa veritable chair”. The representation of a city has huge implications. That is – how a city is represented is very high stakes, first for the very life bread of a city- it’ s economy. A city which promotes itself as welcoming thus might attract a larger number of “qualified” individuals that can add to its professional class and provide the very oil that can run the city’s engine, and then of course higher economic gain, tax dollars, and ultimately a better way of life “for all”.

Of course, any forward thinking contemporary person knows that a city’s realities, despite its economic power might fall short of that “for all”. The real stakes of the “for all” are part of a larger equation, an equation that might not always be the primary interest of the very architects of the city, although this “for all” might be part of the rhetoric of their framing the city, spoken at those very critical beginnings and junctures that decide a city’s next breaths of growth.

Many years ago, the urban city guru Richard Florida, at the big $ invitation of the City of Montreal had encouraged what many feel were his questionable suggestions on the vitality of his own idea of the creative class (a specific looking and thinking creative class he defined in limited and specific demographic terms) being (as he deemed)a necessary group (in that specific demographic he cited)  to come to cities, almost like a colonial entity, but of course all in the interest of “everyone’s” prosperity.

http://rcaaq.org/html/en/actualites/expositions_details.php?id=5328

https://www.thestar.com/news/insight/2009/06/27/why_richard_floridas_honeymoon_is_over.html

http://www.lapresse.ca/debats/chroniques/rima-elkouri/201001/13/01-938555-mefiez-vous-des-gourous-creatifs.php

To be sure, whatever one’s assessments of Florida’s suggestions (some of whose idea of the  necessity of creativity for a city certainly rang true, but of course with possibly a limited window of who would be doing that creativity), the city-culture intelligentsia of cities like Montreal were gaga-eyed over the “then” trending Richard Florida, who  according to many felt he told these cities what they wanted to hear.

http://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/telling-us-what-we-want-to-hear

https://maisonneuve.org/article/2005/02/9/creative-class-war/

So fast forward to Montreal at its 375th anniversary and what of this city that Florida once named the secret gem of North America, only to years later retract these ideas on Montreal, and also to years later retract much of the power he felt his particular theory of the creative class held for cities.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/programs/metromorning/richard-florida-new-urban-crisis-1.4104213

The avant-garde theatre festival (FTA) Festival Transamériques has consecrated the task of giving a snapshot of what Montreal is, to the German theatre collective Rimini Protokoll, through their 100% project, which has been done across the globe.  And as they have said in our interview, they definitely have not just a created a portrait of Montreal’s creative class, but as their 100% Montreal program says …

“Just who are Montrealers, and what’s on their minds? Onstage 100 citizens portray 100% of the city’s population. Men, women or trans, adults, children and teenagers, atheists, Muslims and Jews, they draw a map of Montreal in a vibrant, exhilarating exercise in self-portrayal.

In this survey probe by the masters of documentary theatre the Rimini Protokoll collective, Montrealers will see themselves as they really are. Who avoids paying taxes? Who is against the wearing of the veil in public places? Who has cheated on his/her lover or spouse? Without any filters, without beating around the bush, the courageous participants of 100 % Montréal respond to all questions, both the banal and the very serious. Moving onstage as though in an organic diagram–never have statistics been so full of life!–they incarnate public opinion in sensitive fashion, dramatically revealing its unpredictable movements. A candid look at the multiple identities of our city.( From the FTA Program)

We sat down with two of the participants of 100% Montreal and with director…to discuss the ins and outs, of first choosing a representative sample of Montreal and then of initiating real talk among 100 Montrealers, on Montreal’s its 375th anniversary .

100% Montreal is a valiant attempt in its scale;  the project might have missed have not been a platform for certain particular “silently visible”  demographics like those born in the Montreal of foreign parents, feeling neither from here nor there . But then, “internal exile” might come in all shapes and forms.

The candid discussion of how many felt about trans and gay identity was a highlight of the project, according to the director. But, at the end of the day, the project’s goal is to give air to such occlusions and silences (and there are many) (yes beyond what some might consider the “vapid” lives of Richard Florida’s creative class) and as we see in the interview with two participants and  the director, 100 % Montreal certainly might have enough fodder and luminous elucidations about the pleasure and pains of being in and around 100 % Montreal,  living and playing in Canada’s French-Canadian gem, Montréal. Ultimately, a message of coexistence seems to have emanated from this grand scale documentary installation.

 Interview with Rimini Protokoll Re 100% Montréal director Stefan Kaegi

James Oscar:

How do you embed yourself, in the same sense a war reporter might embed themselves with a military unit. How do you get embedded so that “as someone from outside”, to get an accurate snapshot of representing Montreal on stage in your 100% Montreal?

Stefan Kaegi Rimini Protokoll:

I think that is not our strategy. We are inviting the whole troop/ troupe, if you want to stick to the army terms, to do something with us here. Different from If I was an actor and I needed to perform 100% Montreal and not being from the city, I would try and go into the city and get into the mood, like method acting and then I would go onstage and then very “fakely” represent, but I am not going on stage. We’re just actually helping the Montrealers to go on stage. The sensitive and complex part of it is how to find, to identify 100 people, that kind of representative. How to find the right stringers. Our strategy is that we were here a year ago I made contact with a friend of a friend from the statistical office and we started talking about how to represent the city, and we looked at numbers.

First, we tried to define gender percentages-  48% male/ 52% female would have to be onstage. We also have a trans participant which is not in the city statistics but we felt this represents the city as well. And then age groups and immigrants- but there was a discussion with them- do we go by passport, by parents birth/ origin. And so we decided for birthplace. We went by precise percent, so like in the case of the Haitian community, they represent 3% of Montreal’s population, so we included three Haitians. Then we go by neighbourhoods- five zones etc. Structures of household etc.

So we chose the statistician, who was a friend of a friend, to be the first one. Then we decided, we don’t choose the people because anyways we don’t know the city so how would we be able to choose. But also, we said also said the Festival should also not choose the 100 people, because they mainly know people from the theatre world, which is probably less than 1% of the population. So we said he,  statistician choose one, then he chose the next- the friend of his daughter, who is a different gender, age, and from a different neighbourhood. Then she chose her best friend, then that person chose their mother, mother chose pupil, pupil chose sister, and so on and so on.

James Oscar:

But aren’t you staying within a similar chain of related people? Don’t you think since you went from this person to that person, they might have more of a chance of sharing similar opinions?

(He shows me the book 100% Montreal they have printed that shows and describes each of the 100 Montrealers that were chosen. The selection started with a man from the statistical bureau, then his daughter, then a friend or classmate then mother of a classmate, then cousin of classmate, then a work friend etc until hopefully towards the 100th person, a far unconnected distance and difference might be arrived at, from the initial first link.)

Stefan Kaegi Rimini Protokoll:

No, we started with the statistician, a white man from Outremont. And you know the social experiment of six degrees of separation anyways. And they (the participants) would have never met if this project had happened. Anyways, we will see and there is a different thing we need to take care of. When we come with an invitation to take part in a cultural project, there will always be those who  say, ” Oh I have a friend and he loves theatre and he would love to participate”. But there, we always say no. No art lovers as well.

James Oscar:

So I guess what you are saying is that by the 100th person, there is no relationship to that first person.

Stefan Kaegi Rimini Protokoll:

Yeah, and there is also the fact that after 60th or 70th person chosen along this string, it becomes too complex for this one to find someone with similar ideas, because everyone in her age group, neighbourhood, in her migration structure might be gone to choose from. Our production coordinator Laurence also made sure we had people with conservative values and opinions since such a project has a certain kind of tolerance inscribed, whether you want or not , and so it is easier to find multicultural tolerant, so she made sure there were people with conservative values and opinions. And of course, we need these other ones and we do have them in the piece.

James Oscar:

I heard there was some contention about French vs English language that came up?

Stefan Kaegi Rimini Protokoll:

Yeah, there were tensions. If you squeeze the whole city into it and if and when some participants saw and  for instance said “how many people speak English and this is not my city”. This has happened. There were also tensions around the trans -woman. I was very shocked to hear about how many people were against gay adoption.

James Oscar:

Yeah, because you are asking the participants question during the show.

Stefan Kaegi Rimini Protokoll:

Yes, the show is that we form groups of people that might have had the same experiences. For instance, we ask people if they have been in a war and who has served as a soldier. And it is a very interesting group because you have some people that been in Congo and been involved in a war and we have a young woman who has worked as a psychologist for Canadian troops and never been to a war. So you have interesting combinations of who has thought of suicide and you have younger and older who stand together for all types of reasons in this group.

James Oscar:

And what do you think this can bring to a city like Montreal.

Stefan Kaegi Rimini Protokoll:

It is a bit what theatre always does. It tries to be a mirror of the society. I am not sure it will be a mirror to the audience because that is another question. Who is sitting in a theatre like this and who comes to the Festival Transamériques. But here our oldest participant, (he calls to her but she does not hear him). She is 88 years old and she has a very different mind view. She says when she grew up, it was all catholic here and she told me that at 7pm in the evening when she was young in Montreal, they were broadcasting prayers through the radio and she would go along with the radio and pray the rosaries, so it is a very different Montreal than after. She says that Expo 67 was the moment of a flip-  when Montreal suddenly turned into an international and kind of scary for society.

James Oscar:

Did she talk about that in stage or private interviews?

Stefan Kaegi Rimini Protokoll:

A bit of both

James Oscar:

So in terms of this being what is called documentary theatre. Does this just remain documentary?

Stefan Kaegi Rimini Protokoll:

It is tricky to say it is a documentary. On one hand, it tries to be. It comes along with this gesture of anthropological study and we try and be as scientific as possible, going through the numbers. But then again, what we create here is a public…for instance if one of our questions to the participants on stage is, “Who betrayed their partners?” In the space that is designated for people who answer yes to that, is a certain group who may not want to stand there, because they might know people in the audience who know them and they don’t want to be seen standing there. Also, there is a bit of artificiality in the set up that comes- music , light , video that often may it look like an opera production.

James Oscar:

But fiction can bring truth also?

Stefan Kaegi Rimini Protokoll:

Yeah, and 100% Montreal is definitely telling about the city. It is authentic or not, there are so many layers of authenticity. They are who they are saying who they are, but we rehearsed so do we transform that into something else or not. I don’t know. Transform it into something more musical? It is the numbers and the faces behind those numbers.

James Oscar:

One last one. I and a lot of my critical community are always suspicious of the early successes of the urban planner Richard Florida to influence the city about the relationship of governmentality to culture through an idea of a specifically included and excluded demographics of a particular creative class he specified being necessity to building successful cities. The fear being that culture and various other terms that come along with it like diversity often being promulgated via a governmental voice and even arts organizations starting to follow the government’s approach to how these issues are treated. Using culture to form their own agenda filled ideas of exclusion and inclusion. You Rimini Protokoll 100 % Montreal looks like an amazing citizen initiative. Why do you think something like this is important to do as a citizen and not as a member of the government.

(Off- interview: One should recall the previous Parti Québecois government’s attempts at having citizen express their views about they felt about others in their community: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HW9TWmj3qp4)

In this regard citizen initiatives like Rimini Protokolll’s 100 % Montreal are of utmost necessity.

Stefan Kaegi Rimini Protokoll:

This is not just a community initiative. For instance, it is important we pay the performers. For instance, we have a contract with them. It is not that they should be volunteering for this. This is necessary because if not we would only get the tolerant, open minded people that are happy to be on stage and express themselves (he laughs), and I do not want to see that 100% Montreal crowd because that will no be the city. So for us, it is about representation as theatre always is in that sense as before the King was the one being represented in Baroque theatre. Now we are living in a democracy so we should represent the people. And it’s a complex thing -what the people is and that is the interesting side of it to ask, as well, then there are problems with it because if for instance, there are 40000/ 60000 “sans-papers” in this city. No one knows exactly where they are and we cannot have on stage because they are not in the stats. Because if they show themselves and say they are sans-papiers, they may have problems. There are limits to this work and maybe… so that the “representativity”of it, the government-like is interesting because on stage we are almost like a parliament, trying to represent, but a parliament does not have children, does not have uneducated people, does not have certain age groups, and certain migration groups that would not be speaking the language. So we might be a little closer than what the representation is than a government parliament, but then again our decisions will not be executed out there, but it probably might be better that way.

http://culture.ckut.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/100-Percent-2.m4a