A phone is ringing in an empty office at the IDS Tower in Minneapolis … it’s for you. Answer it and embark on a journey that crosses continents, dissolves borders between audience and performer, and challenges cultural expectations. During the hourlong conversation with a call-center agent in India, everyday life is turned into theater, surprises are revealed, and our highly networked world is made more human. German collective Rimini Protokoll has created “a thrillingly intimate production, which asks us to make the decision to be an audience member in an unusually active way” (Time Out New York).
There’s a certain irony in using a capitalistic sales-service structure to spark memorable and genuine connections between people—not least because in today’s “experience economy,” those types of personal bonds have become valuable to corporations themselves. Beyond that, Call Cutta in a Box represents a potential new direction for performing arts in the digital age. Rimini Protokoll company members Daniel Wetzel, Helgard Haug, and Stefan Kaegi have been working for years with nonprofessionals to create “Reality Trend” performances, a powerful influence on the alternative theater scene. Past works include real-world truck drivers taking audiences on a tour tracing the flow of goods, a German adoptee exploring her roots in South Korea and the global adoption business, and last summer’s “appropriation” of the Daimler annual shareholders’ meeting in Berlin, remaking it into their own elaborate performance.
With Call Cutta in a Box, which departs from the idea of a production taking place on a stage, a host of new ideas emerge from the company’s established forms. “This play offers you an opportunity to talk to subjects on the backstage of the globalization process,” Wetzel told an interviewer.* But despite the bridges it forms between people, it’s not simply about creating a global conversation—it’s a carefully constructed artistic experience, one that highlights what Wetzel calls the “theatre of service.” As he explains it, “Without constant monitoring of his theatrical performance, the Eastern performer of Western service would lose his part—that is, his job.”
Of course, there are a number of factors to consider when bringing in business professionals to do the job of artistic professionals. The call-center workers in Call Cutta in a Box are sitting alongside colleagues who are serving customers everywhere from Europe to Australia. But as Wetzel points out, “our people don’t work under the pressure of sales rankings. And they are not pretending to be someone else located close to you; they’re not using fake names, but spelling their real ones.”
*The quotes above are excerpted from “Call It Call Cutta in a Box,” an interview with Daniel Wetzel by Barbara van Lindt in the 2008 program for Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Brussels. Click here for the full interview, in which Wetzel talks about the New York pizzerias who outsource their telephone ordering services to Calcutta call centers; the “widespread misunderstanding” that theatricality involves “obvious role-playing”; and the goal of Rimini Protokoll in “exploring theatre as a model for experience instead of representation.“
Click here to read about the Rimini Protokoll productions mentioned above, as well as others.
“In the last couple of years they have started appearing in Rimini Protokoll productions: people like you and me, without theatrical training or acting ambitions, with more or less interesting jobs and more or less ordinary backgrounds, people with hobbies, with illnesses … “experts” is a better term to describe these “amateurs,” and not only because “amateur” signifies deficiency while “expert” signifies competence. … click here for Eva Behrendt’s feature on how Rimini Protokoll give “centre stage to ‘experts on everyday life’.” (originally published in Theater Heute magazine)
Lyn Gardner in the Guardian UK on Breaking News, a Rimini Protokoll production in which “twenty-five TV monitors effectively turn the stage into a giant studio. You can see the world’s news unfolding in real time, instantly commented upon by experts who bring their own personal stories to bear on what you are viewing.”