Uncanny Valley

Unheimliches Tal

Rimini Protokoll (Germany)

Text, concept, directing: Stefan Kaegi

Text, body, voice: Thomas Melle

 

Equipment: Evi Bauer

Animatronic: Chiscreatures Filmeffects GmbH

Artistic body design: Tommy Opatz

Dramaturgy: Martin Valdés-Stauber

Video design: Mikko Gaestel

Music, sound design: Nicolas Neecke

Prodiuser: Rimini Protokoll

Performers’ rights: Rowohlt Theatre Verlag, Reinbek and Hamburg

 

Premiere: 2018

Duration: 1 h

 

The performance Rimini Protokoll was created by Münchner Kammerspiele, together with Berliner Festspiele – Immersion, donaufestival (Krems), Feodor Elutine (Moscow), FOG Triennale Milano Performing Arts (Milan), Temporada Alta – Festival de Tador de Catalunya (Girona). French version – co-produced with Théâtre Vidy (Lausanne), unique work – Nantes Center for Contemporary Culture, Paris Cultural Center, la Villette, Les 2 Scènes, Scène nationale de Besançon Lab e23.

 

DATES: 28 September, 18:30; 29 September, 17:30 and 20:00

VENUE: Lithuanian National Drama Theatre (Gedimino av. 4), Second Stage

Rimini Protokoll invites us to a one-actor play, but that actor is not human. It is a humanoid robot that is not only constructed to be externally a copy of the playwright Thomas Melle, but also speaks in his voice, his gestures, and tells his autobiographical story. This story is a fragile and sensitive journey into the world of a person suffering from bipolar disorder. Will robots be able to replace us in the future, when we are betrayed by our own bodies and health? Has our body not become so dependent on the technology around us that the moment we forget our cell phone at home, do we feel something like the phantom pain of an amputated limb?

Kristina Savickienė

Artistic Director of the Festival

 

Uncanny Valley is a term first used by Japanese robot maker Masahiro Mori to notice that our desire to create robots as closely resembling to ourselves as possible is suppressed when we reach what is called the uncanny valley. It is a state where we begin to feel uncomfortable seeing a robot that is very reminiscent of us, yet not human, and this feeling is betrayed by the abundance of details that are captured by our subconscious.

 

We usually think of robots as work machines, as efficient and accurate task performers. In German industry, they barely look like people to avoid emotional complications. Unlike in Asia, where humanoid robots have been developed for some time, for example, for care work or as sex partners. The external resemblance to humans facilitates the acceptance of machines. But if a robot is too much like a human, we begin to feel insecure: what is a human, what is a robot-machine?

 

Stefan Kaegi, a well-known director in Lithuania, in this play is working together with writer and playwright Thomas Melle for the first time, who, for the realization of an ambitious creative idea, was not afraid to let him create his own copy – an animatronic robot. On stage this humanoid narrates a monologue written by Melle and asks questions: what does it mean for the original when a copy takes over? Does the original know itself better through its electronic backup? Do the copy and its original compete or help each other?

 

Theater, as a living art, basically has the opportunity to take a very close look at the present, to stage coexistence in the present tense. Because much of our effort, creativity, and debate in the post-industrial age is about how we want to live together, theater is the art of the age — an art that doesn’t separate us from each other, but pulls us out from behind our screens. We must not allow theater to degenerate into its own purpose, but to use this social space to critically question the complex problems of our time. Of course, this includes socio-economic power relations, which seem to leave less and less room for maneuver for policy-makers (or politicians in general). Theater will continue to outwit reality in the future

Stefan Kaegi

 

About the creator

The Lithuanian audience is already rather familiar with the works of the Swiss Stefan Kaegi: in 2005’s Sirenos the Rimini Protokoll’s troupe presented performance Sabenation, in 2015 the Rimini Protokoll project Remote Vilnius was implemented at the Lithuanian National Drama Theater, and in 2016 interactive installation-performance Nachlass, Pieces Sans Personnes created by Kaegi. In 2020, Stefan Kaegi participated in the Sirenos educational program: he conducted creative workshops for theater spectators and professionals.

 

In the 2000s, the artist, together with the Germans Helgard Haug and Daniel Wetzel, created the group Rimini Protokoll. The creator has received the European Prize for Cultural Diversity, the Grand Prize of the Swiss Theater – Hans Reinhart’s Ring, and the Rimini Protokoll has already been awarded the Faust Theater Prize, the European Prize for New Theater Forms and the Silver Lion at the Venice Biennale.

 

By using research as a creative method, conducting public inquiries, and engaging people in creative processes, the artist gives voice to “experts” who are not professional actors but have something to say. Creators of interdisciplinary art perform their work in urban spaces, parks, churches, abandoned buildings, where, with the help of the media, viewers or listeners themselves become actors.

 

***

It’s easy to forget for a moment that the version of Melle before us is a machine. His face is as gentle as human’s, he is growing bold, sometimes stumbles over his words – everything is designed to make him look “real” to make the audience feel empathetic. Then his foot turns at a strange angle and the artificial nature is confirmed again; the fact that it is not a man but a silicone skin stretched over the parts of the machine, each of its gestures is pre-programmed in the same way as the other elements of the show: lighting or audible signals. […] The “Uncanny Valley” is both a philosophical and a technical exercise: less about robots, more about our own pre-programming.

 

Natasha Tripney / The Stage

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