Have you ever been to the Alley with somebody who just couldn't sit still? Fidgeting, opening candy wrappers or – the worst-of-all-theater-going sins – checking his or her smart phone for likes? If so, then this new pedestrian-based live art experience might just be “up their alley.”
Creator Rimini Protokoll – an artists' collective based in Berlin, Germany – has produced “Remote X” more than a dozen times before, though Houston is only the fourth stop in the United States. “Remote Houston” is one of the offerings at this year's CounterCurrent16 festival, presented by the University of Houston Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts; the Alley Theatre is co-producing and will continue offering the guided audio tours after the festival closes.
Each tour is customized to take advantage of that city's secret passageways, barred entrances and undiscovered shortcuts, often beginning at somber locales. The Houston tour is 120 minutes long and begins in a somber location: Evergreen Cemetery.
Jörg Karrenbauer, Rimini Protokoll's co-director, says the idea behind the whole audio play is to ask the question, “What will happen with all our knowledge and all our experiences after our death,” and to explore how technology might one day extend our lives by preserving these experiences. “We start in a cemetery and start the tour from the death, and go back to the city and go back to the living,” says Karrenbauer. “Maybe the question is, 'Is technology helping us in the future to preserve it, or is it a promise, just to get information and get data?' That's the issue.”
Deep thoughts, indeed, but the tour has lighthearted moments as well. The script varies from city to city, but don't be surprised by flash mobs, impromptu dancing or simultaneous activities by the group of 50 participants who are sometimes walking, at other times taking public transportation. Plainclothes theatrical officers guide the horde and adjust the soundtrack for unpredictable events.
“The idea is to look on the city or to look a little bit at everyday life and search for the theatrical moment by itself, or any kind of performance that we are creating.” That “we” includes Stefan Kaegi (concept, script and direction), Nikolas Neecke (sound design) and Ilona Marti (director's assistance and sound editing). The advance team also includes local producers on the ground who are tasked with gaining permission to forbidden areas, unlocking gates and paving the way for this off-the-beaten-path tour.
Karrenbauer says that when we walk through a city while hearing a voice through headphones, it concentrates our view on certain spots. “You try to figure out your focus on the theatrical moment in the city, and sometimes this leads to unknown places, or places that people don't usually go."
Rimini Protokoll's next project is titled “Truck Tracks,” and it involves loading 50 people in the back of a truck with a huge window. “[They will be] driven to different spots in an industrial part of Germany, and listening to audio track, but this time they don't have to walk; they can sit and relax in the back of the truck.” Karrenbauer knows that, if he ever brings it to Houston, the truck will need to be air-conditioned.
“Remote Houston” is a production of Rimini Apparat. April 12-15, 4 p.m., Evergreen Cemetery, 500 Altic. Reservations recommended; visit countercurrentfestival.org. Free.
Alley Theatre continues with 10 additional presentations of “Remote Houston” on Wednesdays, April 20, 27 and May 11; Thursdays, April 21 and May 5, 12; Fridays, April 22 to May 13, 4 p.m. For information, call 713-220-5700 or visit alleytheatre.org. $39.
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