Equal and opposite chain reactions

IMAGINE standing on stage with 99 other Melburnians having to respond to such questions as: Who is a fare evader? or, Do you support the death penalty?

It is all part of an innovative show called 100% Melbourne, A Statistical Chain Reaction being presented at Melbourne Town Hall on May 4-6 by the Berlin company Rimini Protokoll.

Stefan Kaegi, Helgard Haug, Charlie Skidmore, Rochelle Humphrey, with children Dare-bui Humphrey dos Santos, 1, and ...
Stefan Kaegi, Helgard Haug, Charlie Skidmore, Rochelle Humphrey, with children Dare-bui Humphrey dos Santos, 1, and Dailoli, 4, and Daniel Wetzel will tell real tales of the city. Photo: Rodger Cummins

The 100 people have been selected to provide a living face to the statistics defining the city, rather than impersonal pie charts used to support political and economic strategies.

They are the demographics of the city brought to life, and the show is designed to allow them to tell stories defining Melbourne. The questions come from the three German organisers, as well as from the audience and later from the participants themselves.

''It is fascinating when one person has different opinions from the other 99,'' says Rimini's Helgard Haug. ''Everyone freezes and the person who is not part of the group needs to find the courage to acknowledge it.''

The 100 people stand on a revolving stage in the shape of a pie chart, with a screen behind and a camera above. The band Bombay Royale provides music.

''It is fascinating watching 100 everyday people who might be on stage for the first time in their lives,'' says the event's associate director, Bec Reid, from the City of Melbourne. ''It can be beautifully chaotic but it is extraordinary to hear tales from so-called ordinary people.''

The three Rimini members, Stefan Kaegi, Daniel Wetzel and Haug, first staged the show in Berlin in 2008 to commemorate the 100th birthday of the Hebbel Theatre where they were artists in residence.

''The idea was to have ordinary people represent the city,'' Haug says. ''It is playing a game with them about the city.''

Kaegi says it is a reversal of the usual role of audience and performers, where untrained people are the ones on stage.

The show has since been staged in Berlin, Vienna and Vancouver, and will be presented in London as part of the lead-up to the Olympic Games.

In between, Rimini won the Silver Lion at last year's Venice Biennale for a drama about the Kazakhstan oil industry and the ethnic Germans who returned to Germany in the 1990s unable any more to speak the language.

The trio first came here 18 months ago to begin the preparations for the show. ''We have to work out how many people are needed from different categories,'' Haug says.

''It is very different to European cities because here people have no need to come into the city. Melbourne's spread-out size is a special challenge for us.'' The Germans chose the first participant, a statistician. The other 99 were selected by Reid, whereby the latest participant suggested the next. ''It shows there is only 2 degrees of separation between us,'' she says.

There are participants from such outer suburbs as Mornington, Whittlesea and Melton. The eldest is 88-year-old Charlie Skidmore from North Sunshine and the youngest is Dare-bui Humphrey dos Santos, 1, whose father is East Timorese. She will be on stage with her mother, Rochelle Humphrey, and her four-year-old brother, Dailoli.

Wetzel says participants range from those who own three houses to people living in social housing. ''There is quite a distance between people.''

There is a gay activist and an Indian grandmother who cannot bring herself to mention homosexuality. ''The show lets people bond and contrast,'' he says. ''It is quite able to show conflict.''

Wetzel is keen to find out information about the suburb of Brunswick while he is here, because Rimini is preparing a production of the show in Brunswick, Germany, at the end of May.

''I keep hearing about the suburb and Brunswick Street but I cannot imagine the connection with Germany,'' he says.

The group is also presenting a new show in a Brussels festival on May 17 exploring the business connections between Nigeria and Europe. ''[Germany's Chancellor Angela] Merkel wants to encourage investment in Nigeria but is meeting a lot of resistance,'' Kaegi says.

''We want to use theatre to show how it is possible to connect with that market.''

100% Melbourne, A Statistical Chain Reaction is at Melbourne Town Hall from May 4 to 6.