Penang in a nutshell!

loading 100% London.

Who lies and who doesn’t? What do different people do throughout the day? And who identifies himself or herself as homosexual? These are questions that may be asked at the opening performance of George Town Festival 2015, 100% Penang, which promises to be a visually compelling and entertaining breakdown of the society we live in.

Described on the festival website as “a uniquely interactive performance featuring 100 local inhabitants, chosen according to their age, gender, household type, geography and ethnicity to represent one per cent of the population,” 100% Penang is an intelligent way of representing who we are. It brings to life pie charts and Venn diagrams, so to speak. And it is not only about statistics – it is much, much more than that.

Penang Monthly speaks to Stefan Kaegi, one-third of the Berlin-based theatrical troupe Rimini Protokoll that is bringing this show to life, about the aim of the performance and the importance of putting faces – some of which we might actually know – to statistics.

Rimini Protokoll is a team of three made up of yourself, Helgard Haug and Daniel Wetzel, working in theatre, sound and radio plays, film and installations. A lot of what you do is actually interactive. What is the philosophy behind this?
Stefan Kaegi: Theatre used to be, for 200 years, a place where you would sit down in the dark and not be a part (of what’s going on) – you’re supposed to come in as an admirer of somebody who is doing genius stuff in front of you. But I think media are changing; our society asks for more and more participation. It is easier for theatre to integrate the idea of interactivity than cinema, for instance, which lives on the idea that everything is pre-recorded.

By introducing interactivity, might a lot of what’s going on be improvised?
It really depends on the project – 100% has quite a precise script. There are certain moments that are played like a game because we only have five rehearsals with the 100 people on stage – and it’s not easy to get them together. In a short time we need to be able to brief our performers, so we title it in such a way that we basically give rules on when and what is supposed to happen, but we don’t rehearse how it’s supposed to happen – we’re more interested in looking at who people are and how good they are at doing something.

100% Gwangju.

The 100% series sounds to me like a “six degrees of separation” kind of thing, where you start with one person and that person recommends someone else and so on, and it also sounds like a “live” statistics where you gather the opinions of these 100 people, who are supposed to reflect society in general. Is that what it’s supposed to be?
I think you’ve framed a number of the important ingredients. Statistics, yes, but it’s also about replacing the pure numbers with the faces of the people standing on stage. You hardly ever get to see your entire city as one in a sort of nutshell, and this happens during 100%. It’s a mirror of a part of the audience that’s probably – let’s assume – from Penang, so they will look at it as, “Where am I? I see someone in my age group but he has different opinions (from me).” When I see outcomes of polls or votes, I am surprised at the amount of people in my city or country who have very different opinions from me. I most probably will never meet them because they gather in groups, so it’s interesting to see them so close.

 

Are you going to tackle questions that may be deemed sensitive in Malaysia? Same-sex marriage or certain religious topics, for example.

We will come with a number of questions that we’re interested in, and we’ll have to see what it means for them to be out there. We do have the possibility of moving questions that might make it awkward for certain people to stand out in the “dark scene”, which is where people answer questions by switching on and off torches so you don’t see their faces. I hope it doesn’t happen too much because I think it’s important to see who is there.

While I think this project is also about showing how diversity exists in your city – Penang has so many different religions, people, languages – it should also have different opinions. The project would be a failure if the 100 people on stage were in agreement – it wouldn’t give a democratic picture of society.

Speaking of languages, will it be purely in English or will it be a mix of all kinds of languages found in Penang?
As many as you have on stage! We will have subtitles; there will be some who are not fluent in the local language – including us – but it will be spoken in many, many languages.

What preparations have been put into 100% Penang at this stage?
The scripting will only happen when we are there (in early July) – it doesn’t make sense to write from here. But what’s going on at the moment is the chain reaction; as far as I’m informed, we’re at about 40 casted members. The chain reaction has brought in a lot of 20 and 30-year-olds, and we do have some children as well, but I think we’re lacking a bit of the older generation. It also looks quite diverse, which is important.

Penang is an absolute melting pot of races and religions. Does this present more of a challenge compared to a more homogenous place, such as Tokyo or Gwangju in South Korea, where 100% has been performed as well?
That’s true that Tokyo and Gwangju were very exceptional in that they only have one per cent of immigrants, but that was very extraordinary in the course of the 25 cities that we’ve done so far. Many of them have a lot of diversity – think of London with its huge Nigerian, West African and Caribbean population, as well as people from other places; Melbourne, where we had about 30% of South-East and West Asians; San Diego, California where we had a huge population of Hispanics; in Paris, the whole former French colonies played an important role; in Berlin we had about 10% of Turkish performers on our stage. It’s always interesting to see how much – in societies nearly everywhere – the country of origin applies to one generation; in the next generation, things are remixed.

(Left to right) Daniel Wetzel, Helgard Haug and Stefan Kaegi.

In this kind of performance, what do you rely on? Is it the honesty of the performers, the interaction with the audience, or something else?
We don’t double check – we trust what people tell us. They might be lies, but I think a lie invented by a person who is lying also tells you something about them.

Our experience is that most people will stand for what they think, and I think it will be up to the audience of 100% Penang to judge and understand what’s being said between the lines. We’ve often had the situation where the audience can become very loud because they might react like, “Well this is not my city!”, or cheer on other people who said they were gay, or be surprised about people having the guts to stand for very racist opinions in front of a crowd whose majority might not agree.

 

Can you give Penangites a good reason to show up at Dewan Sri Pinang (where 100% Penang will be held) on August 1 at 9pm?
There are a hundred reasons! (Laughs) It is talking very much about your city; it shrinks or condensates relevant topics and throws them back at you.

Above all, it’s also an entertaining and visually compelling piece of theatre; it’s enormous to see a hundred people on stage – you never get bored. You can see the smallest children and how they make up their minds; how disabled people are also integrated in the society; how radical characters that you might hate to see are also living in your city. All of this with music and action and video works. Come and discover.

Tickets for 100% Penang can be purchased online at http:// airasiaredtix.com/Events/GeorgeT ownFestival2015_100Penang/. For more information, visit the George Town Festival website at http:// georgetownfestival.com.



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