• Theater

UNCANNY VALLEY

By Rimini Protokoll - Stefan Kaegi and Thomas Melle

Germany | Suiza

  • English with simultaneous translation into Spanish
  • 60 minutes
  • General Audience

Can you imagine an animatronic double of yourself that not only looks the same as you but can also do the same things and even show a certain amount of empathy? That’s the chilling experience this piece offers.


In the West, robots are accepted as long as they look like machines. In Asia, however, humanoids are being developed to look after people or even as sexual partners. In the West, any likeness between robots and humans is avoided so there’s no chance of an emotional attachment of any kind. In animatronics, this fear or rejection of someone who looks ‘too much’ like a human is known as ‘uncanny valley’. For this production by renowned group Rimini Protokoll, playwright Thomas Melle allowed a robot double of himself to be created, which takes to the stage in his place to ask questions. What does it mean for the original to know that the replica can do his job? Does the electronic double help the original get to know himself better? Do the copy and the original compete or do they help each other out?

Cast and crew


Concept, written and directed by: Stefan Kaegi | Text, body and voice: Thomas Melle | Equipment: Evi Bauer | Animatronics: Chiscreatures Filmeffects GmbH | Construction, artistic finishing, coloring and hairstyling: Tommy Opatz | Dramaturgy: Martin Valdés-Stauber | Video design: Mikko Gaestel | Music: Nicolas Neecke | General producers: Rimini Protokoll and Epona Hamdan | Lighting designere: Robert Läßig | Sound and video designer: Lisa Eßwein | Produced by Münchner Kammerspiele and coproduced by Berliner Festspiele, Immersion, donaufestival [Krems], Feodor Elutine [Moscow], FOG Milan Performing Arts Triennial, Temporada Alta - Festival de Tador in Catalonia, SPRING Utrecht | Performance rights: Rowohlt Theater Verlag, Reinbek bei Hamburg

Stefan Kaegi

Director

A jack-of-all-trades

This Swiss-German creator has produced documentary theater plays, radio programs and plays in urban environments. His work before Rimini Protokoll includes Mnemopark, which won awards at the Politik im Freien Theatreun Festival in 2005. He has also collaborated with the Argentine Lola Arias on pieces such as Chácara Paraíso, about the Brazilian and Argentine police; Airport Kids, about nomadic children aged between 7 and 13 and Ciudades Paralelas, the urban intervention festival. He won the European Cultural Diversity award in 2010, the jury’s award at the Sarajevo Theater Festival in 2011 for Radio Muezzin, about an Egyptian prayer group and the top award at the Belgrade Bitef Festival in 2018 for Nachlass, his play about eight people looking to end their lives.

“The production embraces this freakshow quality, pitching theater’s empathic voyeurism against the ocular voyeurism that attaches to the robot, which points at the audience, demanding: ‘What did you come here for? To see my body? To identify with me?’”.

Frieze

Rimini Protokoll exposes the artificiality of the theater, which in itself is a fictitious device by nature and confronts us with our good old reflexes regarding matters of authenticity”.

Libération

“As often happens in Rimini Protokoll's works, the focus is not so much on the plot,

but on the relationship with the audience: the spectator is the star of the show”.

Teatroecritica

—It’s a true story written by Stefan Kaegi and Thomas Melle, a playwright and writer with bipolar disorder whose most well-known plays go into detail about the different stages of his condition and his experience with psychiatrists. His condition prevents him from talking in public, which us why Uncanny Valley provides an opportunity for his double to take to the stage. Just as a person who has lost a limb uses a prosthetic one, is there a future for robots as emotional prosthetics? The experience of Melle and his android poses a disturbing question, even creating an uncomfortable sense of empathy for the latter.

—Created especially for the play, the robot took six months to build. It’s made of silicone and has 32 motors inside to make it move, 16 of which are in the face to imitate Thomas Melle’s voice, movements and expressions. Six different types of hair were used for the beard and hair.

—Rimini Protokoll has been working on pieces that question the concept of ‘a play’ and on theater’s professionalism and specificities for a long time. To do so, they bring normal people into their performances - people who pray, travel through cities following instructions, people who make contact from a distance - and all are ‘experts’ in areas that have nothing to do with theater. This time, they’re taking their no-actors theater concept to the extreme with an android.

Robots: The word robot was created by Czech playwright Karel Capek from the Czech word ‘robota’ meaning ‘work’ (and also ‘slave’ in some contexts). Capek included this new concept in one of his first theater pieces, R.U.R. (Robots Universales Rossum). This theater production involved the discovery of a new biological material, which led to the development of a new race of apparently submissive workers who ended up rebelling against their creators.

Robot theater: Hiroshi Ishiguro and the Advanced Robotics Laboratory at the University of Osaka are known for creating highly realistic robots. In 2010, they developed the android that starred in the first play to have a robot lead, Sayonara. In this play, the robot actress plays the role of a sick woman who hasn’t got long left to live. In 2014, the same laboratory was involved with a play named La Metamorphose Version Androide by director Oriza Hirata, based on Kafka’s The Metamorphosis.

—Relive the masterclass Stefan Kaegi gave at Santiago a Mil in 2017, in which he dissects Rimini Protokoll’s work process. You’ll find it on Santiago a Mil TV in two parts.

—Watch how Thomas Melle’s android clone was created.

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