Statistics isn’t usually a word associated with fun or creativity. Without faces to a number or stories to a percentage, it’s hard for anyone to muster the energy to care about how John and Jane down the street filled out last year’s census form. 100% Melbourne is putting an animated spin on those usually lifeless numbers, attempting to encourage people to stand up and take notice of their own surroundings. After huge acclaim for 100% Berlin, 100% Cologne and 100% Vienna, celebrated Berlin-based theatre company Rimini Protokoll, in association with the City of Melbourne, is bringing their hugely successful 100% franchise to the Southern hemisphere for the first time.
Described as ‘part-theatre, part-game, part-reality performance’, the genre for the 100% franchise is obviously tricky to categorise. The format though, is simple: 100 different Melburnians selected based on five key statistical criteria – age, gender, region of birth, residential location and family composition – take the stage and partake in a variety of activities that show us the opinions, stories and lives of the people who live in our city. Nine of the 100 are toddlers, representing the nine percent of Melburnians who are under five years old. The oldest performer is 88. Three of the group were born in Africa or the Middle East. In fact, only about half the group were born in Melbourne, illuminating just how metropolitan this city has become.
The unique selection process of the performers illustrates that despite these differences, we are all connected. Associate Director Bec Reid was in charge of casting, which was a huge undertaking all in itself. Reid was given 100 days to find 100 people. She began by finding one Melburnian that fits into a particular statistical mould. From there, that person recommended someone they knew who fit another set of criteria. The next person recommended the next so that everyone on stage knows at least two people alongside them. Two degrees of separation is yet another statistic represented here.
Watching the 100 chosen Melburnians take the stage for their second-to-last rehearsal before opening night, it is immediately obvious that these are not actors; the majority of whom have never even visited the theatre before, let alone dreamed of performing inside one. Here is your local shopkeeper, your chiropractor, your neighbour, your babysitter, your local busybody. They seem as confused as anyone to find themselves as the centre of attention. It’s this organic feeling of watching, not plastic faces drowning in make-up or cardboard cut outs with neutralised accents, but your fellow city-dwellers representing you that has made the 100% franchise such a surprising success. Any one of you could be up on that stage, which makes the performance immediately relatable.
As one part of the larger performance, there is a time lapse activity, in which the 100 act out tasks that they would be doing at a given hour of their standard day. When “Melbourne at 10pm” is announced, the children and the elderly are lying on the stage feigning sleep; harried looking women are miming the washing up; while a few enthusiastic 20-somethings pretend to sip from alcoholic bottles whilst fist-pumping to imagined club-bangers. Watching the 24-hour cycle of one day, with so many of the 100 doing so many different things, begins to awaken the usually dormant notion that there are indeed so many other lives out there.
The group is asked questions about their beliefs and their politics and their morals. The left side of the stage is “yes”, the right is “no”. Who believes in a God? Who is in favour of gay marriage? Who is afraid of the future? Who has come to Australia to escape violence somewhere else? The questions are emotional and loaded, and as you look into the faces of those few who are standing on the left side of the stage after being asked, “Who has experienced war?” you can’t help but wonder what their story is. And sometimes they tell you. Throughout the performance, members of the 100 approach the microphones and share a tiny snippet of their lives with the audience, bringing everyone inside their bubble for the briefest of moments. Veterans speak of war, immigrants of culture shock, and a seven-year-old girl of Justin Bieber.
Being the fifth instalment of their 100% series, German directors Helgard Haug, Stefan Kaegi and Daniel Wetze have the mechanics of the work down to a prototypical science. As they call orders and suggestions to the group of 100 performers, you get the sense that they’ve been here before. Although it’s the first performance for 100% on this side of the world, the fact that they can coordinate 100 English-speaking people so seamlessly further echoes what the underlying message of the show is: whether you live in Melbourne or Vienna or anywhere in between, people are people are people. Fundamentally, we are all the same. This story can be told anywhere by anyone. But this time it is being told here, to us, by us.
100% Melbourne promises to entertain as well as to inform. It’s a performance for everyone, about everyone. It’s interesting, it’s powerful, and it makes you think. Not about some once upon a time unreality in a galaxy far far away but about our city, our neighbours, our friends. Perhaps above all, it promises to make us contemplate ourselves. And all of us could do with a little self exploration.
BY KATE MCCARTEN
100% Melbourne is on at Melbourne Town Hall from Friday May 4 – Sunday May 6.