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Exploring Reality with “Remote Rochester” at The Fringe

December 17th, 2015

The Spiegelgarden readies for opening day. It's here, at the corner of Main and Gibbs, that you'll meet to begin your tour. [PHOTO: Joanne Brokaw]
By Joanne Brokaw

I’ve got a bit of a dilemma reviewing the Remote Rochester external link event at this year’s First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival. If I tell you too much, I might give away some of the surprises and ruin the experience. If I don’t tell you enough, you may not understand what it’s all about and miss what might be the most fascinating journey you’ll take through the streets of Rochester.

So I need to find a balance. I’ll begin with this question:
Do you trust me?

Remote Rochester at First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival. [PHOTO: EXPANDER Film]
You don’t know me. But trust is essential in order to experience the pedestrian art journey that internationally renowned theater author-directors Helgard Haug, Stefan Kaegi, and Daniel Wetzel (working together as the team Rimini Protokoll) create with this “ground-breaking, award-winning, site-specific theater that provides unusual perspectives on reality.”

Self. Group. Life. Death. Nature. Artificiality. Technology. Spirituality.

And some dancing.

Remote Rochester at First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival. [PHOTO: Florian Merdes - Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe]
The tour – only the second time Rimini Protokoll has done this site-specific theater in the US, by the way – starts at the Spiegelgarden (at the corner of Main & Gibbs Streets), at the heart of the Fringe. From there you and 49 other fellow journeyers get your headphones and then hop a school bus to Mt. Hope Cemetery, where the tour embarks. When everyone’s made their way to the meeting point, you get instructions, don your headphones, and the tour begins.

Don your headphones and take a seat. The tour is about to begin. [PHOTO: Joanne Brokaw]
Your guide is a synthetic voice that leads you on a journey through the city, encouraging you to see the nature, consider the technology, and ponder these humans you’re traveling with.

The voice instructs us to spread out and find a headstone. [PHOTO: Joanne Brokaw]
Consider, as the voice suggests, the fountain at Mt. Hope, the way each individual drop of water comes together to form a pool where no one drop is distinguishable. The voice explains that, like the drops, you and your fellow humans have come together to journey as one and from now on will be known as the horde. Do you trust the voice? Do you trust the horde?

Yeah, it’s that kind of a tour.

We become the horde. [PHOTO: Joanne Brokaw]
Leaving the peace and quiet of one of the nation’s historic spots – and there’s no talk of history here, just life, reality, yourself and your fellow travelers – you head down busy Mt. Hope Avenue.

So, here’s where I’m conflicted. I want to tell you what happens next and all of the places you’ll travel but I don’t want to spoil it. You’re just going to have to trust me that it’s worth the ticket price.

Another stop on the tour. The world's a stage and we are simply spectators wearing headphones. [PHOTO: Joanne Brokaw]
Some places you’ll recognize, some you’ll see from a completely new perspective (literally). Some are places you may visit every day but never stop to ponder life and reality and materialism and kindness. You’ll observe, you’ll react. At some points, you’ll make choices about where you and the rest of the group go based on only one thing: where does the group think the group should go?

The city streets look different from above, in a glass tube. [PHOTO: Joanne Brokaw]
That’s the part of the tour that intrigued me the most. We started as 50 strangers: couples; small groups of friends and family; a few, like myself, were alone. Together, we walked the streets of the city and shared the same experiences – a shared secret actually, because we were all hearing the voice in our headset while the rest of the world has no idea why we were doing what we were doing. (When you’re asked to do something and the rest of the world plays along, that’s fun.) We started as strangers and ended as friends, and yet we never spoke a word to each other.

Another stop on the tour. I haven't been in this building in many years. [PHOTO: Joanne Brokaw]
The voice appears to direct the tour magically; while it’s obviously pre-recorded there are also elements that can only be happening in real time. When the group is temporarily broken up into smaller groups – or as the voice calls them, herds – the last herd is instructed to chose which of the others it wants to follow. As a group you start to walk, and the voice knows which option your herd has chosen and gives you specific directions to navigate from there. How did it know which way we went?

The horde moves as one. [PHOTO: Joanne Brokaw]
Knowing how it works would spoil the magic. And really, it doesn’t matter, so don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. Because the point of the tour is to explore yourself, your city, your fellow humans, and to ponder reality, life and all that it encompasses.

The horde sees itself. [PHOTO: Joanne Brokaw]
When it was over, and we had handed in our headphones and could talk, the handful of people that had been in my herd stopped to introduce ourselves. As we headed to the elevator (OK, here’s a clue: you end the tour in the clouds) we squeezed ourselves in tight so we could all ride down together. I don’t know that we actually thought about it. But we’d just spent two hours together, walking the streets and exploring our thoughts on how other people looked or smelled or felt standing next to us. We were still one. It felt right to smoosh ourselves together for a last ride.

Walk into the light, the voice says. So we do. [PHOTO: Joanne Brokaw]
After we dispersed, I walked to my car with two men from my herd, and I confess that I was still a bit disoriented. For the last two hours I’d had a voice in my ear telling me what to do and what to think about, and I’d had 49 other people to help me make decisions. When the men were turning to head back to their car, I had two options: walk another block alone and turn, or turn and walk with them a bit longer. I walked with them. I got to the same place, but I was less lonely as I traveled. And maybe that’s what the voice was trying to explain all along.

Hello from the clouds, Rochester! And the tour is over. [PHOTO: Joanne Brokaw]
The Fringe runs September 17-26 at two dozen venues across downtown Rochester. The Remote Rochester external link event happens daily. Here are a few tips to help you enjoy the experience:

  1. Wear comfortable shoes. You’re walking, you’re standing, there are some places where you’re walking on slightly uneven terrain. It’s a lot of walking but it’s not dangerous. Our group included people of all ages.
  2. Take advantage of the porta-potty before you board the bus. You won’t be stopping on the tour.
  3. The headset has a long cord and I kept getting it tangled in my camera and purse. So bring one bag for your stuff, and remember that whatever you bring you have to carry for two hours.
  4. You’ll need to give a deposit for your headset, either $20 or a photo ID, like a driver’s license.
  5. You have to sign an agreement. Someone asked me today if that was because it’s a scary tour, like a haunted hayride. No, it is absolutely not scary at all. To be honest, I have no idea what the agreement said because I didn’t read it. You might want to read it. But don’t let that disclaimer about signing keep you from going.
  6. If you want to go but can’t find anyone to go with you, go alone. In fact, I don’t know that I would have wanted someone with me. Going alone, I was able to really enjoy the experience. Yes, you’ll be with a bunch of strangers, but you’re also in a group that is relying on each other, and there is at least one official tour guide with you as you navigate the city. I felt safe the entire time. And if you’re a control freak and worrying about what’s going to happen, then this is definitely an experience for you. Let go. See life from a new angle. See the city through new eyes. Take a chance. You won’t be sorry.

Get details and tickets for Remote Rochester here external link

• • •

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This entry was posted on Thursday, December 17th, 2015 at 9:25 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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