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Guest writer Louisa Doyle writes about experiencing Helgard Haug and David Helbich’s latest participatory work, 1000 Scores, and speaks to the Berlin-based duo about their process.
Remarkably nomadic and technologically savvy, director Helgard Haug has been an expert in making distanced theatre way before the pandemic happened. She is a co-founder of Berlin based company Rimini Protokoll, who have been connecting call centre workers in India with audiences across the world since 2008 in the various iterations of their immensely popular intercontinental phone play Call Cutta in a Box. You’d almost think Helgard was gearing up for a global pandemic and an age of socially distanced theatre.
Unfortunately, she tells me this was not the case. Like everyone else, Covid had screwed up her plans. “I was collecting endless emails of postponed and cancelled shows. So David Helbich and I made 1,000 Scores to turn this frustration into something, the experience of being without a stage.” We met on Zoom along with sound and performance artist David Helbich, who has been composing scores for years before teaming up with Haug and dramaturg Cornelius Puschke to create this project.
The group assembled after Helbich witnessed the flood of digital content artists were sharing online. “A disturbing element was that no one knew how to make this more professional in terms of paying people.” Enter the Scores; artists across the world were commissioned to create instructional performances for anyone to play at home – a type of digital wunderkammer. “Scores are self performances”, Helbich explains, “which means I am not just performing so other people see me, but I am the one that watches myself. I am the performer and the audience at the same time”.
On the site’s stylish, minty bright menu, you’ll find tantalisingly vague images with poetic titles to insinuate what task you’ll find if you click. There’s everything from a hands-on two player crash course on the history of kissing, a solo score on how to fool a Turing Test and a time travel exercise inspired by the story of a sci-fi cafe in Tokyo. There are no categories to organise the scores into those that are more cerebral or physical — that’s so you might surprise yourself with a task you wouldn’t naturally pick.
Once you get over any embarrassment of talking to yourself or recruiting others to help you, you might find, like I did, that Scores provide something that digital, recorded theatre is missing. They create that unnameable energy of live performance; the tingly sense of occasion and risk. Over the past month, under the guidance of artists I’ve never met, I’ve re-purposed old text messages into Dada poems and sent them to friends in the post with zero explanation. I’ve stomped around in my favourite clothes that haven’t had an outing to the club in God knows how long, and even persuaded my highly un-theatrical mum to play out a script that pressed her to think about her generation’s affect on mine when it comes to climate change.
Each little intervention switched the filter on how I see my all too familiar surroundings during lockdown and made me feel incredibly present. “I love that these borders are blurry between art and life. And I think they should be blurring towards self-care strategies,” Helbich explains. “Our role in composing scores is not so different from people who give tutorials, although I of course take care of a different kind of dramaturgy. There’s a bit more of the absurd in there, and quite a lot of humour”. Indeed, some are easier to execute than others. Reluctantly, I have accepted I can’t legally burn a life-size rag-doll of myself in London for the El Ano Viego Score without getting fined or setting Hackney Marshes on fire.
Not to mention the fact that I’m supposed to be shielding – I’m immunosuppressed and undergoing treatment in hospital each week. Other than becoming an expert in opening biscuits with my teeth whilst I’m connected to an IV, I’ve busied myself doing the Lingua Hopscotch Score; you choose a ‘mantra’ and create a chain of translations without the help of a dictionary or app, instead using only the expertise of any multilingual people you can ask. Taking inspiration from the sage that is Cher, I’m building a global photo mosaic of people with their translations of “I’m Strong Enough”, watching my semi-silly semi-serious mantra track its feet through different countries and signatures of my collaborators. It’s been a strangely moving experience. I like to think that my Cher prayer is manifesting the further it goes.
It feels like such a privilege to be granted insight into the many ways artists across the world approach making work. “It’s getting in somebody else’s mind and understanding how different all these artistic processes are, to go on this journey together.” says Helgard. David agrees and refers to Tim Etchells’ score as a good example of that. “He wants you to collect text from wherever you can find it and make this collection, which has been his practise for decades. So in his score, he really asks you to become a little like him.” Undertaking someone’s score is a bit like a friendly possession; hosting an artist in your headspace so they might offer you new ways to see or think about your world.
David and Helgard have hopes for making more social versions of the scores in the future. There are already conversations happening with commissioning organisations to schedule events where scores can be played out communally in theatre spaces. So whilst 1,000 Scores might seem like a solution to the current necessity for distanced performances, Helgard is determined for the project to last beyond the pandemic. “That’s why it has the subtitle “pieces for here now and later”. We discovered that we would like to take this form more seriously and to give it as a gift to artists and give it as a tool to all different kinds of people. It’s not just a cheap solution, but it’s here for the long run.”
To find out more about 1000 Scores, visit the 1000 Scores website.