- Petri Dish Deceptions:The Search for 100% Veracity in Rimini Protokolls Statistical Portrait of Montreal
In the wake of 2016—the year of 'post-truth'1 and 'fake facts'—Rimini Protokoll's 100% Montréal employs elements of documentary, participatory, and intermedial theatre to reveal what the city's actual census statistics have failed to record. The production achieves this primarily through a creative juxtaposition of the collected evidential truths of the city's census data and the collected personal truths produced by a popular diagnostic tool—the referendum. This article tries to better understand what this juxtaposition either reveals or confirms about the precarious nature of statistical accuracy and the underlying forces that currently seem to be complicating the interpretation and pursuit of various truths about human existence. As this examination reveals, the quality of any statistic is determined not only by the instruments of its collection and the methods of its analysis, but by the quality of the information provided by its subjects as well.
The year of 'post-truth' included the election of 'fake news' victim Donald J. Trump as President of the United States, the United Kingdom's European Union referendum,2 and—to the relief of Canadian scientists, statisticians, and anyone else concerned with the search for evidence-based truth in collections of data—the reinstatement of the mandatory long-form census by a newly elected Liberal government.3 That same year, a collaboration began between German documentary theatre company Rimini Protokoll and 100 residents of Montreal, Quebec. The result, 100% Montréal,4 belongs to an ongoing series of city-specific documentary theatre performances entitled 100% City. First conceived by Rimini Protokoll in 2007, the series employs elements of intermedial and participatory theatre to explore a city's statistical reality by putting faces, bodies, and voices to the numbers. The show's principal subject of inquiry is to understand "Who is missing? Who thinks they might give answers on stage that are different from the ones they'd give in response to a telephone survey or in the voting booth? And what have the statistics failed to record? Who lives in a completely different Montréal? Who thinks that this city is different because they are a part of it?" (Rimini Protokoll, program note)5
The central organizing principle of the performance was derived from actual census data. Rimini Protokoll worked with a local statistician to assemble a statistical portrait of Montreal using the following criteria: age, gender, place of birth, territory/neighbourhood, and domestic structure. One hundred Montreal residents were then recruited through "a statistical chain reaction"6 in which each participating resident is recruited for their ability to match some combination of the five criteria. That resident then has twenty-four hours to recruit a second resident who also matches some combination of the criteria. This process continues until the entire demographic portrait of Montreal has been cast.7 Onstage, each participant represents 1 per cent of the city's population. A brief five-day rehearsal period familiarizes the 100 "percentiles" with the pre-existing presentation format and structure of the 100% City series. During this period, the percentiles and Rimini Protokoll generate and select the issues, subjects, and statistics that seem most directly applicable to Montreal residents for onstage exploration.
Each performance begins with the first percentile—the statistician—who explains the show's underlying premise and provides a brief overview of Montreal's statistical portrait. One by one, the other ninety-nine percentiles introduce each other in order of recruitment, until the physicalized demographic portrait of Montreal stands onstage facing the audience.
Welcome to the petri dish
Following the percentiles' introductions, the show's central visual motif is established. The "petri dish effect"8 is produced by a video camera suspended above a large green-screen platform placed on the stage floor. The camera points straight down at the onstage percentiles from above. Video processing is then applied to the live [End Page 29] camera feed that replaces the green screen colour with a variety of popular infographic forms such as radial graphs, scatterplots, and a topographical map outlining Montreal's various districts. The resulting composite...