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A Journey to the Year 2057 with Children Leading the Way

In the autumn holidays, a theatre workshop for children aged 9 to 13 took place in cooperation with the Theater an der Parkaue. After the Futurium had turned the participants into futurologists, the theatre worked with them to develop a very special kind of theatrical performance.

Future Lab_Theater-an-der-Parkaue Kunstwerk

In the future, we will meet all our needs by means of our mobile phones, because we will have fused with them; air quality will be worse because of a growth in traffic; we will be able to receive letters from other eras and speak a language called ‘Gescheral’. These are some of the ideas that the 9-to13-year-old participants came up with during the autumn-holiday workshop “Future Lab 1.0”, a joint project by the Futurium and the Theater an der Parkaue, Berlin’s State Theatre for Children and Young People.

The Future Lab 1.0 took off at the Futurium. In the space of a single day, the participants were turbo-trained into futurologists. The workshop was based on the foresight method, which is often applied in companies to predict future developments. According to this method, participants are always fed with information at the beginning of the process. “For instance, the kids watched short compilations from science-fiction films and documentaries on the future,” explains David Weigend, Head of the Futurium Lab. “In addition, they were given trend cards with images related to individual topics such as ‘Future of the Body’, ‘Future of Robots’ or ‘Future of Nature’.” The images were helpful in finding a common language for discussing the future. “Just to give an example: if you say ‘autonomous driving’, each person pictures something else. This might be a car or even some sort of futuristic vehicle that whizzes around the globe through tubes. However, if I say ‘the autonomous car on the trend card’, then I’m explicitly referring to something that every member of the group will understand.”

David Weigend was astonished by how much knowledge of these topics the children had already accumulated: “Regardless of the topic, there was always at least one child in the group who knew something about artificial animals or gene manipulation. Many are familiar with virtual bodies from computer games. And the same with megacities, renewable energy, artificial organs, autonomous driving – someone in the group always knew something and shared that knowledge with the others.”

Over the following days the children were supervised by Sarah Kramer from the Theater an der Parkaue and the Berlin artists Kati Hyyppä and Niklas Roy. In only four days, the ideas that had been developed during the futurologist training were transformed into a theatrical performance. The participants crafted props, invented new languages, rehearsed futuristic dances and shot films. The workshop was rounded off by a performance at the Theater an der Parkaue.

However, those visitors who had expected merely to sit comfortably in their chairs and let themselves be entertained were disappointed. For the performance was composed of a mixture of exhibition, dance, video, acting and installation that required everyone to move around within the performance space. From the very beginning, David Weigend was convinced that the workshop could not possibly result in a traditional stage play: “In the end, it was all about the future and therefore the performance had to be somewhat different from that offered by a traditional piece of theatre performed on a traditional stage.”

As part of the performance, the audience travelled into the year 2057 and was greeted in “Gescheral” – interpreted, of course, otherwise the inhabitants of the here and now would not have understood a thing. For the tour of the future, visitors were separated into groups, each led by a travel guide marked in a certain colour. Thematically, many future challenges from the first workshop day resurfaced, for instance, the threat to the environment, referenced here by a self-built ‘air cleaner’ filled with plants. “There will be more and more cars and aeroplanes in the future,” was the information provided on the matter by one of the junior futurologists. The visitors were encouraged to try out the connected breathing masks. At the next interactive point visitors could watch two experimental persons, dressed entirely in black, in two different stages of fusion with their mobile phones. “The children are totally addicted to their mobile phones, but they reflect on this fact too,” said David Weigend. “And they know that they have to make an effort to change their behaviour.” With an intricately constructed device, strongly reminiscent of a hula hoop, visitors were tested to ascertain the stage of their own personal phone-fusion. The only person to emerge with an acceptable result was a one-year-old. “As you can see, there’s nothing there at the moment,” was the diagnosis. One of the adult visitors, however, had already reached the second stage of almost complete phone-fusion.

At the next installation, visitors were invited to leave their wishes for the future in a time capsule. The wishes of the participants were already on display: “robots that clean up my room”, “no cars”, “being young and having a twin” or even “lots of courageous people”. At the next point, the children recited from letters from the distant future – received by means of a special helmet. Many of the letters were addressed to relatives or friends from the past. One letter was about the writer’s fear of nuclear war. The children’s visions of the future are not by any means purely rosy, with many of them mirroring current societal and political issues that have also left their mark on them. The last interactive point was all about energy. The imagined machine would provide for people in a mobile way. It would be able to drive to places where it was needed – and could even provide for human beings by “recharging” them. By means of this machine, world hunger should become a thing of the past.

Finally, and with much fanfare, the time capsule was buried at the back of the theatre. In ten years’ time, it will be dug up again. Then we will be able to see how close we have come to the future perceived by the children – or whether things will have developed in a completely different direction. However, what is already certain is that the Futurium Lab will organise similar events in the future. “After all, the Futurium Lab is not only about soldering, 3D printing and electro-tinkering. We want to make the future capable of being experienced in all its facets by means of music, theatre, performance, film and dance. It is exactly these hybrid formats that distinguish the Futurium Lab from other labs. For the future arises when things that do not actually fit together are combined and something new develops from this process. This is, for example, what happened at the workshop, which brought together children, hybrid creatures and cyborgs, theatre, techno-tinkering and foresight methods. We will continue our work in this spirit, even if our next project will not be the same. That was Future Lab 1.0. The next one must be – at the very least – Future Lab 1.1.”