20 May 2016

Probable Title: Zero Probability

It's been a while since I have been to the Hebbel am Ufer. This arts center is rather known for producing very avant-garde and new pieces, and last summer we saw one such performance. It took us a year to get back here, this time watching Probable Title: Zero Probability, by Hito Steyerl and Rabih Mroue.

I should say this was a very modern piece. It is a lecture and performance at the same time. Before it finished, there were a few people who walked out of the theatre, perhaps because they didn't really expect what was going to happen, or perhaps they were uncomfortable with the topic.

See, this performance consists of the two writers sitting in their own tables, with a laptop in front of them, and two giant screens set next to each other behind them. It starts as a scientific lecture, talking about probabilities, that the sum total of all probabilities should equal to 1. But from there, it deviates to political problems, both in Lebanon and in Turkey, drawing on previous work by both Mroue and Steyerl. They tackle plenty of issues, including but not only people who disappeared, mass graves that have been erased, and other things, objects, and entities that otherwise should be categorized as occurring in zero probability.

The main point they wanted to deliver was that things and events that we normally think don't and shouldn't happen do happen, bizarrely enough. If one person wants to cross from western Beirut to eastern Beirut through a checkpoint, normally, there will be a trace of him, either reaching his destination or being prevented and returning to his origin. But sometimes, people just disappear, an occurrence we normally think has zero probability.

So it is a thought-provoking piece. I actually admire the nonchalance that these two actors tell their stories. I am impressed at how they can easily transition from talking about relatively funny topics, like a coin being tossed upwards, and disappearing, due to a cinematic edit, to a serious topic like a mass grave being bombed and luxury condos built on top of them, due to a military edit. This piece makes the audience aware of some of the world's problems, using theatre and performance. It doesn't have a happy ending, but a sober one.


  1. It's funny you mentioned people walking out, I notice that trend as well. Weird. Wouldn't occur to me. Even if it ("it" being a movie, a performance, etc.) wasn't what I had expected, you have to give it a chance. I mean, you're here, right? People want everything right away... gee...

    1. Zhu,

      What you said is exactly the same reason why I never have a book not finished. Even if the book starts bad, I always think that it might turn better later and so I continue reading it until the end.