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Cristina Catalina

Das Fest – A mystifying mind-reading experience

28 February 2018 Suzanne Frost

Described as “Austria’s Derren Brown” by the Independent, illusionist and performer Philipp Oberlohr creates experiences on the border between theatre, performance art and clowning. After winning the People’s Choice Award 2016 for Das Spiel at VAULT Festival, he returns to the Vaults this year with a surreal and thrilling sequel Das Fest, a mystifying mind-reading experience mixing live art, physical theatre, illusion and wit.

Oberlohr could select anyone from the audience – he doesn’t know who will be chosen or what memories they will bring. It could be anybody. Is he an actor, a trickster or a magician? The mysterious performer raises more questions than he is willing to answer. How would he describe to a stranger what it is he does for a living? “I like to say I create interactive experiences”, he muses. Magician is not a term he likes to use because people have certain associations with the word. Unpredictability is a word he likes to describe his show Das Fest (meaning ‘celebration’ in German). Celebrations are unpredictable and Das Fest is an experience that will turn out completely different every time, depending on the audience. London audiences are one of his favourites though. “In Austria people are maybe a little more reserved, they take a little longer to warm up”, he believes. But the London crowds are usually open-minded and up for throwing themselves into new experiences. Especially at the VAULT festival which he calls “a playground” for experimentation and surprise.

 

Oberlohr has lived in London for a decade before moving back to Vienna three years ago to raise his son with his American wife. “We used to call London our ‘Switzerland’, our neutral ground”, he laughs. But the city has absolutely shaped him as a performer. “It inspired me to really push for new ground. There are so many people, so many talented people working at a very high level. And there is so much theatre, so many opportunities. I am really looking forward to coming back to London to see new work.”

Oberlohr has a BA in Theology, but when asked what sparked his career change he rectifies: “I wouldn’t call it a complete career change. I see it all as different facets of the same field. The questions that are raised [in theology] are similar to those being asked in physics, in philosophy, in psychology, in theatre and I’m interested in those questions. They all interconnect.”
 
Das Fest is all about memories and Oberlohr will attempt to create a visual prediction, recreating images that describe memories of the audience, before they even decide on one. He doesn't know who will be chosen or what memories they will bring. It involves a high level of improvisation. “We've had extensive periods of writing and devising, building a strong structure, with a strong dramaturgy that is flexible and open to give room to the unpredictable live audience interaction.” Das Fest is, at its core, a mind-reading experience but he is much more interested in pushing the experiential character of the performance. The main ingredients are character, story and storytelling. Does he mind-read people in his free time then? Is it addictive? It’s just work”, he laughs, “I am using this technique to create a meaningful story for the audience that makes sense.” What ‘the technique’ is, we do not know. But in a room full of strangers, there's a man who seems to know everything.
 
Das Fest is at VAULT Festival 28 February – 4 March
 
 
 
 
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