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"With some kind of tool, or like we like to call it: energy bar, that would help them carry on and be hopeful of the future even though the political situation is frustrating and very much invites us to to stop fighting."

Friederike Karpf
2-20, August 2023 (not 10th) at 16:55 (40m)
July 29, 2023

Set in an abandoned petrol station in 7100, a descendant of petrol station mascots Esso and Shell embarks on a journey to find traces of their ancestors from 2100. Then, the ice caps had stopped melting, the big firms had declared bankruptcy, and gasoline was extremely cheap because no one was buying it anymore. The familiar mascots meet to find a way through their situation. They reach for different answers, trying to preserve what's good, and hope for betterment in future generations. Tanken takes us into their past – and our potential future.

Created & Produced by projekt.vakuum, Friederike Karpf, Sophie León Pellegrin.


Hi Friederike, thank you for talking to The New Current, how does it feel to be bringing Tanken to Edinburgh Fringe and C Venues this August?


Amazing and absolutely frightening at the same time.


Will this be the first time you have brought a show the Fringe?


Yes, this will be the first time for all the members of our team to bring a show to the Fringe. Actually this will be the first international Festival experience for all of us.


Any nerves ahead of your run and what do you hope to take away from your Edinburgh experience?


We are very excited to meet a lot of new fellow artists. At the same time we are quite nervous how our show will be perceived as in such a professional, international and competitive context. Nevertheless we are very much looking forward to this exposure, as it will give us the chance to grow as a collective and to keep developing our piece with all the acquired insights.


Can you tell me a little bit about how Tanken came about, what inspired projekt.vakuum to create this new show?


Tanken was born from our general tiredness of the current state. We from projekt.vakuum didn’t want to make another piece about how bad the world is, but still wanted to be sensitive and productive in terms of our environmental situation. We really wanted to make a piece which would enable the audience to walk out of the performance with something in their hands. With some kind of tool, or like we like to call it: energy bar, that would help them carry on and be hopeful of the future even though the political situation is frustrating and very much invites us to to stop fighting. 

That’s when we decided we want a utopia. We did a lot of research and developed the idea of creating a piece which promotes utopian thinking as a social policy, which can be applied to everyday life. 


The play Tanken is set at the last petrol station in the world on New Years Eve at 23.00 in the year 2099. A lot has changed in the last century. The ice caps had stopped melting, the big firms declared bankruptcy, gasoline is extremely cheap, because no one is buying it anymore. In this world everyone has won…well…nearly everyone. The petrol station mascots Esso and Shell don’t know what to do with themselves anymore. They try to find a way to deal with their situation - and the horrible insight, that the world will keep on turning without them. 

This setting seemed fitting to contain the utopian perspective as well as giving room to an empathetic handling of the collateral tiredness of activism.


Due to the ongoing climate crisis debate that continues to divide and polarise public discourse, did projekt.vakuum have any apprehensions about creating such a unique show that presumes a potential direction humanity may be heading?


Actually, no, because we put a lot of effort into creating a perspective which would soothes the divide and deal with the position of feeling left behind and searching for ones place in a new world. No matter in which direction humanity will head at least for some people this feeling will be or already is reality. Tanken is more about this feeling and the questions attached than about the potential direction proposed. 


When directing a show like this what where the challenges you have encountered?


One was definitely defining the characters. The characters in our piece are the mascots of Shell and Esso and obviously these characters carry an enormous guilt with them. They find themselves in a world where their way of thinking doesn’t apply or work anymore and the challenge in this continuum was to keep making the play about the mascot’s way out and not meandering too much to the guilt or the potential future.


Simultaneously we realized that it would be way easier for us to make a critical piece which would upset the audience rather than motivating them to act, without just affirming the status quo. 

Once arrived at the hopeful end there is the question on how to make this feeling last beyond the performance. 


As a director how important is the creative collaboration between you and the rest of your team at projekt.vakuum when trying to realise the vision you have for a project like Tanken?


It is very important. First of all, understanding the concept collaboratively, discussing different perspectives and finding a common vocabulary is essential. Rehearsal periods are a constant negotiation of theoretical, artistic and applied perspectives on the topic. Our process is a constant questioning through which we are trying to achieve a piece which is approachable whilst being as multifaceted as possible. Our different backgrounds in theatre traditions, roles within the production mechanisms as well as countries of origin play a great part in reaching this layering.


What THREE words best describe Tanken?


Close, Strange, Hopeful.

"We are fluid and always in search of a fitting composition within a changing world, whilst constantly realizing that this is an impossible goal to reach."

Have you always had a passion for theatre?


Yes! Although sometimes one has to persuade oneself into one’s passion. 


What would you say makes an art collective like projekt.vakuum; Andy Kirk, Silvan Anesini, Vanessa Morandell, David Schwegler, and Christian Müller, work so well?


Talking about the current situation it would be the flexibility of the organization. Projekt.vakuum works like a pool of artists, so for the Fringe version of Tanken only me, Silvan and Vanessa are involved form the original collective, although Silvan and Vanessa won’t be able to attend the Fringe. Our Fringe team consists of Sophie León Pellegrin our dramaturg who adapted the current text-version of Tanken with me, Gioia Gwin our actress and Emma Sacks our actress and production manager.


What does Tanken say about projekt.vakuum as creators and the type of theatre you want to make?


We are fluid and always in search of a fitting composition within a changing world, whilst constantly realizing that this is an impossible goal to reach. Our theatre finds itself in the traces of that search, just like the petrol station mascots in this piece. 


How much has your style to your theatrical productions changed since you started out?


I think I got more open to different dramatical structures and improvisation. At the beginning of my work I always wanted to perfection every bit of the piece, but for the time being I realized that this is not what is most important. What counts is the flexibility and the tension created through the fragility of the performance. Our job is to open up the space for this tension to emerge.


Do you have any advice, tips or suggestions you would offer anyone thinking about getting into theatre or wanting to start their own art collective?


Start raising money early and take care of each other. 


And finally, what do you want your fringe audiences to take away from Tanken?


That the later can sometimes shine a different light on the now. 

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