Taxis. A show on wheels

9 December, 2023, Kotryna Lingienė / Kaunas Full of Culture | News, Topic of the month

Have you ever voluntarily chosen to take any other than the shortest possible route with a taxi? Perhaps you allowed the taxi driver to arrange your route. And have you ever wondered how drivers remember us?

Taxi drivers appear in our lives as episodic but intense characters. For a few or a dozen minutes, we share the closed space of the car, listen to the music chosen by them, and drive at their chosen speed. But… as the population of invasive Priuses grows in Lithuania, even the brand of the car no longer helps you to identify Mindaugas, Virgilijus, or Natalija that took you to that important date, the best concert of your life, or the airport. 

Photo by V. Mantrimavičius

“Tyzenhauzų Street, July 18th. It was terrible. When you come to Rinktinės Street on Friday morning, you expect someone to want to go home from a party. I waited ten minutes, got nervous, and made a call. Then, I heard a calm male voice – unexpectedly calm and sober – saying, ‘We’ll be right there.’ And I didn’t check where we were going. And when they came, I saw it myself. He came with a pregnant wife. Crazy! He says, ‘Now we are going to go to Tyzenhauzų Street, to the maternity hospital, hurry but slowly, and avoid potholes.’ It was terrible for me, not so much for him. I understood that this was his second child. I put on Mozart, and we drove solemnly. But he only paid me as much as the meter indicated: 5 euros. Quite close-fisted. Four stars.”

This is a voice message that Laurynas, an artistic soul from Vilnius, who works as a driver in his spare time, left for himself. He has been collecting reflections on more interesting cases, which he rates from five to even minus five stars, for several years. Laurynas drove me and I listened to his reflections back in January of 2022. When he dropped me off, I wished him to publish a book and he said that he would think about it.

What was the driver from Vilnius doing in Kaunas? That weekend everyone was here actually because of Sukilimas, an opening event of the year of the European Capital of Culture. I remember that on Sunday evening I was genuinely exhausted, but I couldn’t afford not to participate in a dramaturgical adventure. At the time it was just a rehearsal of the upcoming performance of the Artscape Agency, which took place in the Mažasis Paryžius cafe (I will reveal a secret on the occasion of the 100th issue of the magazine: it is the best bar in the whole galaxy).

“The work in the documentary theater is similar to that of a journalist – you need to interview people, and gather information, and not everyone is immediately ready to open up. In addition, you need to figure out what to do with those stories, and what shape to give them. So far, I have touched the arteries, but I have not yet grasped the main nerve, toward which I’d like to focus everything,” Rimantas Ribačiauskas told me pensively back then at Mažasis Paryžius. It was less than half a year before the premiere. With this theatrical experiment staged in taxi cars, Artscape Agency sought to capture the time when the old unceremonious taxi drivers – from the point of view of today – were replaced by drivers who avoid contact altogether. It also aimed at closing the distance between drivers and passengers. That was also the name of the project: Attempts at Covering Distances. Rimantas took on the task together with the German director Kristina Werner and a group of other creators.

Later in June 2022, when the former barracks in Šančiai were turned into a central dispatch office and the actual premiere of Taxis was flocked by well-known names of the art world, I experienced several dramatic rides in one evening. The app driver and an old-timey taxi driver, who met at an open field in Aleksotas, had a rap battle about who’s tougher. Later, we were chasing a golden BMW along the narrow streets of Vilijampolė in Lina’s skillfully driven bolide, trying to figure out who was driving it and where they were going. Finally, I ended up in Panemunė, next to an impressive ‘kolkhoz baroque’ building, where Jolanta, who used to work in the taxi park and has also been driving a taxi for three decades ended her performance.

I was left unsatisfied at the time, but this short experience has taken one of the top spots on my 2022 list (perhaps the most fulfilling year of my life). I have been telling everyone: if you missed it, you’ll regret it, because Taxis was something else. So, when I saw the announcement that Taxis are having a comeback this fall, and after the premiere at the Kaunas Artists’ House you will be able to book this experience at a convenient time, I squeaked with excitement. If then we returned to Šančiai just after 20 minutes, now I was told to spare at least an hour and a half.

Photo by V. Paplauskas

The stage of performance/tour Taxis is a closed car space, and the main and only actor is the driver. Their experiences and choices, surprising things that happened to them and the passengers, tragedies, comedies, and detective stories become a play. Their life dictates the soundtrack. The sound layer is especially important in Taxis. It forces you to devote yourself to the script to such an extent that, looking out the car windows, you begin to wonder whether the silver Audi forgotten on the side of the road is a prop for this performance. Among the composers who worked with Taxis are Andrius Šiurys, Dominykas Digimas, and Jūra Elena Šedytė. It’s more than playing a clip of a hit song from YouTube while stopping by some famous building in Kaunas. Although Jolanta also shared her favourite track. She said that AC/DC’s “Hells Bells” has been her ringtone for years. 

The most unfair thing I could do with this text is to describe in detail the stops on Jolanta’s route and tell what we did there. It would also be cruel to reveal everything about the second trip with Taxis that took place this November. But if I mentioned “Hells Bells”, I have to say that the ex-traffic policeman, who also worked in the Vilija that was blown up later, took us to his former high school and played us “Rhythm Is a Dancer” by Snap! The drivers’ preferred music and their reaction to it help to identify not only the age of the characters but also the colours of their souls. After all, you usually only see the back of the taxi driver’s head. If you’re lucky, your eyes meet in the mirror.

“Drivers are those people that we usually don’t pay much attention to, maybe you talk to them during the trip, but then you shut the car door and it’s over. We want to draw attention to them and invite you to see yourself in them,” Rimantas told me in January 2022. I don’t know what methods director Kristina – called Tinka by everyone – uses but they really work well. If you can convince a retired officer in his fifties to dance and order vodka, a queen of Mercedes to frequent the grave of the same Kaunas celebrity, cast cards for passengers, and share magic tips, you are definitely doing something right.

Now that two years have passed since the meeting in Mažasis Paryžius, I can confidently state: Rimantas and Tinka managed to grasp the previously mentioned nerve. If a tour in your hometown seems even more interesting to you than in an unfamiliar one, if you know that the narrower the topic, the smaller the group of people, the later the time of day, and the more time you spend in a short section, the better, and if you realize that the real authenticity and signs of the times lie outside the touristic on pedestrian boulevards, then Taxis are for you. The Whispers of Kaunas with Jolanta is mystical and truly intimate; Wild Kaunas with Rimvydas is thrilling, sometimes reminiscent of the TV show Farai (cops) and books by Dailius Dargis. Jolanta won’t give you a choice, she won’t ask you questions but she will lure you into thinking about the fragility of life. Rimvydas is more curious (perhaps he was a bit more nervous) and at the same time more mischievous. Oh, there is also Egidijus, who offers to take a ride around Breathing Kaunas and remember the connection with nature. I will save this ride for later. You will soon find all three by visiting, and you can book it there as well, like any other tour. It’s fantastic that the creators and actors of the play found a convenient way for everyone to support the idea, and the Kaunas IN team, which is responsible for the image of the city in the eyes of tourists, has a good understanding of what fascinates adventure seekers (currently the shows are only available in Lithuanian – ed.)

Photo by V. Paplauskas

I would like the Taxis to never end. I believe that the number of whispering, panting, and crazed versions of Kaunas is infinite. Could every trip in a Prius become a small performance? Maybe I don’t need to take the shortest route every time? Is it possible that upon uttering a code word every driver would become a conductor of experiences? Maybe I just have to listen to them and trust them. How can I not trust a person who wears a Žalgiris cap and is ready to show me the most picturesque panorama of Kaunas?

Finally, good news for fans of Rimantas Ribačiauskas’ talent. He and director Mantas Jančiauskas are already known for the exciting sound experience in the Vilnius ghetto, called Glaistas (glaze). Among the latest works of the duo is a theatrical experiment Vedami (guided) taking place in Pravieniškės prison, presented at this year’s Sirenos Festival. Here, visitors experience bewildering and perhaps enriching encounters with convicts. Their next stop is Kaunas. The creators will present a premiere of the play Pelkė (swamp) at the National Kaunas Drama Theater in June 2024. It is promised that this performance will take place off-stage and will be immersive. At the press conference at the end of the summer, the director mentioned, “This idea was born by chance when I was scrolling through articles on the Internet and noticed a text about spies and their increasing numbers in the Baltic countries. It seemed like an interesting and not widely discussed topic.” I completely agree and I will take a taxi to the premiere.