Chris Kondek

Chris Kondek © Christiane Kühl
Chris Kondek © Christiane Kühl
Chris Kondek © Christiane Kühl

Born in Boston in 1962, Kondek began experimenting with video in New York’s theatre scene in the mid 1980s. His first permanent collaboration was with the Wooster Group in 1989, when he worked on “Brace up!”, an adaptation of Chekhov’s “Three Sisters”, then on “Fish Story” and “The Emperor Jones”. In the early days his official title was light designer – the term video artist had not yet been coined. In the 1990s he worked for Robert Wilson and Michael Nyman. Laurie Anderson, a progressive thinker with experience in the use of video technology, engaged him in 1995 for her multimedia concert “The Nerve Bible” and in 1998 for the opera “Songs and Stories from Moby Dick”.  

Kondek moved to Berlin in 1999, where he was involved in three productions at the Volksbühne theatre’s side venue in 2000/2001; for an entire season, films were brought to the stage at the initiative of René Pollesch. Other projects with well-known directors followed, his video works for the choreographer Meg Stuart first drawing public attention to him. Since 2003 Kondek has worked continuously with Stefan Pucher, for whom video is an important element of his productions. “Othello” was invited to the Berlin Theatertreffen festival in 2005, and “The Tempest” three years later.

At the same time, Kondek – in his work as a director – explores in a series of his own projects how virtual stock exchange transactions and financial market laws can be depicted on stage. In 2005, his performance of “Dead Cat Bounce”, in which ticket revenues are gambled on the stock exchange while the show is ongoing, received two prizes at the 6th Festival of Politics in Free Theatre (the ZDF-Theaterkanal award and the Goethe-Institut award) and was invited to numerous guest performances in Germany and abroad.
In 2011 the production "Money - It came from outer Space" wins the Prize of the Goethe-Institut at the 8. "Festival Politik im Freien Theater".

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Chris Kondek: Portrait

The waves of resistance have subsided. In recent years, video film has become widely accepted in the stage productions of leading municipal theatres. The turning point at which the development gathered pace came at the end of the 1990s when the concept of realism changed in theatres. Up-and-coming directors implemented new forms of complex narrative styles based on montage techniques, changing perspectives or the simultaneity of different events.

Video plays a key role in this process of transformation: it allows an opening up to the outside, a dismantling of the boundaries separating theatre from cinema, an expansion of the stage sphere. Chris Kondek has shaped this development for ten years alongside directors and choreographers. His video works are appeals to our subconscious, dream-like and nightmare visions that always intervene in what is happening on stage. A prime example of this is a dancing tea cup, a video image of which – distorted to make it larger than life – appeared in 2003 in Meg Stuart’s dance composition “Visitors only” and reinforced the expectation of impending disaster in a stage set that resembled a half-sunken house.

This first high point of his work at German-language municipal theatres, however, had already been preceded by a productive and dynamic phase of experimentation in New York. In the early 1990s, Kondek came into contact with Richard Foreman and the Wooster Group in New York’s theatre scene. A technician and light designer, part of his role was to take care of video. Although the Fluxus movement had already made film and television its central medium decades earlier, it was only now that the first affordable cameras became commercially available and proved suitable for live use on stage via a video output. There was a lack of standards in this first phase, and a fruitful conspiracy began, suggesting that pictures had the power not only to illustrate but indeed to exert direct influence.

It makes no difference whether Kondek in his earlier works presents actors in beautiful large-scale shots, distorts scenes from black-and-white Hollywood films or projects mysterious landscapes: it tends to be pictures rather than films that he works with. “Video runs, goes past and ends. One looks differently, more deeply, at pictures, and one reads them. They do not have to be complex, but they do have to have presence“, is his belief. Even when he does create films, however, he builds up subtle tensions and multiple atmospheric layers.

The fact that Kondek does not pursue a particular aesthetic approach per se but allows himself to be guided by the needs of each new project means that he is of interest even to a director like Jossi Wieler, who works with psychology and a strict adherence to text, and previously had little time for video. For Wieler’s production of “The Bacchae”, Kondek composed a snowy fir tree forest landscape that appeared absolutely realistic and, at the end, looked as bare as if it had been stripped by an inferno. Despite the boom at German theatres in the meantime, however, Kondek encounters time and again old ways of thinking and working which attempt to add video to finished productions rather than employing the medium right from the outset as a means of resolving problems relating to contents during the production and rehearsal process. 

It is no coincidence that Kondek achieves his most impressive works in collaboration with the director Stefan Pucher, who is able better than almost anyone else to exploit all that video has to offer on stage. Together, they have created a dozen productions, and no end is in sight. In their impressive staging of “Othello”, which was invited to the Berlin Theatertreffen festival in 2005, Kondek’s love scenes using security cameras generated an intimate and tense atmosphere and allowed Othello and Desdemona literally to crawl towards one another. In other scenes the video images opened the audience’s eyes to Iago’s banal manipulations or underlined the action on stage with the stereotypes of the entertainment industry.

The film intro that Kondek then designed in 2007 for Pucher’s production of “The Tempest” was once again an interactive mix of video and theatre: he edited old film recordings and actor videos from the blue box to create images of a storm at sea and a shipwreck. It was full of poetic magic on the one hand, while suitable on the other hand in its factitiousness for Shakespeare’s play in which Prospero intentionally provokes the storm. The attention to detail and precision that is evident in the “Tempest” intro is testimony to the obsession with which Kondek edits his images, changing their size, excerpts and speeds on a computer.

These days, Kondek also undertakes his own directing projects to allow him to independently put his own ideas into practice. Together with Christiane Kühl, a dramatic adviser, he designs productions that function like interactive teaching plays. In their debut work “Dead Cat Bounce”, which right away won two prizes at the 2005 Festival of Politics in Free Theatre, the duo took the money the audience had paid for their tickets and bought stocks and share on the stock exchange while the performance was being staged. The overpowering nature of the stock market became clear, while on stage the genuine effects of a win or a loss after a 90-minute theatre performance and on the emotions of the spectators involved were also revealed. In “Loan Shark”, Kondek expanded his stock exchange speculation to include live images of the audience’s faces, thereby taking the principle of his video works one step further – connecting reality spaces on stage.  

Simone Kaempf

Chris Kondek: Productions

Eigene Inszenierungen

"Anonymous P."
2014, Gessnerallee Zürich

"Please Kill 2011"
2012, Theater Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin

“Even The Dead Are Not Safe From The Living”
2011, Frankfurter Positionen, Künstlerhaus Mousonturm, Frankfurt

“Money – It came from Outer Space”
2010, Theater Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin
2011 prize of the Goethe-Institut at the 8th festival Politik im Freien Theater in Dresden

“Übermorgen ist zweifelhaft // 2012” (i.e. The Day after Tomorrow ist Doubtful// 2012)
2010, Münchner Kammerspiele

2008, Theater am Neumarkt, Zurich

“Loan Shark”
2008, Hebbel am Ufer Berlin, Rotterdamse Schouwburg

After Bertolt Brecht “Hier ist der Apparat” (i.e. Here is the Apparat)
2006, Theater Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin

“Dead Cat Bounce”
2004, Theater Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin, Künstlerhaus Mousonturm, Frankfurt am Main, Rotterdamse Schouwburg

Video Works

Richard Wagner"Tannhäuser"
2011, Bayreuth Festival
Director: Sebastian Baumgarten

After György Ligeti and Luigi Nono “La Fabbrica”
2010, Theater Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin
Director: Sebastian Baumgarten

“RRUNGS! Eine Raumerkundung” (i.e. RRungs ! An Exploration of Space)
2010, Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin
Regie und Choreografie: Wanda Golonka

William Shakespeare “Antonius and Cleopatra”
2009, Burgtheater, Vienna
Director: Stefan Pucher

After John Cassavetes “Opening Night”
2009, Schauspiel Frankfurt, Maxim Gorki Theater Berlin
Director: Armin Petras

William Shakespeare “Measure for Measure”
2009, Munich Kammerspiele
Director: Stefan Pucher

After Fritz Lang/Thea von Harbou “M – Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder”(i.e. M.) 2008, Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin
Director: Stefan Pucher

William Shakespeare “The Merchant of Venice”
2008, Schauspielhaus, Zurich
Director: Stefan Pucher

After Victorien Sardou and Giacomo Puccini “Tosca”
2008, Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin
Director: Sebastian Baumgarten

William Shakespeare “The Tempest”
2007, Munich Kammerspiele
Director: Stefan Pucher

Carl Maria von Weber “The Free-Shooter”
2007, Salzburg Festival
Director: Falk Richter

Benjamin Britten “Peter Grimes” Opera
2007, Semperoper, Dresden
Director: Sebastian Baumgarten

Heinrich von Kleist “Prince Frederick of Homburg”
2007, Schauspiel, Frankfurt
Director: Armin Petras

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart “Le Nozze di Figaro”
2006 Nederlaans Oper
Director: Jossi Wieler

Eugene O’Neill “Mourning is Electra”
2006, Munich Kammerspiele
Director: Stefan Pucher

Meg Stuart / Damaged Goods “It’s not funny”
2006, Salzburg Festival, Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin
Conception/Director: Meg Stuart

After Anton Chekhov and Thomas Brasch “Fatherless”
2006, Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin
Director: Stefan Pucher

Meg Stuart “Replacement”
2006, Volksbühne Berlin
Konzept und Regie: Meg Stuart

Euripides “The Menades”
2005, Munich Kammerspiele
Regie: Jossi Wieler

“For Sale”
2005, Schauspiel, Frankfurt
Konzept und Choreographie: Wanda Golonka

Johann Sebastian Bach “Matthäuspassion”
2005, Schauspielhaus, Zurich
Director: Stefan Pucher

William Shakespeare “Othello”
2004, Deutsches Schauspielhaus, Hamburg
Director: Stefan Pucher

Roland Schimmelpfennig “The Woman Before”
2004, Burgtheater, Vienna
Director: Stephan Müller

“Road to Baghdad”
2004, Sophiensaele, Berlin
Director: Hans-Werner Kroesinger

“La Bohème” Opera by Giacomo Puccini
2004, Scottish National Opera, Glasgow
Director: Stewart Laing

Aischylos “Oresteia”
2004, Schauspielhaus, Zurich
Director: Stefan Pucher

Réne Pollesch “Bei Banküberfällen wird mit wahrer Liebe gehandelt” (i.e. Bank Robberies Are Acts of True Love)
2003, Schauspielhaus, Zurich
Director: Stefan Pucher

Meg Stuart / Damaged Goods “Visitors only”
2003, Schauspielhaus, Zürich
Conzept und Regie: Meg Stuart

Meg Stuart / Damaged Goods “Alibi”
2001, Schauspielhaus, Zürich
Conzept und Regie: Meg Stuart

After Sergio Leone “Spiel mir das Lied von Tod” (i.e. Play to me the Song of Death)
2001, Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin
Director: Albrecht Hirche

Alex Garland “The Beach”
2001, Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin
Director: Jan Jochymski

After John Cassavetes “A Woman Under the Influence”
2000, Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin
Director: René Pollesch

“Hot Water”
2000, Festival Singapur
Multimedia-project by Robert Wilson

“The Days Before: Death, Destruction and Detroit III”
1999, Lincoln Center Festival, New York

Director: Robert Wilson

“The Commissar Vanishes”
1999, Barbican Center, London
Director: Michael Nyman

“Songs and Stories from Moby Dick”
1998, Southern Methodist University, Dallas
Conzept: Laurie Anderson

“The Nerve Bible”
1995, Seattle
Conzept: Laurie Anderson

“The Emperor Jones” by Eugene O‘Neill
1993, The Performing Garage, New York
Director: Elisabeth LeCompte/Wooster Group

“Fish Story”
1992, The Performing Garage, New York
Director: Elisabeth LeCompte/Wooster Group

After Anton Chekhov (Three Sisters) “Brace up!”
1989, The Performing Garage, New York
Director: Elisabeth LeCompte/Wooster Group