Tom Kühnel

© Sebastian Hoppe
Born in Cottbus on 4 April 1971. From 1992 to 1996 studied Direction at the Ernst Busch University for Dramatic Arts in Berlin. While he was still a student, he formed a directorial team with Robert Schuster and also worked with the puppet mistress Suse Wächter. In 1994 they staged Alexander Vvedensky’s “Christmas at the Ivanovs’” in Berlin’s Maxim Gorki Theatre and were awarded the Friedrich Luft Prize. One year later they were awarded the Max-Reinhardt Prize for their production of Bertolt Brecht’s “Measures Taken”.

After completing their studies, the directorial team produced plays in Berlin and at the Frankfurter Schauspielhaus. In 1998 they and the virtual author Soeren Voima started to treat classics and to write plays. From 1999 to 2002 Kühnel and Schuster were the artistic directors of Frankfurt’s Theater am Turm (TAT). Since 2000 Tom Kühnel has been producing plays on his own.
Since leaving TAT, he has worked as a director at the Berlin Schaubühne, Basel Theatre, the Deutsches Theater Berlin and, recently, Aachen Theatre, where he took his first step towards opera direction when he staged Henry Purcell’s “The Fairy Queen” together with Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.

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Portrait: Tom Kühnel

Before completing his studies at the Ernst Busch University for Dramatic Arts in Berlin, Tom Kühnel produced plays as a directorial team together with Robert Schuster. As a directing community the two escaped pigeon-holing and sought to re-establish contemporary theatre in the border areas of camouflage and the absurd. This continued to be the case when the were hired by Schauspiel Frankfurt immediately after their studies and appeared there not just as a directorial team, but also as a team of writers under the name Soeren Voima. In this time, they dealt with classics and showed the premiere of each resultant production. With Henrik Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt”, for example, Kühnel/Schuster showed that they liked to re-enact plays as though in a laboratory situation, incorporating puppet theatre elements in cooperation with Suse Wächter.

When the duo took over the artistic direction of Frankfurt’s Theater am Turm (TAT) in 1999 they took one step further in a game with identities and theatre material. In a manifesto it was announced that the theatre would have to investigate its aesthetic means afresh and specify how reality could be achieved. The creed: “Reality acquires definable contours only through affirmative observation. The theatre must be understood as affirmative art again”. The first two TAT productions were called “German for Foreigners” and “World Theatre I”. Until then it had been the case that Kühnel/Schuster’s productions had had a double identity and a part of each of them could be found in everything. But we can safely assume that Tom Kühnel’s contribution is going more in the direction in which theatre basics are naively spelled out.

In “German for Foreigners”, the text and production came about in a joint process of discussion and rehearsals. Marius von Mayenburg, Albert Ostermeier and Roland Schimmelpfennig had contributed short texts to “World Theatre I”. In both cases, the stage interpretation was a not exactly convincing work-in-progress. Kühnel/Schuster earned their first TAT success with “The Contingency”. The started from Bertolt Brecht’s “Measures Taken”. As in the model, an idealistic “revolutionary”, whose idealism apparently jeopardises the common cause, is murdered by four comrades. Unlike the model, all of this takes place as part of a UN deployment to protect human rights. The production asked whether the humanitarian purpose justified all means.

Up to this time the directorial duo and the virtual writer Soeren Voima had made it clear that they tended towards theatrical laboratory situations and post-dramatic material. When their cooperation came to an end in 2000, Tom Kühnel made it clear with a solo production of Richard Wagner’s “Ring of the Nibelungen” that there is a directorial life beyond the theatrical laboratory for him. He had the explosive idea of taking the libretto of the Wagner tetralogy as a model for spoken theatre, to interpret it as a forerunner of the theatre of the absurd and to produce it as a petit bourgeois farce.

Since the end of the TAT, Tom Kühnel has produced at Basel Theatre and in Thomas Ostermeier’s team at Schaubühne Berlin, where he presented a convincing piece of directorial work with Falk Richter’s “Electronic City”. The play toys with the idea that the globalised individual loses reality somewhere between terminal and desktop, meeting and lounge. But then life catches up on the global player. Tom Kühnel stages the incipient love story between the protagonists Tom and Joy using the methods of narrative theatre concentrated on actors. He arranges a game with various media levels around the love story. When we think that he produced Aeschylus’s “The Oresteia” in Basel after “Electronic City”, we can only look forward to the directorial breadth he will find in future beyond the laboratory.

Jürgen Berger

Productions - A selection

  • Tom Kühnel, Jürgen Kuttner after Ayn Rand ("The Fountainhead") "Capitalista, Baby !"
    2011, Deutsches Theater, Berlin
  • After Hans Fallada "Farmers, Functionaries, Fireworks"
    2011, Staatsschauspiel Hannover
  • After Peter Hacks "The Worries and the Power. A Play About the Future of Yesterday" (Direction together with Jürgen Kuttner)
    2010, Deutsches Theater, Berlin (Kammerspiele)
  • Alan Ayckbourn "Henceforward"
    2010, Staatsschauspiel Hannover
  • After Harun Farocki "Die Schöpfer der Einkaufswelten. Ein quasi-maoistisches Lehrstück" (i.e. "The Creators of Shopping Worlds. A quasi Maoistic Didactic Play")
    2010, Staatsschauspiel Hannover
  • Euripides "Alcestis"
    2010, Staatsschauspiel Hannover
  • Tom Kühnel, Jürgen Kuttner, Suse Wächter, Datenstrudel "Götter, Kekse, Philosophen"(i.e. "Gods, Bisquits, Philosophers")
    2009, Schauspiel Hannover
  • After George Orwell "1984"
    2009, Theater Freiburg
  • Saša Stanišic "Go West - Eine Familie wandert aus" (i.e. "Go West - A Family emigrates")
    2008, Schauspiel Graz
  • Tom Kühnel, Jürgen Kuttner "Parsifal"
    2008, Schauspiel Köln
  • Edward Albee "Who's afraid of Virgina Woolf ?"
    2008, Schauspiel Graz
  • "fordlandia" (Zusammen mit Suse Wächter und Jürgen Kuttner)
    2007, Schauspiel Köln (Halle Kalk)
  • William Shakespeare/Henry Purcell "A Midsummer Night's Dream/The Fairy Queen"
    (Together with Suse Wächter)
    2006, Theater Aachen
  • After Bertolt Brecht "Saying Yes and Saying No"
    (Together with Suse Wächter and Jürgen Kuttner)
    2006, Thalia Theater in der Gaußstraße, Hamburg
  • "Helden des 20. Jahrhunderts" (i.e., "Heroes of the 20. Century")
    (Together with Suse Wächter and Jürgen Kuttner)
    2005, Volksbühne am Rosa Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin
  • Henrik Ibsen "Ghosts"
    2004, Basel Theatre
  • Heinrich von Kleist "Hermann's Battle"
    2004, Deutsches Theater Berlin
  • Falk Richter "Electronic City"
    2004, Schaubühne Berlin
  • Aischylos „Die Orestie“
    2004, Theater Basel
  • Falk Richter „Electronic City“
    2003, Schaubühne Berlin
  • Aeschylus “The Oresteia“
    2004, Basel Theatre
  • Falk Richter “Electronic City”
    2003, Schaubühne Berlin
  • Kühnel/Kutter/Schwarz/Wächter “Heroes of the 20th Century”
    premiere 2003, Basel Theatre
  • Ingmar Bergmann “Scenes from a Marriage”
    2003, Basel Theatre
  • Nicolai Erdmann “The Suicide”
    2002, TAT Frankfurt
  • Richard Wagner “The Ring of the Nibelungen”
    2001, TAT Frankfurt
  • Soeren Voima after Sophocles/Euripides “Europe”
    premiere 2000, TAT Frankfurt
  • Soeren Voima “The Contingency”
    premiere 2000, Schaubühne Berlin/TAT Frankfurt
  • Soeren Voima/Marius von Mayenburg/Albert Ostermeier/Roland Schimmelpfennig “World Theatre I”
    premiere 2000, TAT Frankfurt
  • Soeren Voima “German for Foreigners”
    premiere 1999, TAT Frankfurt
  • Soeren Voima after William Shakespeare “Titus Andronicus”
    premiere 1998, Schauspiel Frankfurt
  • Soeren Voima after Henrik Ibsen “Peer Gynt”
    premiere 1998, Schauspiel Frankfurt
  • Soeren Voima after Lewis Caroll “Alice in Wonderland”
    premiere 1998, Schauspiel Frankfurt
  • Samuel Beckett “Waiting for Godot”
    1997, Schauspiel Frankfurt
  • Sophocles “Antigone”
    1996, BAT Hochschule für Schauspielkunst Ernst Busch Berlin
  • Bertolt Brecht “Measures Taken”
    1995, BAT Hochschule für Schauspielkunst Ernst Busch Berlin
  • Alexander Vvedensky “Christmas at the Ivanovs’”
    1994, Maxim Gorki Theatre Berlin