ACTOR #1

The artist and theatre-maker Kris Verdonck quite often combines his fascination with machines with images and concepts that owe a lot to science fiction. This certainly applies to the three-part ACTOR #1.

The first part, called MASS, shows an odd, poetic landscape in which chemical and physical processes are taking place. A landscape of constantly moving sculpted mists.

In HUMINID, we are addressed by a creature that can be called part human and part doll. The actor Johan Leysen is not physically present, but has lent his voice and face to the doll.

In DANCER #3 we see a robot trying to stand up straight; he always falls down again, but never gives up. He endures this process of trial and error cheerfully and indefatigably. His energy and clumsiness display the optimism of a clown who's always tripping over. The epilogue comprises a short film in which the philosopher and mathematician Jean‐Paul Van Bendegem outlines the history of the homunculus in his own inimitable fashion.

ACTOR #1 is about evolving: about what has come into being, what is, and what may come into being. Three variations on the metamorphosis from chaos to order.

The three parts of the performance are shown in separate rooms.
Three variations on the metamorphosis from chaos to order


A reign of light

Clarity on two mountains
the mountain of animals
the mountain of gods.
But between them the dusky
valley of men.
Sometimes, one of them looks up.
He is gripped, he imagines,
by an unquenchable longing,
he who knows he knows not,
for those who know not
that they do not know
and for those who know that they know

Paul Klee, 1903



ACTOR #1 is a project consisting of three separate parts – MASS, HUMINID and DANCER #3 – which together form a single thematic entity. They are performed in three different rooms at the same venue.

One of the starting points for this work was the history of the creation of the 'homunculus', the artificial miniature human that philosophers, alchemists and scientists have sought over the centuries since Greek Antiquity. ACTOR #1 is about genesis: what has, is or might come into being. Three variations on the metamorphosis from chaos to order.

The first part, called MASS, shows an odd, poetic landscape: a sort of moving milk‐white snowy carpet or a dance of thick clouds of mist that keep out the light. It might be the 'state' at the beginning of time, but there is no divine creator around. This matter moves independently and determines its own energy. We are witness to chemical and physical processes in which changes take place organically, by chance and without interruption.

In the second part, HUMINID, we are addressed directly by a creature that can be called part human and part doll: halfway between human and thing, halfway between life and death. Is it a human that wants to become a doll/thing or rather the reverse? In his Faust II (1832) Goethe describes how Mephistopheles and his helper Wagner bring a small artificial being to life in a phial (a flask). The Huminid shown here is simultaneously both flask and being, womb and embryo. He is made of dead matter, is a not‐anything, but his heart beats and he breathes. He is still unfinished. He grows inside his pod, he wants to 'be', but at the same time there is the knowledge that he is not viable outside the flask. He talks ceaselessly. He exists only in language. The actor Johan Leysen is not physically present, but has lent his voice and face for this piece. The script of HUMINID was inspired by Samuel Beckett's Lessness.

The third part, DANCER #3, again shows a different type of energy: we see a robot trying to stand up straight; he always falls down again, but never gives up. He endures this process of trial and error cheerfully and indefatigably. The machine gets to know its own potential. The energy of this automaton is infectious. His clumsiness and constant failure display the optimism of a clown who's always tripping over.


'The highest of beings is at rest as if he were dead, and in his movements he is like a machine.' – Lieh‐Tzu, 5th century BC

Text : Marianne Van Kerkhoven
« Verdonck shows us how a machine can move us and how soon we attribute human qualities to it. […] On the question of creation, this three-part performance offers us a robust concept. In fact, in ACTOR #1, Verdonck brings a debate to the stage, one that goes beyond our creation: is theatre possible without people? Verdonck visually substantiates the gravity attached to this concept. »
Sarah Vankersschaever in De Standaard, 19/01/2010


« In his piece ACTOR #1 (****), Kris Verdonck shows up the limits of man and machine. […] In a certain sense ACTOR #1 depicts this quest for a new sort of life: from the swirling gases in MASS to the half-animate puppet in HUMINID or the robot in DANCER#3. After this last piece you know it for sure: we shall never have access to the ‘mental world’ of these machines or of natural processes. We can only stand and watch. »
Pieter T’Jonck in de Morgen 21/01/2010



Concept & direction: Kris Verdonck
Dramaturgy: Marianne Van Kerkhoven (Kaaitheater)
Performer (on film): Johan Leysen, Jean Paul Van Bendegem
Construction: Sylvain Spinoit, Atelier 26, Steven Blum
Software & Electronics: Felix Luque
Sound design: Thomas Turine
Video: Vincent Pinckaers
Light design: Luc Schaltin (Kaaitheater), Kris Verdonck
Production manager: Hendrik De Smedt
Production: Margarita Production & A Two Dogs Company
Technical coordination: Luc Schaltin (Kaaitheater)
Coproducers: Kaaitheater (BE), Kunstencentrum Vooruit (BE), Buda kunstencentrum (BE), Le manège.mons/CECN (BE) et Technocité (BE) in the frame of Transdigital (Interreg)
Project initiated by La chartreuse (FR) in the frame of its research on robots and theatre
Scientific research: Jean-Jacques Cassiman, Dirk De Ridder, Philippe Fraisse, Jean Paul Van Bendegem, Dirk Van Hulle
With the support of: the Flemish Authorities
Thanks to: Atelier 26, Acapella digital voice, Arne Vanneste, LIRMM (FR), Luc Steels

  • 2011
  • 2010
17 > 18/02
BE Leuven Artefact Festival [Kunstencentrum STUK]
06 > 07/04
BE Turnhout De Warande
22 > 23/04
BE Kortrijk Buda Kunstencentrum
25 > 28/05
BE Utrecht Huis aan de Werf
  • DANCER #3 - © Hendrik De Smedt
  • MASS - © A Two Dogs Company
  • HUMINID - © Reinout Hiel
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