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Tracing Roads Across/ Performance craft, artistic know-how and creative witnessing

A project by the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards

Jerzy Grotowski dedicated the last thirteen years of his life to the transmission of his practical knowledge. For this purpose, the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski was founded in 1986 at the invitation of the Centro per la Sperimentazione e la Ricerca Teatrale (now: “Fondazione Pontedera Teatro”), its director Roberto Bacci and Carla Pollastrelli, with the support from the University of California, Irvine, in collaboration with Peter Brook and his "Centre International de Creations Theatrales" (Paris, France), and “Academie Experimentale des Theatres” (Paris, France), with contributions and grants from various sources, including the Rockefeller Foundation.

Thomas Richards arrived in Italy in 1986 with Grotowski from the University of California, Irvine, where he had participated in Grotowski's “Focused Research Program in Objective Drama”. In Italy, at first Mr. Richards worked as Grotowski's assistant, but soon he became the leader of one of the work teams, and then Grotowski's “essential collaborator”. Eventually, Mr. Richards became Director of the Research Program on Performing Arts at the Workcenter. Richards was a fundamental driving force in the research developed at the Workcenter which has come to be known as “art as vehicle”. The term “art as vehicle” was first utilized by Peter Brook in a conference in Florence in 1987 when speaking of Grotowski's research at the Workcenter. In 1996, Grotowski decided to change the name of the Workcenter to Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards, because, as he specified, the direction of the practical work already concentrated itself in the hands of Thomas Richards. Between these two dates, as he himself stated, Jerzy Grotowski realized with Thomas Richards the process of transmission in the ancient, traditional sense of the word.

After the death of Mr. Grotowski in 1999, the direction of the Workcenter, and its artistic drive toward the future has been in the hands of Mr. Richards, who is deepening and developing the research and the Workcenter's creative exploration.

Since the foundation of the Workcenter in 1986, Mario Biagini has been a key and central member of the practical research team on “art as vehicle” working alongside Thomas Richards. Mr. Biagini is a principal doer in the present performative opus at the Workcenter in the domain of “art as vehicle”, Action, a leader in Project The Bridge, Developing Theatre Arts - a new branch of the Workcenter research, and a director of the performative opus created therein entitled One Breath Left. Within the Workcenter, Mr. Biagini works in creative tandem with Thomas Richards as Associate Director.

The Workcenter presently develops its research along the following lines:
1. Art as a vehicle :
At work on an alternative potentiality of performing arts

This research has always articulated itself in the creation of precise performative opuses that are repeatable down to the minutest detail. The opuses in the domain of "art as vehicle" have come to be known as "Actions". Many different Actions have been created throughout the years. For example: Main Action, Downstairs Action (filmed by Mercedes Gregory in 1989), Action – an opus in the domain of "art as vehicle" presently done at the Workcenter (filmed in 2000, production A.C.C.A.A.N. – Atelier Cinema de Normandie and Centre Dramatique National de Normandie), and the presently emerging opus, The Twin: an Action in creation.


From 1994, Thomas Richards directs Action, an opus which he created and on which he carries on a continuous work. Actionstructures, in a material linked to performing arts, the work on oneself of the doers. The opus is composed of lines of actions elaborated in detail, constructed with and around ancient vibratory songs. Most of these songs are African and Afro-Caribbean in origin, and therefore are in the languages practiced by those cultures. In Action, there also appear, often under the form of incantations, fragments of a text in English translated word by word from Coptic. This text comes from a very remote source of the Judeo-Christian tradition; one cannot say anything with certitude about its arising.

In theatrical performances strictly speaking, that is in art as presentation, normally one of the indispensable elements is the story, the narration. A story is told, even if the essential may be something else. For the observer of Action, however, it would be more pertinent not to look for a story - the analogy would be rather poetry than narrative prose.

The fact is that in Action we do not look to tell a story. It’s not an opus in the domain of art as presentation, but in the domain of " art as vehicle" . Since we can see the performing arts as a chain with numerous links, where at one extremity one finds art as presentation (theatre in the strict sense), and at the other extremity, " art as vehicle" .
It’s something very ancient, rather forgotten. In " art as vehicle" there are opuses, but they do not necessarily demand the presence of exterior observers, since this work does not orient itself towards the spectator as an objective. Because of that, witnesses may be present or not.

For the persons doing, the doers, the opus is a kind of vehicle for the work on oneself, in the sense that, as in certain old traditions, the attention for art goes together with the approach of the interiority of the human being.

From the point of view of technical elements everything in " art as vehicle" is almost as in a normal theatre work of long duration. We essentially work on the songs, but we also work on the impulses, the score of reactions, the logic of the minutest actions, archaic models of movement, the word, so ancient that it’s almost always anonymous. Everything depends on the artisanal competence with which we are able to work, on the quality of the details, the quality of the actions and rhythm, on the order of elements. So, we look to be impeccable from the point of view of craft. In Action as much as in a performance of art theatre, the structure is repeatable; it has a beginning, a development and an end, where each element should have its technically necessary logical place.

Fairly often exterior observers are invited to see Action. In the beginning, this involved a very small number of people, but now after all these years there have been in total thousands of witnesses - but always in little groups. And when someone witnesses, even though the work of art is not existing for them, they do have the opportunity to perceive the underlying aspects which give life to the creative opus.

Tracing Roads Across

The ongoing creative development of the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards, from April 2003 to April 2006, will be housed within the project Tracing Roads Across,supported by the “Culture 2000” Programme of the European Union, and made possibleby a network of cultural operators from six different countries. Standing out among them is “Fondazione Pontedera Teatro” which heads the group of co-organizers by hosting the “Main Work”. Gulsen Gurses, Artistic Director of “Theater des Augenblicks” in Austria, is project-organizer.

Tracing Roads Across , as well as directly concerning the Workcenter’s practical research, will periodically focus the artistic team’s attention towards selected young theatre groups, performance artists and students, and also give the Workcenter team the opportunity to address topics related to creative analysis with theatre experts and scholars. The project will create the circumstances in which the works and creative processes of young artists and scholars can be analyzed from the point of view of performance craft.

A three-year traveling cultural dialogue will be fostered between chosen theatre groups, organizations and cultural operators from eleven nations. The participating individual artists, theatre groups and intellectuals will delve at different levels and in different stages into the practical aspects of the overall three-year project.

Tracing Roads Across will be realized by the Workcenter team. The project will be conducted by an artistic core group, Workcenter researchers who have all already taken active part in the performative researches at the Workcenter for at least three full years, and will include project stagiĺrs, who are the young artists entering into the performative research of the Workcenter, full time for a minimum period of one year.

Tracing Roads Across will also create the opportunity for non-professionals, amateurs, and theatre-lovers of all participating countries to come in contact with the artistic research and performative opuses of the Workcenter. Interestedindividualswill also be contacted through the numerous open conferences, projections of documentary films, and public discussions held in the participating countries.

November 13 – 16 2004
The Red House – Centre for Culture and Debate, Ljuben Karavelov St. 15