Transformation Means Revolution INTERVIEW WITH EUGENIO BARBA

TOMASZ MILKOWSKI: First I’d like, on behalf of the International Association of Theatre Critics, to congratulate you the Thalia Prize. And of course especially the 50th anniversary of Odin Theatre. It’s a true phenomenon. Not only your long life, everybody asks you what is a reason of this phenomenal situation and you always answer: thanks to our secret people, our friends. These are the fantastic words, but it provokes me to the question, what do you mean, who’s secret people? Is it a special community or something else?

EUGENIO BARBA: Let me answer it first by thanking the Association of the Critics for the prize, for the Thalia Prize which surprised me. I was really astonished and of course very glad because in a way I feel that if you work together with an environment of actors in other collaborators for a long time, then even if you work in a small town in the province in Denmark, you noticed what we were doing. And this was very very gratifying.

But Odin Theatre began as a small amateur group in Norway in ’64. When we worked there, our time outside of the structure, which was a traditional theatre. I think it was not this idea of performances and artistic manifestations as today. So we began as an amateur theatre and the first people we had with us were some friends I had met in Denmark.


He was a professor at the University he was teaching there, so he had nothing against University. And there were just four actors and myself, and he had no match to carry and we were performing in a gym usually in Norway. So this was the first secret person, someone who we knew was interested in what we were doing and later speak: theatre unknown – filmed the need to share this experience with other people in their own towns. Some of them would come to Holstebro – the small Danish town in the province – come see our performances, and listen I want to invite you to our places because if we were to show this our friends, to our public. In this city, this very moderated spectators, they have managed to keep or detach it economically and artistically autonomous from all the trends in these 50 years. They’ve shaken the theatre on the fashions. So even if one can see we are not the avant-garde, we are not in everything else. With him, this small amount that people spend all over the world, who regularly, when we make the performance or we have some projects, then they help us to realize it.

TOMASZ MILKOWSKI: Yes, back to the very beginning of your way. As you many times repeat, when you were a young director, you wanted to be like Grotowski and you wanted to create a theatre similar to his and after, for years after, you realized that it is not possible because in the shape of the theatre, always are two wings. One wing is knowledge and skills, theatre skills, and second wing, it is the biography of artists. Many historians said that the biography isn’t important. But for you it is important. Why?

EUGENIO BARBA: Because in the end, biography is not the size for the individual characteristics and the spirit of adventure, courage, tendency to compromise your opposites to remember and refuse. When we study the biographies of all the great theatre performers of the 20th century, Stanislavsky, Gordon Craig and others then, after the war Brecht, Barrault, Copeau, Grotowski, Judith Malina… You would see that their biographies are extremely interesting and explain actually more than their ideas. They would put being inspired by someone else, maybe Brecht by Piscator, Julien Beck by Artaud. But there was all these inferences which in the end decided. I think a biography, a means generates an age of us, certain articles to our lives, which we put into our artistic work. It’s very important to be inspired but we cannot repeat what breaks the theatre. Even if you wanted. How could you repeat what Grotowski was doing exactly the same? As actors we’re not able. I felt my actor’s were not as good as Grotowski’s actors. But in the end, my biography, the biographies of my actors, it is, as you want to make a plant grow – in the same way. No, each plant grows in a different way, they can be very similar but each plant is different. In this world we try to learn it’s very important to lead and honestly to be fascinated and then accept all these fascinations or traditions – the past, what we have been reading and seeing from those who have been working in these theatre crafts before us. And these traditions ruined and then you feel that you owe, that you’re in debt to this, but isn’t biographies as it is go through a very very personal dissemination process.

TOMASZ MILKOWSKI: This biographical wing have described in particular in your book “The Land of Ashes and Diamonds” and it’s a mysterious title, would you like to explain what it means?

EUGENIO BARBA: I was a young worker in England, an Italian immigrant in Norway. I was working as a welder, I had been starting course in University and then decided to move to Warsaw. And then I saw a Polish film. This film was called “Ashes and Diamonds” and was made by Andrzej Wajda. It was a film about the secret war that happened in Poland after the second world war between communists and people who were opposing the communist regime, but it’s title was referring to a line of extraordinary point by simply accounting a Polish poet, romantic poet. It speaks about that your life is burning and you believe that this burning has a meaning but in the end what will happen? Just we’ll be a handful of ashes or a diamond will be found on your burial.

That was first of all, the fuel, which needs – I actually deeply appreciated that I decided to travel to this country. I knew very little about it, I was 23 years old, but I can invent theatre in Poland. So I knew that Poland was the country where they had a king called Ubu. So and this made it comfortable and then I discovered the country where it was very very – became important in my life and I know I learned that the country met some theatre people. I mean, was it an exciting theatre life, an exception creators I could mention name after name, I utterly remember my professor at the theatre school in Bohdan Korzeniewski. Of course when I went to Poland so I could follow the work by director Grotowski, he was only three years older than me. He was 29 and I was 26, he was not known. But Poland, they were sinking the Polish theatre. And why Poland was exceptional because Poland it absorbed all the great performers from Russia – Stanislavsky, Meyerhold, Wachtangow, Tairow. All of this happened in Russia in a way influenced a generation of Polish creators. In Western Europe, Nazi’s and Fascists destroyed it. He was the only artist who kept the spirit of what you call the transform of the theatre. And when I came to this city [Opole] early in the 50s and 60s, this was very alive, even under the communist regime, so for me it was very inspiring, it was to come back to the West World, I feel that all the other theatre people had not had this so extreme fantastic privilege of growing professionally as I do in my work.

TOMASZ MILKOWSKI: Yeah. You have never been a participant of the politic rebelion, you never participate in leftist movement of the theatre, but in the very beginning you said to your amatour actors, ‚you will create the future revolution in the theatre.’ Why in the beginning director such profound belief in the theatre revolution?

EUGENIO BARBA: Poland cured me of my belief that one could change the world. But you can change yourself, and you can change a few people, and theatre can do this. And therefore for me, theatre became perfect order of means, which addresses to big need for people not only in this society. Therefore this importance of continuity for me it was very important what way New York actors went away. For me they have been close together and have changed together, sharing the same experiences, the same illusions, and how these illusions have changed, transformed themselves to something else. So you must hate the starting point towards what happens about you. You must ask yourself, I am leaving, I am doomed here in the end. So of course you can’t give an answer, you can give me an answer how can you transmit this to your collaborators – you never speak about it but nevertheless what you are doing contains the spirit of this question and how this may have a meaning, an interest. Say something to the spectators. It is said that theatre, or certain type of theatre, could have very transformative power and transformation means the revolution.

TOMASZ MILKOWSKI: Yes. As far as I remember, you many times confirm, that the critics have played the great role in your artistic search, seeking articulation. Would you like to mention some names of critics who have displayed influence on you?

EUGENIO BARBA: Of course first was Polish critic, Konstanty Puzyna. He was an extraordinary critic and he not only followed in soul and roll, but he was also able to establish a personal dialogue with the actors and the directors. I probably witnessed this because Grotowski and Puzyna were friends and I know how much Grotowski listened to Puzyna and was very interested…

TOMASZ MILKOWSKI: There seemed distance between Puzyna and Grotowski at the beginning.

EUGENIO BARBA: Yes, I think, but it was earlier, you’re right. But then they understood each other. But there was another critic Ludwik Flaszen, he was also the co-director of the Grotowski theatre laboratory. And as a critic, he had a very very good point, the decisive role in the evolution, creating this autonomy of the crazy activity in the respect to the political and social situation in Poland. When I came to Dennmark, I started the Odin Teatret amateur theatre, we began to see some attention from the critics, but it was strange, because some of these critics wrote in a way that I felt a wish to contact it. And therefore I was able to impact them, to host them. Not to see my performances, but when I made some international events in the 60s, it was being very rare, it was not being offered. The first time when Grotowski came abroad, from 66 was an obstacle. So I minded, I gave them the occasion to meet some of these theatre people who because the protagonist in the 70s, like Living Theater. But what interested me most, they’re very very sincere in their opinion in what I was doing. Some of them, I asked them to come and see my rehearsal at Center Point and then give me a very sincere comment because I really respected these big objective, and they could write what they want, something even very not positive on the performance but it didn’t matter. One was Jens Kruuse in Dennmark, Xavier Fàbregas in Spain. The other one was Franco Quadri in Italy. And now I have some hot water still in Denmark. Anne Bideburg, who you say is critical, and I’m very influence by newspaper information. So, for me the critics I have those two and in my leave of course I follow, it’s always interesting to see how a professional spectator reacts to what we are doing with a rotation for all the performances – he sees an evening. But some other critic who influenced me, inspired me, but he came in spite, it can help me in my work. And I’m very collaborative; I like very much to create what I call a collective mind in the working process. Not just only my ideas, but creating a soup of collective mind, where many impulses and suggestions can come and make the child grow and the performance come forward.

TOMASZ MILKOWSKI: I have one question more about the goals of critics today, but what is your answer for this question and maybe your message to the critics, contemporary or what, have you?

EUGENIO BARBA: I don’t have a message because I think critics are just like theatre people, they are very very individual, they feel different needs. I found that the situation for the critics has become very worse today. There is not as much interest for theatre as before, there is no space in the newspapers for the critics and there is many many more performances today. And the critic lives in a big town has not the time to see all of them. So in a way I feel pity for the critic, but the same situation, but even worse than active theatre people.

TOMASZ MILKOWSKI: Thank you so much.

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