Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards
a centre of practical work in Pontedera founded in 1986 as the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski (Centro di Lavoro di Jerzy Grotowski), which in spring 1996 became the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards. Its origins go back to September 1984 when, during a visit to Italy, Grotowski held the first talks on the subject of forming a centre of work in that country. The following summer, from 12 June to 12 August 1985, in a palace in Botinaccio, a two-month-long practical session was held, thus inaugurating the activities of Centro Lavoro Europeo di Jerzy Grotowski, which was established thanks to the assistance and initiative of Centro per la Sperimantazione e la Ricerca Teatrale in Pontedera led by Roberto Bacci.
Bacci’s Centro rented a small flat and a workspace for Grotowski in Vallicelle, a settlement around 8.5 km from the town. In this way, the plan to create a secluded place of work was realised. Grotowski moved permanently to Pontedera in August 1986. Pablo Jimenez (who remained in Italy until September 1989), James Slowiak (he remained until 1988, initially leading the work of the ‘upstairs’ group before working individually with Grotowski) and Thomas Richards, who would soon become Grotowski’s most important collaborator, came with Grotowski from the United States.
Speaking later about the work of the Workcenter during Grotowski’s lifetime, Richards divided it into four stages: preparatory work (1986–88), which ended with the first presentations of Action for an invited audience of people from outside the group; advanced work (1988–92), connected with developing and making Downstairs Action more precise; the transitional stage (1992–94), focus on work on a new version of the ‘opus’; and the final stage (from 1994 to Grotowski’s death), which was connected to work on a new performative structure known simply as Action and (from 1996) also involved opening up increasingly the activities of the Workcenter, including giving public presentations outside its home. During the first two periods in Vallicelle there were two groups working in parallel on two separate actions. The first group, involving Thomas Richards and Mario Biagini, was working under Grotowski’s supervision in the lower floor space on the work known as Downstairs Actions. The second group, working on the upper floor, led by James Slowiak until September 1987 and then by Maud Robart, created two versions of Upstairs Action. In 1993, Robart’s group was disbanded due to a lack of funding and the fact that with Grotowski becoming increasingly ill, he focused more resolutely on working with Richards. Initially closed to outsiders, the activities of the Workcenter were gradually opened up, initially to fellow performance professionals.
From September 1988, exchanges of work took place at Vallicelle involving invited theatre groups, who were in turn shown the actions and ideas, as well as the principles of practice of Grotowski’s group. Those who came to Vallicelle also presented their work, with the actions of both sides then discussed in a group session. The most intensive and most well-known of such working encounters were the sessions involveing the Moscow School of Dramatic Arts, founded and directed by Anatoly Vasiliev (in February 1989 and April–May 1990). Associated artists and researchers were also invited to Vallicelle (the first group included Zbigniew Osiński). From Autumn 1996, the activities of the Workcenter (including Action) were presented and discussed during workshop visits made by the Workcenter to Brazil (September–October 1996), Poland (18 February – 4 March 1998) and France (4–11 April 1997).
Following Grotowski’s death, the activities of the Workcenter have been led by Thomas Richards and Mario Biagini, who continue to collaborate closely with one another, while they both also carry out creative experiments in somewhat differing areas. Richards leads work in the field of Art as vehicle, producing the action The Letter (presented between 2003 and 2006 as a work-in-creation titled The Twins: An Action in Creation), followed by Living Room. Biagini would seem to be more engaged in experiments located on the border of Art as vehicle and theatre, with these being carried out initially within the framework of the performance The Bridge: Developing Theatre Arts (1999–2005). Together with Richards, he has directed the performances One Breath Left (1998–2002) and Dies Irae(2004–2006), in which he was also the main doer. During the last few years he has been working with an international group of participants of the Open Programme on various performative structures and link Art as vehicle with various performative sites, contexts and forms.
Since 2000, the Workcenter has realised the following projects: the first, Tracing Roads Across (2003–2006), was funded by the EU Culture 2000 Programme and involved collaboration with several European centres (including the Grotowski Centre in Wrocław) that was coordinated by Vienna’s Theater des Augenblicks. As part of this project, a series of presentations of work and Workcenter workshops took place in the homes of the institutions involved. Between 2007 and 2009, in cooperation with the Grotowski Institute, the Workcenter realised the project Horizons which culminated in the Zero Budget Festival in Wrocław (October 2009). Beyond these varied activities, the Workcenter also carries out educational and workshop-based work, both at its own centre and during residencies at various centres around the world.
Richards Thomas: Heart of Practice: Within the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards, Routledge, London – New York 2008.
Richards Thomas: The Edge-Point of Performance, interviewer Lisa Wolford, Pontedera 1997.
Salata Kris: The Unwritten Grotowski: Theory and Practice of the Encounter, Routledge, London and New York 2017.
Wolford Wylam Lisa: Living Tradition: Continuity of Research at the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards, „TDR: The Journal for Performance Studies”, 52. 2 (T198), Summer 2008, pp. 126–149.
Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards and „Action” (an information of the Workcenter occasionally given to individuals before they witness the creative opus „Action”), „TDR: The Journal for Performance Studies”, 43, 2 (T162), Summer 1999, pp. 13–14.