Tracing Roads Across
Tracing Roads Across

A project by the
Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards

April 2003 – April 2006
During the twentieth century, Western theatre culture has undergone major and deep transformations and revolutions, adapting itself to historical and social changes and developments and, in certain cases, acting as a powerful yeast and catalyst. Some of these fundamental transformations have been later regarded as sudden revolutions – violent breaks and cuts with the past – in the technical, methodological, aesthetic and dramaturgic terrains, often forgetting the strong but at times invisible threads of continuity that carry through such transformations. Modern theatre culture often stresses the elements of rupture with the past, neglecting to consider such “quanta” in theatre history as having been prepared by previous, complex circumstances, and as potentially carrying an extension or development of a practical knowledge. If compared to other theatre cultures (for instance, Asiatic theatre traditions), twentieth century Western theatre milieu has often privileged art works and creation processes that apparently contain seeds of novelty and surprise, without necessarily recognizing the possible hidden roots of continuity. The long-term effects of the lack of consideration for the potential value of continuity and consistency in art development – the invisible threads – have contributed to a deep and extensive uprooting of living artistic practices. These circumstances at times reflect in the works of the individual artist: a searching for generic, standard “newness” can replace a true and personal quest for quality and discovery. Many artists and theatre professionals do feel a need to recognize and connect the working techniques, resources and processes hidden in the lives and works of those who have come before them and have conquered a ”know how” – they often ask themselves how to do so, what can serve them today, how to move forward in their own way with such techniques. They struggle with a not so simple task, some falling into the trap of empty veneration, or mechanical systematization of techniques, others going forward and arriving at true and new discoveries, nourished by their individual potentialities and unique visions.
Jerzy Grotowski, one of the greatest revolutionaries of twentieth century theatre, was deeply concerned with a possible living continuity in relation to his own research, which was also related to his deeper interests. He wrote in his last text:

"What can one transmit? How and to whom to transmit? These are questions that every person who has inherited from the tradition asks himself, because he inherits at the same time a kind of duty: to transmit that which he has himself received."
Jerzy Grotowski, “Untitled text”, in The Drama Review, 43, 2 (T162).

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 Créations Théâtrales (Paris, France), and Académie Expérimentale des Théâtres (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. [2]
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, Jerzy Grotowski realized with Thomas Richards the process of transmission in the ancient, traditional sense of the word. [3]
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, heir of Jerzy Grotowski’s research, who is deepening and developing the research and the Workcenter's creative exploration.
Mario Biagini entered the Workcenter in 1986 and soon thereafter became a key member of the practical research on “art as vehicle” working in the team led by Thomas Richards. Mr. Biagini is presently a principal doer in Action, and a doer in The Twin: an Action in creation, performative opuses at the Workcenter in the domain of “art as vehicle”; a leader in Project The Bridge: Developing Theatre Arts – a new branch of the Workcenter research, as main director of One breath left, and presently of Dies Iræ: My Preposterous Theatrum Interioris Show, two performative opuses created within Project The Bridge. Presently, Mr. Biagini is Associate Director of the Workcenter.

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 possible by 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”. Gülsen Gürses, 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, under the leadership of Thomas Richards. 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 stagiaires, who are the young artists entering into the performative research, full time for a minimum period of one year.
Tracing Roads Across will also create the opportunity for non-professionals and theatre-lovers of all participating countries to come in contact with the artistic research and performative opuses of the Workcenter. Interested individuals will also be contacted through the numerous open conferences, projections of documentary films, and public discussions held in the participating countries.

[1] Jerzy Grotowski, “Untitled text”, in The Drama Review, 43, 2 (T162).
[2] Later published as: Peter Brook, "Grotowski, Art as Vehicle", in: Richard Schechner and Lisa Wolford, Eds. The Grotowski Sourcebook, London: Routledge, 407-29.
[3] See in At Work with Grotowski on Physical Actions, Preface by Jerzy Grotowski, London: Routledge, 1995. Italian Ed.: Ubulibri (1993). French Ed.: Actes Sud (1995). German Ed.: Alexander Verlag Berlin (1996). Greek Ed.: Ekdoseis "Dodone" (1998). Spanish Ed.: Alba Editorial (2004). Upcoming editions in Serbian and Korean.