Eugenio Barba: Land of Ashes and Diamonds; My apprenticeship in Poland, followed by 26 letters from Jerzy Grotowski to Eugen Barba. (2023)


  • Michael Huttler


The long-awaited new book by Eugenio Barba, director of Odin Teatret and founder of ISTA (International School of Theater Anthropology), includes a new essay and previously unpublished letters from Jerzy Grotowski to Barba.

The events surrounding Grotowski's rise have been observed at a distance of more than thirty years, and an attempt is made to counter the long-standing mystification of this period with factual reports. Jerzy Grotowski's 26 short letters to Eugenio Barba date from the 1960s, when Grotowski was still directing publicly. The first letter was dated 10 July 1963, the last 10 August 1969. The related letters to Barba Grotowski have been lost.

The book provides an insight into the early years of Grotowski's and Barba's theater work and provides a new approach to two great personalities who had a decisive influence on the theater of our century. But those expecting unknown details, new theoretical statements or sensational surprises will be slightly disappointed. The essay and letters show how close the two "great masters" were to each other in their early days (Grotowski was 29 at the time of the first letter, Barba 26). The essay serves as an introduction to the letters and provides background information about the events mentioned in the letters.

What is more interesting to Grotowski followers are the letters translated from Polish to English from the time when Grotowski was just beginning to gain international fame. Some of the letters are very personal and show a warm relationship between the two men, described as a teacher-student relationship or even a father-son relationship. Grotowski sees himself as a llama and describes his relationship with Barb as "close as a son" (p. 118). The style of the letters is often very metaphorical, reminiscent of the spelling used in Barba's later writings (e.g. inA stick of paper, London, New York: Routledge, 1995). Most discussions are about business relationships, organizing lectures and guest appearances abroad or publishingIn search of a lost theater, about Barba's first book, with which he introduced Grotowski abroad. The techniques of Indian theater are a constant theme in Grotowski's letters. He uses Sanskrit terms to illustrate his work and thoughts. Grotowski repeatedly refers to Indian ascetics and philosophers such as Ramana Maharishi and Auribindo Ghose and describes the Teatr laboratory workshops in Opole and Wrozlaw asAshrams.The great influence of Indian techniques on Grotowski can be seen in the letters. This is what Grotowski wrote about his production on April 26, 1965The Constant Prince, a play that many critics consider the most important of the 20th century: "this production represents an attempt to explore the boundary betweentantraand theater..." (p. 145). Grotowski wrote the last letter on his journey through India. In it he tells about his meeting with the Baul master and expresses his joy over it: "It is amazing to see how some aspects of the craft are objective." (p. 169) It can be assumed that the basic for GrotowskiThe Sources Theatre(since 1976) iObjective drama(from 1983) was set.

When Grotowski died in January 1999, an English translation of this book was presented. Grotowski was always extremely careful to publish his own texts, so there are almost no texts written by him, only texts about him. This volume derives its special significance from the fact that Grotowski very consciously consented to the publication of these early, personal letters, i.e. lyrics originating from his "Period of Performance", near the end of his life. This period of work ended a long time ago (the last public appearance,Apocalypse with figures, was developed in 1969, performances lasted until 1980), and it appears that Grotowski has thus far been engaged in later projects such asDie Art as a vehiclevery far from its beginning.

In the autobiographical essay that precedes the letters, Barba recounts this period, his first contacts with Grotowski in Poland, and points to the lasting influence Grotowski had on his work thereafter. Barba came to Poland to study literature on a scholarship. At the time, Barba was very interested in the literary and theater critic Ludwik Flaszen, with whom Grotowski managed Teatr 13 Rzedow in Opole. It was there that Barba saw Grotowski's plays for the first time (GrandfathersAdam Mickiewicz). He tells how an intense intellectual and artistic bond developed between him and Grotowski, which would last until Grotowski's death. Throughout his life, Grotowski always had a "privileged person" by his side, most recently Thomas Richards. "From 1962 to 1964 I [Barba] ​​was this privileged companion" (p. 26)

Barba emphasizes the importance of the "poor" theater, in which he participated as an assistant to the director Grotowski.AcropolisIDoctor Faustuscould immediately follow, and declares himself against the abbreviated presentation of the "poor" theatre. Often this "subversive action" would be reduced to "Lope de Vegas's 'three tables, two men and a passion'" (p. 38). But that does not correspond to the true meaning. The abolition of the separation of actors and spectators "was a Copernican revolution with unpredictable consequences for the play's dramaturgy, for the actors' performance and for the audience's perception". (p. 38)

Barba reports little on the rehearsals and training of the actors, nor on the numerous conversations he had with Grotowski during that time. Part of the essay is devoted to his travels in Europe and the difficulties in establishing contact with various personalities in order for Grotowski to become known in the West.

Barba devotes a lot of space to the anecdotal events surrounding the ITI Congress in Warsaw in 1963. Grotowski was not invited to Teatr-Laboratorium 13 Rzedow, but with his tireless efforts Barba managed to get some delegates to the screening of the filmDoctor Faustusto Lodz, a hundred kilometers away. The foreign guests' joy at a successful performance marked the beginning of Grotowski's international reception.

In addition to details which, at first glance, are of interest only to chroniclers, both the essay and the letters contain references to the further training of actors and reflections on methods. Footnotes provide the necessary explanations for many details of private correspondence. An extensive list of names is attached to the book.

Biography of the author

Michael Huttler

Before studying theater and journalism/communication, she worked in a bank for several years. He received his doctorate in theater studies at the University of Vienna, Department of Theatre, Film and Media Studies. 2001-2002 associate professor at Yeditepe University in Istanbul, 2003-2004. research project on experimental theater in Austria at the Institute for TFM. Until 2006 he worked at the Da Ponte Institute for librettology, Don Juan research and collection history. Since 2007, head of the Don Juan Archive in Vienna (, since 2011 head of Hollitzer Wissenschaftsverlag. vide Participation in the international research group Spectacle vivant et sciences de l'homme at MSH (Paris).

Main research areas: Experimental theater in Austria, musical forms and folk theater in the 18th century, ethnology of the theatre, the 'Turkish subject' in European theatre.



Michael Hüttler/Ulf Birbaumer:Guido di Palma: Corps du Théâtre. Beč: Hollitzer/Lehner 2010.

– (Hg.):Lorenzo DaPonte. Beč/Köln/Weimar: Böhlau 2007. (Maske und Kothurn, sv. 52, H. 4, 2006.).

– (Hg.):Herman Nitsch. Vienna foredrag. Beč/Köln/Weimar: Böhlau 2005. (Maske und Kothurn, sv. 51, br. 2-3, 2005.).

–:company theatre. From the theater of the oppressed to the theater of entrepreneurs. Stuttgart: Ibidem 2005.

–/Susanne Schwinghammer/Monika Wagner (ur.):Theater. Meet. Integration?Frankfurt a. M.: IKO 2003.

–/Susanne Schwinghammer/Monika Wagner (ur.):Going to new worlds - theatricality at the turn of the millennium. Frankfurt a. M.: IKO 2000.


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