Interview: Odin Teatret’s founder speaks out:  It was clear that they wanted to get rid of me

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Holstebro Dagbladet, 26 March 2023

Eugenio Barba interviewed by Mette Grith Sørensen
Odin Teatret’s founder speaks out:  It was clear that they wanted to get rid of me

Odin Teatret’s founder, Eugenio Barba, has been in bitter dispute with his successor, Per Kap Bech Jensen, and the Board of the Nordisk Teaterlaboratorium (NTL) for almost two years. He chose to say “no thanks” to 250,000 kroner (33.500 euros), took his private collections and went his way.

Holstebro: On December 2, 2022, you could read in Holstebro Dagbladet under the headline “Barba goes solo – and takes the name Odin Teatret with him” that the founder and long-time director of Odin Teatret, Eugenio Barba, would leave the theatre building in Særkærparken together with some of his trusted collaborators.

It came after rumours had circulated for a few months after an Italian newspaper suggested a break-up was brewing.

“The fact that Eugenio is leaving on December 1st is a rounding off of the generational change that has been under way at the local theatre for several years” commented the head of the Board of the theatre, Louise Ejgod.

But it wasn’t quite that simple.

In fact, one can almost speak of a previous feud, where Odin Teatret’s founder finally left the theatre he had built up over almost 60 years. At the time, neither party told the public anything about how high the waves actually went.

The course has been – in the words of someone in the closest circle, who didn’t want to be quoted – “a textbook example of a generational change that has gone off the rails”.

A theatre director with his own ideas

One could rightfully claim that Eugenio Barba, who was probably not on the appointment committee, but who was nevertheless asked for advice, chose to point to Per Kap Bech Jensen as his replacement, because he saw him as “a capable person, who was already known by the theatre”.

– He was modest, and I figured he would be a good moderator, says Eugenio Barba today about his successor.

The surprise was that the talented, modest new director had completely new ideas and his own opinion about things. Not least about the economy, which had to be tightened up. As he told Dagbladet in August 2022:

“The world is changing, and so are the demands for what a theatre must be able to do. (…) We pay for the work that is done. Anything else would be irresponsible since we receive public money”.

The relationship between the ex-leader and his successor already became so inflamed during 2021 that Per Kap Bech Jensen chose to let the head of the Board, Louise Ejgod, speak on his behalf when negotiating with Barba. In 2022, Barba followed suit and got help from people close to him to continue a dialogue with the Board that gradually became characterised by frustration and a lack of trust.

For Holstebro and the town’s citizens, this means that two theatres now exist: One is NTL, which is located where it has always been, namely in the often remodeled farm that Odin Teatret moved into in 1966. Here it is Per Kap Bech Jensen, who in 2021 took over as the new leader of what was then called Nordisk Teaterlaboratorium-Odin Teatret, leads the battle.

Then there is Odin Teatret, whose director and founder, Eugenio Barba, has received the Board’s acceptance that he has the right to keep for himself the name of the theatre he founded in Oslo in 1964. He did so at the turn of the year 2022-2023 when Odin Teatret moved out of Særkærparken and now has its main office at Barba’s private address by Vandkraftsøen. The idea is that the activities should still take place both in Holstebro and abroad as always because, according to Barba, they still receive invitations.

– Will I remain in Holstebro? Yes, that is clear. After all, I also pay for a plot in the cemetery here, on behalf of Odin Teatret, where the collaborators who so wish and I will one day lie. And no one can throw us out, says Eugenio Barba with a smile.

The legend’s own choice

It’s a beautiful, sunny day in February, and the theatre legend has invited us for coffee and a chat about what went so wrong.

The “theatre legend” is not something Barba or Dagbladet have invented. In 2019, Holstebro really gained a place in theatre history when the respected theatre professor Paul Allain published eight books about the most important directors of the 20th century. One of the volumes is simply called “Grotowski/Brook/Barba”. Barba is indisputably an icon in modern theatre history.

The above is not without significance as to why it was as surprising and unpleasant as a bucket of ice-cold water in the director’s face when it dawned on him that his status in the theatre world was apparently of little importance to either the Board or the new director.

For outsiders, it was a small thing that really ignited the fire that has fueled the conflict ever since. On March 17, 2021, the new director Per Kap Bech Jensen wrote in an email to the director of Odin Teatret, Eugenio Barba, that Nordisk Teaterlaboratorium would not cover the cost of 3,600 euros for printing and mailing a theatre journal (JTA, Journal of Theatre Anthropology) that Barba had just started and published with documents from the archive.

The following conflict ended barely two years later, in January 2023, with the Board of Nordisk Teaterlaboratorium writing in an email:

“Unfortunately, this has meant that the Board has assessed that it is not possible to maintain Eugenio’s association with the theatre”.

The “Archive” is at the centre of the entire conflict.

A private project

In 2004, Aarhus University established a decentralised research centre for theatre studies at Odin Teatret, Særkærparken. Here, frequented by researchers, there was a very large collection of documents – letters, programmes, photographs, notes, working diaries and more. Here too, Barba’s private library was to be placed and preserved.

Over a ten-year period, Odin Teatret itself paid a number of people from home and abroad to register and archive all documents. In 2014, the Royal Library’s theatre department offered to become the new home for Odin Teatret’s Archive. Today, all original documents are in Copenhagen.

But there is also a digital copy in Særkærparken in Holstebro.

– I was aware that we had cognitive capital there, so I decided to use the archive and create a journal, both digital and in print, and send it out into the world, explains Eugenio Barba.

That kind of thing costs money.

And so it was that in March 2021, Eugenio Barba asked the recently appointed director of the Nordisk Teaterlaboratorium (NTL) in an email for the aforementioned 3,600 euros for printing 420 copies of the theatre journal as well as for postage to send them to the most important libraries in the world.

Per Kap Bech Jensen said explicitly no, but suggested the money be taken from the Stanislavskij Fond – the actors’ private Fond for financially strained theatre groups and people.

Cancellation and limited budget

– What he said between the lines was: “I consider what you are doing a private project, so I will not finance it”, explains Eugenio Barba.

For him, it wasn’t just a little detail that he could let go. Theatre research and international endeavours were precisely what he intended to concentrate on in his later years.

And everything only got worse afterwards.

In April 2021, approximately one month after the famous email exchange, Per Kap Bech Jensen chose to cancel the planned annual Odin Week with 50 participants – allegedly because he wanted to present another guest performance and also needed to use the premises for rehearsing a large Danish-Korean project.

Eugenio Barba was astonished and wrote to the former Chairman of the Board, who was now an ordinary Board member, stressing his concern.

He received no answer.

In November 2021, Eugenio Barba was summoned to a meeting with the Board. At that time, communication with Per Kap Bech Jensen had come to a complete standstill. The two did not speak at all after Barba had presented a budget for the new performance Thebes in the Time of Yellow Fever of 380,000 kroner (60,000 euros), and Per Kap Bech Jensen had said that he could only get 10,000 kroner (1350 euros) to make a performance, and that was it.

Queuing for premises

Eugenio expressed his concerns to the Board – and was subsequently informed that, for the good of all, any future communication should now take place through the head of the Board, Louise Ejgod.

– If I bought a sheet for the performance, I should send the bill to her, and then she would send it to the bookkeeper. I have not received a salary since 2001. Since then I got only 2,000 kroner (265 euros) a month. I myself chose to leave the rest of my salary to Odin Teatret to finance the archive and other activities. The entire first floor of one wing of our building has been paid for by a loan that I took on my house. My presence was not a financial burden. I and the actors had chosen to live on a reduced salary in order to give money to young, upcoming actors for a few years, says Eugenio Barba.

He, who had previously been the theatre’s founder and director, was now told that he had to stand in line and wait for a venue to work on an equal footing with everyone else in the NTL.

– In the two years I was employed, after I was replaced as director by Per Kap Bech Jensen, I did not get the opportunity to use the working spaces to the extent I needed to rehearse my “last” performance. I was deprived of the opportunity to work in the theatre I had built with my own hands together with my actors. Instead, I sat at home and made ten films about theatre anthropology – financing the production myself – with documents from the archive that are available gratis online, says Eugenio Barba.

The offer from Lecce

At one point, Barba was informed that his private collection of 5,000 books, which he had placed at NTL, was an impediment in the case of a fire. The fire authorities demanded that the books be moved. They were, and thus the whole cataloguing process disappeared, according to Barba.

– I was aware that those books were on the verge of being thrown out. That would be the next step. Things had already disappeared, been thrown out, without me being informed, says Eugenio Barba.

Therefore, he decided to accept an offer from Lecce in Italy, a town in the region where Barba grew up. Lecce wanted to build a museum called “The Living Archive” as a tribute to him. Barba removed his books, his personal archive, a copy of the archive of Odin Teatret and of the Third Theatre, some set designs, his collection of historical theatre posters and his collection of masks – and sent them by lorry to Lecce.

– I had a long discussion with the Board about this. They recognised that they were my property and that I could do with it what I wanted. But they also said that I would thereby “empty” the building of its historical value, says Barba, who could not tell people at Odin Teatret why he pulled things down, removing them without any help.

He had promised the Board not to say anything until his contract expired.

– Although I begged and asked the Board to tell people at the theatre what was happening, they didn’t say anything. It wasn’t until two months later that a letter was sent out informing the staff, but by then the damage had been done and it had destroyed my relationship with several people at the theatre. People didn’t understand, says Eugenio Barba.

I am ashamed

Are you bitter?

– Bitter? No, I’m ashamed. That is for me the hardest, the heaviest. I am ashamed that I could not protect my actors and others who had left their homeland to come and work at Odin Teatret in Holstebro. Else Marie Laukvik, who started Odin Teatret together with me in Oslo… the way she was treated. She wasn’t even allowed to keep her email address because it cost the theatre money and she wasn’t employed anymore. And Ulrik Skeel, who has worked hard to link together all the different cultural institutions in Holstebro – he was fired. That was the way people were treated – brutally and hurtfully, says Eugenio Barba.

According to him and Ulrik Skeel, Per Kap Bech Jensen said at his inauguration speech in January 2021 that no major changes were going to happen in the first two years. But they did. The sackings took place in May-June 2022.

– He said l that it was a natural departure because people were old and tired. Yes, we are old, but we are not tired and we want to work, says Eugenio Barba.

Ulrik Skeel, who sat and listened to the conversation between the journalist and Barba, has his own interpretation.

– It felt as if some strangers had moved into my house and had started removing my things and putting their own stuff in their place. It was ithe intention that there should be a change, but we imagined that it would happen continuously, quietly, calmly and develop organically, he says.

No thanks to 250,000

In June 2022, Eugenio Barba tried one last time to communicate with the Board. He wished to continue working with Odin Teatret, i.e. with his actors, in Særkærparken. He suggested in an email continuing with performances, intercultural productions, the Living Archive, festivals, research and so on – all of which, according to him, had made a profit over the years.  He asked that he and his actors receive ten percent of the annual subsidy from the state and municipality, i.e. approximately 750,000 kroner (100,000 euros).

The Board replied that it was great that he wanted to continue being active, and that they would like to give 250,000 kroner (33.500 euros) in 2023. However, they did not want him to credit Nordisk Teaterlaboratorium for anything. They stated that the name Odin Teatret would be transferred to him at the end of his contract on 31.12 2022.

– It was quite clear that they wanted to get rid of me, says Barba.

Barba was so disappointed by the Board’s reaction that he informed them that he did not want to receive the amount of 250,000 kroner that he had been offered.

– I asked the Board to report what happened. But they didn’t want to. There are still people at the theatre who think I accepted 250,000 kroner, says Eugenio Barba disappointedly.

Perhaps you should have spoken up to the public yourself?

– Louise Ejgod wrote that the Board had deliberately chosen a restrained strategy in relation to the public and deliberately refrained from entering into situations that could create more confusion on the web. I didn’t want to make a fuss. What if it resulted in the closure of the theatre? That the actors in the two groups Váli and Ikarus lost their jobs? I agreed to keep my mouth shut until my contract expired. All I wanted was to get away from there.  I stayed so long because I wanted to see if I could save jobs, says Barba.

Pensioners with experience

Four of Odin Teatret’s old actors – Donald Kitt, Roberta Carreri, Kai Bredholt and Iben Nagel Rasmussen – were offered an extension of their contract by Per Kap Bech Jensen, and they accepted the offer.

– If I still talk to them? Yes, I do! They have been given the opportunity to continue in the place they have helped to build, and that is fine. The rest of us didn’t get that opportunity, says Eugenio Barba, who left Særkærparken together with Else Marie Laukvik, Tage Larsen, Julia Varley, Ulrik Skeel, Rina Skeel, Jan Ferslev and Anne Savage.

Barba published a manifesto in December 2022, in which he writes that “Odin Teatret will continue its dance with unbending faith in the values that inspired us, and with the same gratitude to Holstebro’s citizens and politicians who welcomed us when we were anonymous actors and strangers”.

– We are a kind of pensioners with lots of experience. We are not going to apply for grants – we earn money abroad. Next year is the 60th anniversary of Odin Teatret, which started in 1964 in Oslo, and many invitations have already arrived. For instance, from festivals in Serbia, the Netherlands, Italy and France, says Eugenio Barba. He explains that in the wake of the news that Odin Teatret had separated from NTL and was without premises, there were several offers og hospitality.

– Several theatre groups from abroad and in Denmark offered us space to rehearse. We were very moved by this, says Barba and reveals that he has dreams of working in a completely new way with the theatre.

He looks very excited at the thought.

– I am inspired by jazz. By jam sessions. You know, you can work with one, two, three actors, improvisation and more. No, I have not lost my life’s opus, and I have many projects and collaborations ahead, says the 86-year-old Italian from Holstebro.

Out of the mosaic

What did you really expect when Per Kap Bech Jensen replaced you as director?

– I expected respect for the permanent ensemble that has been together for decades. Nordisk Teater Laboratorium  (NTL) is an umbrella organization that includes more than thirty activities. I had imagined I could continue with my actors as part of this mosaic. But very quickly it dawned on me that it wasn’t meant to be, says Eugenio Barba.


The director of Nordisk Teaterlaboratorium Per Kap Bech Jensen did not want to comment on the article but refers to the head of the Board Louise Ejgod. She responds thus:

How do you feel about the fact that Odin Teatret’s founder, Eugenio Barba, feels sidetracked by the Board and the new director Per Kap Bech Jensen and sent away from the theatre he himself created?

– I’m really sad we ended up this way. It was by no means what we wanted when we set in motion a smooth generational change after 2014. It ended in some extremely complicated conflicts that resulted in us taking the decision not to renew Eugenio Barba’s contract as director at the end of 2022. Per was hired, among other things, with a vision of making a smooth transition from the old to the new. That process has been infinitely more difficult than any of us had thought.

– Corona also plays a decisive role in this, because Per has had to make the decision to keep at home large parts of the staff and cancel or adjust a number of international activities. In a theatre, where it has always been central to meet and work, it has been extremely difficult for the employees. It was, however, necessary to secure the theatre’s finances, which had been enormously exposed throughout the period.

Why didn’t the board inform the employees that Eugenio wanted and had the right to take down and remove his things from the theatre?

– Firstly, it is always a director’s responsibility to inform the employees. It is not the task of the Board. And secondly, Eugenio does not know what dialogue there had been between Per and the employees. I am sure that Per has taken care of it properly. I can see that the Board’s silence takes up a lot of space in Eugenio’s account. It’s one of the points we don’t agree on. He does not understand the background for our “silence”. We chose not to say anything publicly to protect the staff who had had a really hard time with the conflicts and the division that there had been.

Is what Eugenio Barba tells in the article wrong?

– I don’t notice immediately anything that is factually incorrect, but I know that much of it is interpreted in a slightly different way from what I would do. These different experiences of what is correct are a basic element in the way things have turned out. Now my highest wish is that we can move on – for everyone’s sake. That we can concentrate on the meaningful activities we all do, both in the Nordisk Teaterlaboratorium and in the newly founded association Odin Teatret.


– I probably bear a responsibility, since I am part of it. I have thought a lot about whether I have done something wrong by indicating Per Kap Bech Jensen as the new director, says the former director of the Nordisk Teaterlaboratorium-Odin Teatret. Photo: Johan Gadegaard.

– People ask: “What do the politicians say about that?”. They don’t say anything. They are silent. Holstebro showed great courage when they welcomed us in 1966, and we have had such good support over the years, especially from the town’s chief cultural civil servants. Photo: Johan Gadegaard.

– No, the archives have NOT been removed from Holstebro. There is a copy of them at the theatre in Særkærparken, I have not taken anything away to Italy. Anyone who works at Odin Teatret has the right to a copy of the archives – they are there to be divulgated. And the original documents are at the Royal Library in Copenhagen, explains Eugenio Barba. Photo: Johan Gadegaard.

– The old members of Odin Teatret have written a “testament”, understood in the sense that Odin Teatret will live as long as just one of us wants to do theatre. That is why we are so careful with Odin Teatret’s name, explains Eugenio Barba. Photo: Johan Gadegaard.

– Ulrik has invited NTL to collaborate with him on “Poetry on a Thursday” – to be a partner in the group organising the event. But they refused, says Eugenio Barba. Photo: Johan Gadegaard.


1966 – Odin Teatret, active in Norway since 1964, is invited to settle in Holstebro. It receives a grant of 60,000 kroner and, as a work venue, a pigsty and a cow shed on a disused farm one km from the town. The area is 590 square meters and will be expanded in stages to 1850 square meters, self-financed. Barba and the seven actors create a “theatre laboratory” with workshops, guest performances, publications, sociological enquiries and collaboration with several universities.

1967 – Organisation of a Culture Week in collaboration with Jens Okking’s small theatre Vestergade 58 from Aarhus.

1980 – Eugenio Barba and Odin Teatret receive the Danish Academy’s Kjeld Abell Prize on the grounds that they “search and find new paths in Holstebro with a vital and passionate commitment to the world that lies outside.

1988 – Barba is bestowed an honorary doctorate by the University of Aarhus, the first of similar honorary degrees from twelve other universities, including Hong Kong, Edinburgh and Buenos Aires.

1989 – Odin Teatret celebrates its 25th anniversary by inviting Dario Fo to Holstebro for the third time and organising, without grants, the first Holstebro Festuge, which involves most of the town’s cultural institutions.

1991 – The Danish Kulturfonden gives 850,000 kroner to the second Holstebro Festuge. The support continues through the 90s.

1992 – Start of the annual Odin Week Festival and the triennial Transit Women’s Theatre Festival.

2000 – The University of Copenhagen gives the Sonning Prize of 500,000 kroner to Barba “for his efforts in spreading European culture.

2004 – The University of Aarhus designates Odin Teatret in Holstebro as a decentralised research centre on theatre as a social laboratory with a summer school.

2008 – Barba starts building Odin Teatret Archives. In 2014, the original documents from the first 50 years of the laboratory’s activities are handed over to the Royal Library in Copenhagen. A similar archive with digital copies and several collaborators is in Holstebro.

2022 – Barba receives the Wilhelm Hansen Foundation’s Honorary Award of 200,000 kroner as “one of the most important people in recent theatre history – if not the most important“.