Eugenio Barba was born in 1936 in Italy and grew up in the village of Gallipoli. His family’s socio-economic situation changed drastically when his father, a military officer, was a victim of World War II.
Upon completing high school at the Naples military college (1954) he abandoned the idea of embarking on a military career following in his father’s footsteps. Instead, in 1954, he emigrated to Norway to work as a welder and a sailor. At the same time he took a degree in French, Norwegian Literature and History of Religions at Oslo University.
In 1961 he went to Poland to learn directing at the State Theatre School in Warsaw, but left one year later to join Jerzy Grotowski, who at that time was the director of the Theatre of 13 Rows in Opole. Barba stayed with Grotowski for three years. In 1963 he traveled to India where he studied Kathakali, a theatre form which was unknown in the West at that time. Barba wrote an essay on Kathakali which was immediately published in Italy, France, the USA and Denmark. His first book about Grotowski, In Search of a Lost Theatre, appeared in 1965 in Italy and Hungary.
When Barba returned to Oslo in 1964, he wanted to become a professional theatre director but, being a foreigner, he was unable to find work. He gathered together a few young people who had not been accepted by the State Theatre School, and created Odin Teatret in October 1964. As the first theatre group in Europe, they worked out the new practice of training as a total apprenticeship. They rehearsed in an air-raid shelter their first production, Ornitofilene, by the Norwegian author Jens Bjørneboe, which was shown in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark. They were subsequently invited by the Danish municipality of Holstebro, a small town in north-west Jutland, to create a theatre laboratory there. To start with, they were offered an old farm and a small sum of money. Since then Barba and his collaborators have made Holstebro the base for their multiple activities.
During the past years Eugenio Barba has directed 81 productions with Odin Teatret and with the intercultural Theatrum Mundi Ensemble, some of which have required up to two years of preparation. Among them are Ferai (1969), My Father’s House (1972), Brecht’s Ashes (1980), The Gospel according to Oxyrhincus (1985), Talabot (1988), Kaosmos (1993), Mythos (1998), Andersen’s Dream (2004), Ur-Hamlet (2006), Don Giovanni all’Inferno (2006), The Marriage of Medea (2008), The Chronic Life (2012), The Tree (2016), The Deaf Man’s House (2019), A Character that Cannot Die (2020), Thebes at the Time of the Yellow Fever (2022).
Since 1974, Eugenio Barba and Odin Teatret have devised their own way of being present in diverse social contexts through the practice of the “barter”, an exchange of cultural expressions with a community or an institution, structured as a common performance.
In 1979 Eugenio Barba founded ISTA, International School of Theatre Anthropology thus opening a new field of studies: Theatre Anthropology.
Barba is on the advisory boards of scholarly journals such as “The Drama Review”, “Performance Research”, “New Theatre Quarterly”, “Teatro e Storia” and “Urdimento”. Among his most recent publications, translated into many languages, are The Paper Canoe (Routledge), Theatre: Solitude, Craft, Revolt (Black Mountain Press), Land of Ashes and Diamonds. My Apprenticeship in Poland, followed by 26 letters from Jerzy Grotowski to Eugenio Barba (Black Mountain Press), Arar el cielo (Casa de las Americas, Havana), La conquista de la diferencia (Yuyachkani/San Marcos Editorial, Lima), On Dramaturgy and Directing. Burning the House (Routledge); A Dictionary of Theatre Anthropology; The Five Continents of Theatre – the latter two in collaboration with Nicola Savarese (Routledge).
Eugenio Barba has been awarded honorary doctorates from the Universities of Århus, Ayacucho, Bologna, Havana, Warsaw, Plymouth, Hong Kong, Buenos Aires, Tallinn, Cluj-Napoca, Edinburgh, Shanghai, Brno and Peloponnese as well as the “Reconnaissance de Mérite Scientifique” from the University of Montreal and the Sonning Prize from the University of Copenhagen.
He is also the recipient of the Danish Academy Award, the Mexican Theatre Critics’ prize, the Pirandello International Prize and The Thalia Prize from The International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC).
A Systematic Bibliography of Eugenio Barba’s Writings
Doctor Honoris Causa speeches
– a selection in English (pdf-format):
QUESTIONS FROM MY SECOND LIFE
2019, University of Peloponnese, Greece
FAME AND HUNGER
2012, Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania
IN PRAISE OF FIRE
2008, University of Buenos Aires, Argentina
2006, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
THE PARADOX OF THE SEA
2005, University of Plymouth, Great Britain
THE HOUSE OF THE ORIGINS AND THE RETURN
2003, University of Warsaw, Poland
IN THE GUTS OF THE MONSTER
2002, University of Havana, Cuba
SONNING PRIZE ACCEPTANCE SPEECH
2000, Copenhagen University – Sonning Prize, Denmark
Eugenio Barba – Photo Gallery
These photos can be used for free only in connection with articles, press announcements or essays about Odin Teatret’s activities on tour and in Holstebro.
The mention of the photographer and the source is obligatory. The photographer’s name and other information can be found underneath each photograph.
For other uses, please contact Odin Teatret or the photographer for authorisation.