Summer Institute in Theatre features director Mario Biagini

Mario Biagini, associate director of the groundbreaking performance-based research hub, the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards, is the featured artist-in-residence at the fifth annual Summer Institute in Theatre Studies, running in the Faculty of Fine Arts July 21 to 31.

Grotowski (1933-1999) was a seminal figure in 20th-century avant-garde theatre. A founding father of the experimental theatre of the late 1950s and 1960s, he was instrumental in redefining the nature and purpose of theatre in contemporary culture. He established the Workcenter in Pontedera, Italy, in 1986 as a site for his research into the nature and transformative power of performance. His investigations into what he called ‘Art as Vehicle’ explored how performance can serve as a tool for Mario Biaginithe performer’s inner development.

Left: Mario Biagini

Biagini, a director, actor and educator, has been a key member of the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards since it was founded. Major projects he has been involved in include The Bridge: Developing Theatre Arts (1999-2006); Dies Iræ: The Preposterous Theatrum Interioris Show; and the ongoing Open Program, an exploration of publicly accessible performances that keep alive within themselves aspects of the subtle interior process characteristic of Art as Vehicle. His directorial credits for the Open Program include four performances based on the poetry of Allen Ginsberg: I Am America, Not History’s Bones – a Poetry Concert, Electric Party Song and Electric Party. He has led workshops on his work and the Workcenter’s research at many schools and arts institutions across Europe and the US, including the Lincoln Center in New York City, Rome’s La Sapienza University, the Sorbonne in Paris, and Goldsmiths, University of London/UK.

Biagini’s 10-day residency at York coincides with the Workcenter’s 25th anniversary and marks his first visit to Canada. He is co-teaching the Summer Institute in Theatre in collaboration with Professor Lisa Wolford Wylam, director of the Graduate Program in Theatre Studies, who worked with Grotowski in the mid-1980s and has been studying his work ever since.

Lisa Wolford Wylam.Right: Lisa Wolford Wylam. Photo: Kris Salata

Both graduate and undergraduate students from the Faculty of Fine Arts and the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies are participating in the Summer Institute. Wylam gave seminars on Grotowski and the Workcenter’s research to prepare them for the artist’s arrival. Biagini is leading the students in an intensive daily practical workshop, focusing on the construction of repeatable acting scores using non-dramatic texts as points of departure, as well as a capella group singing.

The public components of the Summer Institute include two evening screening of documentary films about the Workcenter (July 28 and 29, 7pm) and a roundtable discussion with Workcenter actors (July 31, 7pm).

Mercedes Gregory’s documentary (29) Art as Vehicle (1989) was filmed in Vallicelle, Italy. It shows a relatively early stage of research on Grotowski’s theory of Art as Vehicle, at a time when Grotowski was still alive and working actively with artists-in-residence. The piece documented in the film is called “Downstairs Action”, an opus created under Grotowski’s guidance by Thomas Richards, who became Grotowski’s collaborator and now serves as the Workcenter’s artistic director.

Actors from the Workcenter perform I am America,Right: Actors from the Workcenter perform I am America, directed by Mario Biagini

The second documentary, titled (30) Dies Irae: The Preposterous Theatrum Interioris Show, was filmed in 2006 at the Workcentre in Pontedera, Italy. It documents a performance directed by Biagini and Thomas Richards. The performance is a devised piece that combines writings by T.S. Eliot and Franz Kafka with Gregorian chant and selections from Gnostic and Asian sacred texts. In addition to directing the performance, Biagini also plays the role of the male protagonist.

The film screenings will be followed by Q&As with Biagini.

On July 31, the final night of Biagini’s residency, Wolford Wylam will moderate a discussion with two of the 16 actors affiliated with the Workcenter: Canadian Timothy Hopfner and Alejandro Rodriguezof Argentina.

This discussion is connected to Wolford Wylam’s SSHRC-supported research, which uses the Workcenter as one of three case studies exploring the application of research methods derived from cultural anthropology to examine ensemble-developed performance.

Admission to all three events is free and all are welcome. The presentations take place in the Nick Mirkopoulos Screening Room, 004 Accolade East Building at York’s Keele campus.