Open Program

Our partners and mentors

Since its foundation in 1986 by Jerzy Grotowski, the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards has been a base for research into human potentialities through the actor’s craft and through what Grotowski referred to as Art as vehicle: the human being’s work on him/herself.  The work of the Open Program, one of two Workcenter teams and our partners and mentors in these endeavors, seeks to bridge this research to wider social realities, informed by a desire to discover the elements of our art that can enable meaningful human encounters. For 29 years, the Workcenter’s praxis has been articulated as an investigation on ancient songs of the African and Afro-Caribbean tradition. From 2007 onwards, the internationally-composed Open Program team directed by Mario Biagini, have been tracing a new branch of this research, exploring African-American songs of the U.S. South as vehicles for remembering, restoring, and nourishing the dignity, creativity, and unknown potentialities of human spirit. This has led us to seek to discover and articulate something which is perceived as being at the very core of theatre: the moment of immediate contact between human beings. We ask in the context of this work: what can the shared impact of this art be a vehicle for? What and who can it serve? How can it be useful in and around us?



 A letter from the director of the Open Program…

Open Program of the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards: Who are we?

We are a group of artists coming from many different countries. From North America, South America and Europe, with European and African roots.

The Workcenter research, from its beginnings, has been an inquiry into questions of boundaries and borders. What is mine? What is ours? Does anything exist that belongs to all of us? Can our desires have something in common? If so, what are they? Do they relate to freedom? If so, what is that freedom really made up of? What does it taste like?

I’m Italian. I have worked with Thomas Richards for more than 25 years. His father is African-American and his mother is of European descent. He’s a New Yorker who, as he says, grew up without connection to his African roots. Yet, he says he reconnected with these roots deeply through a Polish man with a white beard in California and Italy. Provocative?

At the Workcenter for more than 25 years we have carried out an in-depth work on songs from Africa and its diaspora, finding though them places inside and between ourselves that unveil our identity beyond boundaries and borders, revealing us as individuals with surprisingly similar needs and possibilities. Our work on songs has been a journey into territories that humanity has probably explored since its beginnings, uncovering seemingly familiar and yet unknown hidden resources.

Today our research has led us – simultaneously as a return and a move forward – to America, a place that like us has been undeniably and profoundly affected by Africa and its traditions. Ginsberg’s said: “…Negro religious art forms have had such an enormous impact on white culture. I think it’s saved America. If America is to survive the next few decades, I think it will be the Negro who has saved America by introducing, by having preserved ‘soul,’ and having found the right forms for the penetration of ‘soul…’”

Theater, poetry, music and action can be tools for transformation, in and around us. We can be carried beyond our outer and inner boundaries and borders. It is with gratitude that we salute our ancestors and, like Ginsberg, draw inspiration from the roots of jazz, blues, rock and punk. In the astounding quality and richness of these roots we recognize an essential debt to the past, to which we can only respond with all of our life force, professionalism and dedication.

Mario Biagini

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