The Open Program of the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards


Non Profit


Performing Arts






English, Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German


Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German



Considered one of the most important and influential theatre practitioners of the 20th century, Jerzy Grotowski revolutionized contemporary theatre in multiple ways. Grotowski changed the way Western theatre artists and performance theorists conceive of the audience-actor relationship, theatre staging and the craft of acting. Perhaps best known for his notion of ‘poor theatre,’ Grotowski’s practice extends beyond the confines of conventional theatre assuming a long-term and systematic exploration of the possibilities of the human being in action and relation in a performance context.

The Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski was founded in 1986 at the invitation of the Centro per la Sperimentazione e la Ricerca Teatrale of Pontedera, Italy (now: Teatro della Toscana – Centro per la Sperimentazione e la Ricerca Teatrale), its directors Roberto Bacci and Carla Pollastrelli. At the Workcenter, Grotowski developed a line of “performance research” known as Art as vehicle for 13 years until his death in 1999. Within this creative investigation, he worked very closely with Thomas Richards whom he called his “essential collaborator,” eventually changing the name of the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski to include that of Richards. During those years of intense practical work, Grotowski transmitted to Richards the fruit of his lifetime research, what he called “the inner aspect of the work.” Grotowski entrusted Richards and Mario Biagini, a key member of the Workcenter team since its beginnings and presently its Associate Director, as the sole legatees of his Estate, including his entire body of written work, specifying this designation as a confirmation of his “family of work.” Since Grotowski’s passing in 1999, Richards and Biagini have been continuing to develop the Workcenter’s performing arts research in new directions.

The Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards presently hosts three creative teams: Thomas Richards’ Focused Research Team in Art as vehicle, The Workcenter studio in residence, and the Open Program directed by Mario Biagini.

Commenced in 2007 and now composed of 10 actors from around the world, Open Program evolves under the guidance of the Associated Director of the Workcenter, Mario Biagini. The Program functions as a doorway to the outside world, meaning that in its daily artistic practice the team facilitates a kind of shuttling between the inner aspects of the Workcenter’s research and greater society. In this sense, Open Program aims to re-discover the very nucleus of theatre: the moment of meaningful contact between human beings.

From 2007 till 2015 Open Program has been working creatively utilizing as textual material the poetry of Allen Ginsberg, in an attempt to rediscover the living aspect of the poetic word as a tool for contact and action, and, through its rhythmical and sonic qualities, its complexity of meanings and the ways in which these specificities can manifest within the performative practice of the actors. Starting from Ginsberg’s poems, the members of the Open Program composed countless actions and songs, embracing different musical styles and genres, reflecting the artistic variety and versatility of the group. Other artistic material was created from the work on songs of tradition of the South of the United States, exploring the ways in which these songs can trigger performative processes thanks to their potentialities as catalyzers for contact and interaction.

These two threads of work gave birth to a deep well of creative material which was eventually organized and composed into four diverse performative pieces: I Am America, Electric Party Songs, Not History’s Bones – A Poetry Concert and The Nightwatch. These different forms of performative events (a theatrical piece, a cabaret-style concert, a full-fledged concert and an all-night-watch) are not actually performed at the moment, but they were an important and instrumental step in developing the current stage of the team’s research.

Presently, the encounters and performing events proposed by the Open Program are created starting from the work on songs from the Afro-American tradition of the South of the United States and the Afro-Hispanic tradition of South America.  Moreover, a new work by the women of the team, with the working title Dark is My Mother, is being created, drawing from a number of different traditional sources reflecting the cultural and ethnical diversity of the group.

The team of the Open Program aims to rediscover the living aspect of performance as a tool for inter-human contact and personal transformation, beyond cultural and social differences.

The Open Program team is: Mario Biagini (Italy), Thomas Gasser (Austria), Agnieszka Kazimierska (Poland), Pauline Laulhe (France), Eduardo Landim (Brasil), Felicita Marcelli (Italy), Daniel Mattar (Lebanon), Jorge Romero Mora (Colombia), Graziele Sena Da Silva (Brasil).


The Hidden Sayings
The Hidden Sayings, a work by the Open Program presented in the form of a continuously evolving and yet accomplished structure, is a creative exploration of the interaction between songs from the South of the United States, which belong to the African-American tradition, and texts belonging to the origins of Christianity, mainly translated from Coptic and coming from the region embracing Egypt, the Middle East and Greece.
The liturgical songs of the Southern Black tradition have qualities that open the possibility for re-discovering paths of transformation and contact. The Hidden Sayings interrogates texts and songs. What can be for us nowadays the function of these songs and these texts, which are both, in different ways, at the roots of the civilization in which we live? What can be for us the nature of the processes that they ignite? And what can be the meaning of the event to which they give birth? How can the quality of such processes circulate and reach the people around us?

The potential explored by this work manifests through basic, simple and yet complex elements – action, contact, word, singing, dance. We have the intuition that the nature of this work may create conditions for an encounter to take place.
The Hidden Sayings can be performed by the members of the Open Program team in a variety of different spaces, with minimal technical requirements. It has also been designed as a tool for contact and interaction with existing communities, in as much as the structure itself can integrate a varying number of individuals from the outside, after just a few days of intensive work.

Open Choir
The Open Choir is an exploration of what we consider a forgotten art form, which allows for fluid and active participation by all who attend. It is a free and open event, where everyone is gently invited to take part. This unique, non-sectarian meeting of people through songs of the African diaspora, carefully led by a trained core group of artists, allows people to come in contact with each other and with themselves through songs, dance, and interaction within a participatory context. Participants, coming from different backgrounds, co-create an artwork beyond cultural and social differences, catalyzing a shared space of meaningful recognition and interaction.

This new and old performative art form disrupts the common western notion of a choir and questions our assumptions about community, belonging, identity, diversity, cultural appropriation, performance. During the Open Choir, songs begin around the participants, who are faced with simple choices: to witness, to move into the space of action, to follow remaining to the side, to sing and dance, and to find their own way to be present and support the work of the others. The songs themselves, their rhythms and melodies help to initiate engagement. The effect of the event encircles everyone in attendance, while the core group aids participants by articulating the space and leading the songs, actively building the evening together in present time.
Open Choir creates a possibility to bring people from different socio-economic backgrounds into a space and a time beyond cultural and/or linguistic borders; to create a safe space to experience care for encounter and action together.
Over the past three years Open Choirs were hosted in West Park Presbyterian Church and other locations in NYC, in Brazil, France and other countries, and of course in Italy. Also, during this time, Open Program has begun training a small group of NYC artists, the NYC Seed Group, to help lead Open Choirs in various locations in NYC and New York State.

Dark Is My Mother
A developing work by the women of the Open Program

She’s there and she’s here. You can find her in every house.
She’s mother, daughter, wife, sister. Every woman close to you.

Dark Is My Mother is a serious and playful homage to the diverse manifestations of the ancient and powerful tradition of popular myth related to a feminine entity. It explores the tradition of women’s gatherings and women’s communities, it opens to a world where women’s play, imaginations, memories and temptations are woven into song, dance and praising.
The ancestral backgrounds of the women of the Open Program are vast and deep: Mediterranean, Slavic Europe, West African, North and South American. In all these cultures there exist stories, poems and myths describing a feminine entity – seen as a mother and as a creative energy, but also as a terrible and destructive force that decides upon the destiny of mankind. Through the myths related to this feminine divine figure, to her fall and redemption, is woven the story of oppression and humiliation that has accompanied women on their journey through human history. Women all over the world have tenaciously resisted historical reality, by keeping alive a knowledge of life and nature, of its rhythm and cycles. This knowledge, a treasure within the hearts and bodies of women, is threatened but also still secretly nourished. Dark Is My Mother is a contemporary reply to these myths, and bears within itself the seeds of the surging humanity of our days, a humanity that enriches itself by continuing to blend elements of diverse origins. It is a vision, conjugated in the feminine, of how living traditions can reappear and renew themselves, brought together by the migrant humanity of our times.



Story of Katie
By Agnieszka Kazimierska (Poland)

The story of a Lady. And her Beloved. And a return. A tale of a garden. And a home.

Times of awaiting and time of becoming. A young woman, accompanied by two foreign servants, spends her days in a garden of wonders. Everyday, visitors pass by to speak with her. They come “from around, and from past and future.”

But who are all these characters that converse with her day and night? Are they real persons or figments of her vivid imagination? And who is the mysterious Beloved – her Lord – she is so intently waiting for? Waiting for the day and the hour of their reunion.

Based on ancient sources of Gnostic and Arabic literature, original dialogs and traditional songs from Poland, the piece tells the story of a longing, of a nameless desire for someone to come, or to come back. It’s the story of a journey. He went away on a journey and will perhaps return. And she who is waiting is on a journey as well.

Facing lights and shadows of one’s own life story can bring us closer to remembering where one belongs to, or push us to ask ourselves: Where does it all come from? When will we arrive home? Or become home?

Ancient Roads
By Graziele Sena (Brazil)

After four years of work together, the director of the Open Program, Mario Biagini, proposed to me to start working on traditional songs from the Brazilian tradition of Candomblé.

And I discovered that when one faces one’s own emptiness, there the search begins.

The songs of the Afro-Brazilian tradition are part of an ancestral history that reached only a few persons of the younger generations. Many grandmothers and grandfathers in the past were also Mães and Pais de Santo – Priestesses and Priests – who stood up for all those who were deported from Africa to Brazil.

Can we discover the possibility of a subconscious memory transmitted to people belonging to a certain lineage through stories and symbols, songs and dances, prayers and rhythms, gestures and behaviours?

The work on the ancient songs of my lineage is a search for a secret and intimate path that leads consciously to the door of these subconscious memories. The journey is delicate; it has to do with imagination, with the search for small details of behaviour that point towards an unknown direction. My desire is to discover what exists deep within my tradition, what is the relation between a tradition and an individual, the essence of one’s own being.

Blurred memories of early childhood, imagination and playfulness, but also a space for creation based on dreams, ideas, desires, stories… For me, it is necessary to start from acknowledging and paying homage to the ones who came before me.

My ancestors. This search may point to a path in the direction of something so complex that it can only be understood through practice and living impulses.

I start from songs of tradition, the domains of a collective memory, to find my own history, a history that I was not told.

Familiar Voices
By Jorge Romero Mora (Colombia)
Directed by Mario Biagini (Italy)

A special night in a humble house in the Colombian countryside: it’s the celebration of the Nativity. The family is preparing to receive several visits in the course of the evening. Relatives, neighbours and close friends will gather in the house in the name of the Child who is going to be born.

The members of this extended family tell one another about events and stories, the story of the birth of the Child, but also other tales about his infancy, his youth, his life and death. In this simple house, while everyone is waiting for Midnight, myth and life meet. Each father becomes a Joseph the artisan; each woman in mourning becomes a crying Mary, each man who cares for a child a Saint Anthony, and each grandma taking care of the kids, a Saint Anna.

This work is composed of elements from the African diaspora, specifically stemming from the pacific coast of Colombia and Ecuador, and texts from the Christian tradition, mainly the Gospels of Childhood but also the canonic Scriptures.

What is the alive relation that still exists between a two thousand year old story, and the reality of a simple family from South America? And how this distant story has became a symbol that gives meaning to the daily life of the people?

The Story Of The Occidental Exile

By Daniel Mattar (Lebanon)
Directed by Mario Biagini (Italy)

When I became aware of the story of Hay Ibn Yaqzan, despite the admirable sentences it contains and the deep suggestions it contains, I found it devoid of lights related to the supreme experience: the big shock.

I tell my occidental exile and I relive it. Since my departure from my original land, the country of the nascent Sun, my captivity in the city of Qayrawan, my evasion, my encounter with the hoopoe who guided my steps, until my navigation on Noa’s ship.

To relive the story, I sometimes sing, sometimes tell it. I sometimes recall coranic verses sang or spoken, to let the story behind the story appear.

Sometimes, traditional arabic songs, mounajat, lamentations, psalms, lullabies, or soufi songs find their way and mark the story of Sohravardi.

Beside the deep sense it contains, the story becomes that of any exiled person and in search of her own country, or the story of a soul searching for her origins, her Orient.

From the text of Sohravardi, I tell the story of the occidental exile to myself, to those who are listening or would like to listen, present and absent, close or far.
Than, I go back to my occidental prison, where I still am.

It is about me that it is in this Story because I went through the catastrophe. From the upper space I fell into the abyss of hell. I am held prisoner in the country of the Occident. Yet I continue to experience some sweetness that I am unable to describe. I sobbed, I implored, I sighed with regret on this separation. This fast relaxation was one of those dreams that quickly.fade.away.


A main facet of the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards’ functioning is in discovering the living ways in which the theory and praxis employed at the center can circulate in the cultural community.

Workshops, which are be led by Thomas Richards (Artistic Director) or Mario Biagini (Associate Director) and/or some members of the Workcenter team, can be for actors and/or directors. They can focus on acting and singing skills, directing capacities, montage techniques and/or dramaturgic elaboration.

Conferences are conducted by Richards and Biagini, usually together but sometimes individually. In these conferences different elements of the Workcenter research are presented and analyzed, often with one or more of our creative opuses, texts or documentation films as a reference point. Conferences are followed by an open discussion with the audience.

Documentary Film and Video Presentations
Over the course of its history, the Workcenter has chosen to document many of its performances at critical points in their development. Screenings of these films allow an exclusive glimpse into the Workcenter’s performance praxis. Usually, the film is introduced either by Thomas Richards or Mario Biagini. These screenings are most often done in conjunction with conferences (see above) and after the showing of such material, there is a discussion with those present.

Symposia and Seminars
The Workcenter is in active dialogue with professionals from academic and scientific institutions/organizations from all over the world. As such, they often organize Symposia to bring a panel of these individuals together. In such dialogues, professors have the opportunity to analyze the Workcenter research in perspectives ranging from historical and cultural to anthropological and philosophical and to dialogue with the Workcenter team members.


“The Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards is active within the structure of     Teatro della Toscana – Centro per la Sperimentazione e la Richerca Teatrale“






Thomas Gasser





004369915071055 (Thomas Gasser)



LINKEDIN (Director of the Open Program)

The Open Program of the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards

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