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 fifty-six years Eugenio Barba has directed 79 productions with Odin Teatret and with the intercultural Theatrum Mundi Ensemble, some of which have required up to two years of preparation. Among the best known 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) and The Tree (2016).
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.