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Ship of fools

Landsby Laboratoriet

The Ship of Fools: Scholars in Residence

Il futuro è quello che si costruisce adesso (The future is what we build now)

Roberta Carreri

Interview with Marco Zavarise,

“A cup of theatre”, 23 April 2020

Emerging story

At the 2020 NTL, a group of researchers worked alongside younger participants from the Third Theatre sector. The scholars comprised Patrick Campbell, Tatiana Chemi, Erik Exe Christoffersen, Annelis Kuhlmann, Adam Ledger and Jane Turner. This was a moment when specific characteristics of the researchers’ group clearly emerged: three pairs of scholars collaborating in couples; 3 women and 3 men; from 4 different institutions; and from 2 countries. At the event, Exe held a provoking talk, using Hieronymus Bosch’s depiction of the “Ship of Fools” to envision the future of Odin Teatret, and theatre in general.[1] The image struck the participants and inspired focused conversations amongst the researchers. Are we the fools? Is theatre a ship of fools? In what ways can we shape community around this healthy foolishness?

[1] The ship of fools is an allegory, originating from Book VI of Plato‘s Republic, about a ship with a dysfunctional crew. The allegory is intended to represent the problems of governance prevailing in a political system not based on expert knowledge, such as democracies. Wikipedia, retrieved 30 April 2020 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ship_of_fools


In these last few years, a broad cultural community is experiencing historical changes. Odin Teatret, an ensemble that has been active without interruption since 1964, will experience a shift in leadership in 2021. Its founder and leader, Eugenio Barba, will leave as director of the theatre institution to give place to the new director, Per Kap Bech Jensen. What will this bring? What will the artistic, organisational and scientific consequences? Clear needs emerge from this process:

  1. To document the process of this unique time and place of change
  2. To envision the future of NTL/OT together with the new generations of artists, of researchers and joint artist/researcher communities, in order that the future of NTL/OT unfolds with research in mind and with the active presence of researchers
  3. To secure a new generation of young scholars devoted to the themes and topics linked to NTL/OT, in order to facilitate their appreciation and scholarship of:
    1. OT work (productions, directing, Barba’s scholarship, creativity, “the collective mind”, theatre anthropology)
    2. The NTL (the Third theatre, the theatre laboratory, pedagogy, The Magdalena Project, barter, ISTA, Festuge, Odin Week, training)
  4. To provide a basis or network that can harness funding and that allows for ambitious vision
  5. To enable researchers to find ways to talk to their audience (especially young actors) through access to
    1. a research language (that is passionate, resonant, activist)
    2. publications that are economically affordable.


Scholars at universities currently experience huge demands to perform according to specific and institutional criteria for accountability and ‘measurement’. Research time must be applied for and academic performance made certain. Any research activity is shaped as a negotiation between one’s own interests and funding opportunities. This negotiation often ends up being a rhetorical exercise, which most often results in nothing but rejection due to fierce competition. Researchers frequently experience frustration, loneliness and exhaustion. The only strategy out of academic capitalism is, then, community. Were we to build a ‘ship of fools’ as a pragmatic community in this kind of context is to join forces against neoliberal structures. To building a proactive, scholarly community around our research passion, holding on to the pleasure of research, would become more than the work, or industry of knowledge and become a true act of activism.


The notion of a “scholarly laboratory” and the pedagogical role of “passing on” can be the characteristic element of the Ship of Fools. In order to address the needs and demands above, we propose to:

‘Anchor’ the Ship of Fools permanently and publicly to NTL/OT as researchers-in-residence (inspired by the current ‘artists-in-residence’)

Ensure documentation of the process of change by being present at the NTL/OT activities, where we can continue our research

Create platforms for conversations about the future of NTL/OT, together with new generations of artists, of researchers and joint artist/researcher communities

Secure a new generation of young scholars devoted to the themes and topics linked to NTL/OT, for instance by applying for funding for PhD students in relation to our own research, Post Docs, research assistants

To cultivate ‘young(er)’ generations of researchers’ passions for/of NTL/OT themes by providing relevant, inspiring, ground-breaking, resonant research themes and perspectives

To find a funding network that allows for ambitious visions and research work

To commit to negotiations: on an inspiring research language, with publishers to allow for publications that are economically affordable.

The Ship of Fools is a laboratory of scholars who have met in collaboration with Nordisk Teaterlaboratorium.


Patrick Campbell (Manchester Metropolitan University) is Senior Lecturer in Drama and Contemporary Performance at Manchester Metropolitan University. He is a core member of Cross Pollination, an expanded, nomadic laboratory for the dialogue in-between practices, and is Associate Editor of the Brazilian Journal on Presence Studies.

Tatiana Chemi (Aalborg University), Associate Professor, has been sailing to Denmark from Italy, where she was born and brought up. Moored on the shores of NTL led by her passion for theatre laboratory, creativity, pedagogy, criticality and love. She looks through the lenses of a critical pedagogy of hope into artistic practices and alliances. http://personprofil.aau.dk/124693#/minside

Exe Christoffersen (Aarhus University), Mag.Art, Associate Professor at the Department of Communication and Culture (1982-) and has taught in Theatre Practice and Multimedia Production. Editor of the journal Peripeti (2004-). Kunsten ude på Kanten (2012-2014) særnummer. Made the videos Travelling with Odin Teatret, 1992, and The Conquest of Difference, 2015.

Annelis Kuhlmann (Aarhus University) is associate professor in Dramaturgy at Aarhus University (DK). She is leader of CTLS (Centre for Theatre Laboratory Studies), a research collaboration with NTL and Dramaturgi (AU). She equally is co-founder of CHiPP (Centre for Historical Performance Practice). She is in particular interested in exploring how performances reflects current issues in the world and how actors, performers and directors explore their actual artistic experiences for the future. Annelis has published widely, including significantly on Odin Teatret and was co-editor on Grønlands Teaterhistorie – på vej (2019)”. Web: au.dk/dramak@cc

Adam Ledger (Birmingham University) is Reader in Theatre and Performance at the University of Birmingham (UK) and co-artistic director of The Bone Ensemble. His research focusses on performance practice, especially directing and theatre-making, and he has published widely, including significantly on Odin Teatret.

Jane Turner (Manchester Metropolitan University) is a Senior Lecturer in Theatre and Contemporary Performance at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her research activity focusses primarily on the work of the international community of Third Theatres groups, laboratory praxis – particularly concerning strategies for performer training, dramaturgy and cultural action in the current climate.


First event:


Scholars and practitioners meet in an online laboratory

Where: Online (zoom)

When: 30-31 January 2021