by Samuel Beckett
Direction, Staging, and Lighting Concept Robert Wilson
Adriana Asti as Winnie
Yann de Graval as Willie
Costumes and Makeup Jacques Reynaud
Dramaturge Ellen Hammer
Lighting Design A. J. Weissbard
Sound Emre Sevindik
Associate Director Christoph Schletz
Associate Set Designer Valentina Tescari
Stage Manager Sue Jane Stoker
Technical Director Amerigo Varesi
Associate Costume Designer Lara Friio
Lighting Supervisor Marcello Lumaca
Makeup Laura Tosini
Production Manager Kristine Grazioli
A Change Performing Arts Project.
Spoleto52 Festival dei 2 Mondi
Grand Théâtre de Luxembourg.
Produced by CRT Artificio (Milan)
In this play, written between 1960 and 1961, Samuel Beckett is both melancholy and deeply humorous, an attitude that today, even more than in the past, attracts our attention and moves our hearts. As we head toward old age, and as the effects of time’s passing leave us even more fragile, how can we experience happiness? How can we hope for it?
Beckett introduces us to the world in which Winnie lives—a middle-aged woman buried up to her waist in a mound of earth. In Robert Wilson’s concept, the mound is the result of some sort of eruption in the blacktop. The lower part of Winnie’s body is immobilized, hidden from view, and she communicates by using her arms, hands, face, her words, and her highly expressive eyes. Winnie does her best to make each day a happy one, to find moments of happiness by means of rituals that she herself has created: she gathers together the everyday objects that surround her and speaks with them, cheerfully recalling memories of her former life. Rituals such as these give Winnie the strength to find meaning in her life, though her immobility continues to deteriorate until only her head is visible above the mound. The presence of her husband, Willie, is especially important for Winnie; though he says little, he is a loving presence. In the end, perhaps as her very last day is drawing to a close, we are not surprised when Winnie begins to sing her favorite melody, “Lippen Schweigen,” the heart-warming waltz from The Merry Widow. (Ellen Hammer)
“I had the honor of receiving a visit from Samuel Beckett in my dressing room on the occasion of one of my first shows, A Letter for Queen Victoria.
He complimented me for the fragmentary and discontinuous text. When Eugene Ionesco reviewed my Deafman Glance in 1971, he wrote, ‘Wilson has surpassed Beckett,’ and when I finally met him I was extremely intimidated.
I have always experienced a certain affinity for Beckett’s world. In some ways, I’ve always felt he was close to my own work, but it’s only now, after thirty-five years, that I’ve decided to accept the challenge and confront him directly.
I like Happy Days because it is both very simple and extremely complex, all at the same time. One immediately grasps what the situation is. If you buy a ticket to a play called Happy Days, and then you go into the theatre and see a woman buried up to her neck, you can forget the specifics and begin to experience being freely engaged.
At the beginning of my career, I saw Madeleine Renaud in Happy Days in Paris on numerous occasions. I admired her acting and I was worried that I would never find an actress like her and that I’d never have the chance to direct a play as beautiful as that.
In my staging, I see the space as a jungle of asphalt in which Winnie is trapped. The lines are very severe, very sharp. Black and blue. But there is a sort of magical transition as well ... a surprise.
This is the first time I’ve worked with Adriana. The humor in Happy Days depends entirely upon timing, and Adriana has an extraordinary sense of timing, which is what makes her a fantastic comic actress as well. I adore her enormous eyes, which are always attentive.”
Samuel Beckett, the Irish writer, dramatist, and director, was born on April 13, 1906 in Dublin and died on December 22, 1989 in Paris. He studied Romance languages and literature at Trinity College in Dublin, earning his B. A. with his thesis, a critical essay on Proust, which was later published. He was awarded a post as English lecturer at the Ecole Normale Supérieure and moved to Paris where he met and assisted James Joyce. He frequented Surrealist circles and published a few novels, including Molloy (1951), Malone Dies (1951), and The Unnamable (1953). Martin Esslin considered Beckett, along with Eugène Ionesco and Arthur Adamov, to be among the prime exponents of the Theater of the Absurd. In 1952, he wrote Waiting for Godot (first written in French and then translated by Beckett into English) which was presented on stage for the first time on January 5, 1953 in Paris at the Théâtre de Babylone. Subsequently he wrote Endgame (1957) and Happy Days (1960). In 1963, he wrote the screenplay for Film (released in 1965) starring Buster Keaton. For German television, he wrote and directed five plays of remarkable visual impact and notable for their experimentation with language and directorial imagination—of note Quad (1981) and Nacht und Träume (Night and Dreams) (1982). In 1969, he won the Nobel Prize for literature, which, however, he did not turn up to collect.
Adriana Asti appeared at the Piccolo Teatro in Milan under the direction of Giorgio Strehler in Bruckner’s Elizabeth of England, Gogol’s Revizor, and Goldoni’s Harlequin Servant of Two Masters.
She was directed by Luchino Visconti in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible; Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel; Harold Pinter’s Old Time; and Natalia Ginzburg’s Teresa.
She has performed in Pirandello’s works: Tonight We Improvise, Clothing the Naked, To Find Oneself, and As You Desire Me, directed by Susan Sontag.
She personified Shaw’s Cleopatra, Squarzina’s Rosa Luxembourg, and Copi’s Eva Perón.
Under the direction of Luca Ronconi she starred in Shaw’s Saint Joan and Ariosto’s The Frenzy of Orlando.
In 1997 she took part in Harold Pinter’s Dust to Dust.
Her first role in French dates back to 1987 when she played Mirandolina in Goldoni’s The Innkeeper Woman under the direction of Alfredo Arias at the Théâtre de la Commune in Paris. Subsequently she took part in the French productions of Natalia Ginzburg’s Teresa directed by Giorgio Ferrara at the Petit Montparnasse Theater; Alberto Savinio’s Emma B., Widow Jocasta at the Théatre du Rond-Point directed by Pierluigi Pizzi; Roussin’s Nina at the Gaîté Montparnasse theater directed by Bernard Murat; and Ruccello’s Ferdinando, at the Théâtre du Rond-Point directed by Marcello Scuderi.
She has appeared in over fifty films directed by some of Italy’s leading directors, including starring roles in such films as Visconti’s Rocco and His Brothers and Ludwig, Pasolini’s Accattone and Caprice Italian Style, Bertolucci’s Before the Revolution, and other productions including the works of such luminaries as De Sica and Bolognini.
In France she worked with Buñuel in The Phantom of Liberty, Claire Devers in Chimère, Mathieu Amalric in Eat Your Soup, Frederic Fisbach in Plum Rain, Jacques Ertaud in Les Allumettes suédoises and Gérard Vergez in Dans un grand vent de fleurs.
Recently she acted in The Best of Youth directed by Marco Tullio Giordana.
Among the awards and recognitions she has received in the course of her theatrical and cinematic career are the Eleonora Duse Award, the Ennio Flaiano Award, three Maschere d’Oro prizes, one Grolla d’Oro, one David di Donatello, three Critica Cinematografica Italiana Silver Ribbons, and the Vittorio De Sica Award.
Robert Wilson was defined by the New York Times as “a towering figure in the world of experimental theater.” His work employs different artistic techniques masterfully integrating movement, dance, painting, light, design, sculpture, music, and dramatic art. His shows are a tour de force of aesthetic intensity and powerful emotions and have earned him wide critical and public acclaim throughout the world.
He has received many honors and awards, including two Guggenheim Fellowship Awards (1971, 1980), the Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship Award (1975), a Pulitzer Prize nomination (1986), a Leone d’Oro for sculpture from the Venice Biennale (1993), the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize for Lifetime Achievement (1996), il Premio Europa award from Taormina Arte (1997), election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters (2000), and the National Design Award for Lifetime Achievement (2001). In 2002, he was named as Commandeur des arts et des letters by the French Minister of Culture.
Born in Waco, Texas, Wilson studied at the University of Texas and arrived in New York in 1963 to attend Brooklyn´s Pratt Institute. In 1968, he founded his Byrd Hoffman School of Byrds and developed his first signature works. In 1969, Wilson presented two of his great works in New York: The King of Spain at the Anderson Theater and The Life and Times of Sigmund Freud, which made its debut at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. He attained international fame in 1971 with his revolutionary opera Deafman Glance, created in collaboration with Raymond Andrews, a deaf-mute boy whom Wilson legally adopted. Following the opera’s Parisian debut, the surrealist artist Louis Aragon wrote of Wilson: “He is what we, from whom Surrealism was born, dreamed would come after us and go beyond us.” Regarded as a leader in Manhattan´s then-burgeoning avant-garde art scene, Wilson turned his attention to large-scale opera and, with Philip Glass, created the monumental Einstein on the Beach, which achieved world-wide acclaim and altered conventional notions of opera as an artistic form. The work was presented at the Festival d’Avignone and at the Metropolitan in New York and then taken on two world tours in 1984 and 1992. Following Einstein, Wilson worked increasingly with major European theaters and opera houses. In collaboration with internationally renowned writers and performers, Wilson created landmark original works that were featured regularly at the Festival d´Automne in Paris, the Schaubühne in Berlin, the Thalia Theater in Hamburg, and the Salzburg Festival. At the Schaubühne he created Death Destruction & Detroit (1979) and Death Destruction & Detroit II (1987); and at the Thalia he presented the groundbreaking musical works The Black Rider (1991) and Alice (1992). In the early 1980s, Wilson developed what was to remain his most ambitious project: the epic CIVIL warS: a tree is best measured when it is down. Working in collaboration with a group of international artists, Wilson conceived the work as the central part of the 1984 Olympic Arts Festival in Los Angeles and though never completed, individual acts were performed in the United States, Europe, and Japan.
Over the last two decades, Wilson has applied his striking formal language as regards light, sense of space, and movement in his traditional and operatic repertoire, conceiving and directing operas at La Scala in Milan, the Metropolitan in New York, the Opéra Bastille in Paris, the Zurich Opera, the State Opera in Hamburg, the Lyric Opera in Chicago, and the Houston Grand Opera. To name but a few of the works Wilson has directed: Wagner’s Parsifal (Hamburg, 1991); Mozart’s The Magic Flute (Paris, 1991-99); Wagner’s Lohengrin (Zurich, 1991; New York, 1998); Puccini’s Madama Butterfly (Paris, 1993-98; Bologna, 1996; Hamamatsu, 1999; Amsterdam, 2003; Los Angeles, 2004); and Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande (Salzburg, 1997; Paris 2004). Additionally, he has also brought to the stage innovative adaptations of the works of such writers as Virginia Woolf, Henrik Ibsen, and Gertrude Stein. In the course of his career, Wilson has worked with such artists as Heiner Müller, Tom Waits, William S. Burroughs, David Byrne, Lou Reed, Allen Ginsberg, Laurie Anderson, Jessye Norman, and Susan Sontag.
Wilson recently completed an entirely new production, based on an epic poem from Indonesia entitled I La Galigo, which toured extensively and appeared at the Lincoln Center Festival in the summer of 2005.
Wilson continues to direct revivals of his most celebrated productions, including The Black Rider in London, San Francisco, and Sydney; The Temptation of St. Anthony in New York and Barcelona; Erwartung in Berlin; Madama Butterfly at the Bolshoi Opera in Moscow; and Wagner´s Der Ring des Nibelungen at Le Châtelet in Paris.
Beyond being universally recognized and acclaimed for his theatrical pieces, Wilson continues to be tied to the world of contemporary art. Extensive retrospectives have been presented at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. He has mounted installations at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, London´s Clink Street Vaults, and the Guggenheim Museums in New York and Bilbao. His extraordinary tribute to Isamu Noguchi was exhibited recently at the Seattle Art Museum and his installation of the Guggenheim´s Giorgio Armani Retrospective traveled to London, Rome, and Tokyo. In 2007, the Paula Cooper and Phillips de Pury & Co galleries in New York presented his latest artistic venture, VOOM Portraits, that include such personalities as Gao Xingjian, Winona Ryder, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Brad Pitt. The exhibition was then presented at the ACE Gallery in Los Angeles as well as in Naples and Spoleto. His designs, videos, and sculptures are housed in private and museum collections throughout the world. He is represented by the Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.
Wilson is also the founder and artistic director of the Watermill Center, which each summer brings together students and experienced professionals from around the globe in a multi-disciplinary environment dedicated to the arts. In July 2006, the Watermill Center erected a new building complete with rehearsal space and residences and inaugurated its one-year study program.