Willem Dafoe Named Artistic Director of the Theatre Department of La Biennale di Venezia

The appointment was deliberated by the Board of Directors of La Biennale chaired by Pietrangelo Buttafuoco.

By: Jul. 08, 2024
Willem Dafoe Named Artistic Director of the Theatre Department of La Biennale di Venezia
Enter Your Email to Unlock This Article

Plus, get the best of BroadwayWorld delivered to your inbox, and unlimited access to our editorial content across the globe.

Existing user? Just click login.

Willem Dafoe has been named the new Artistic Director of the Theatre Department of La Biennale di Venezia for the two-year term 2025-2026. The appointment was deliberated by the Board of Directors of La Biennale chaired by Pietrangelo Buttafuoco.

“It is an honour to announce the appointment of Willem Dafoe as the Director of Biennale Teatro – stated Pietrangelo Buttafuoco. Theatre is in fact the original home of his lustrous career. One of the founders of the legendary Wooster Group in 1977, the perfect control of his body on stage has always stemmed from discipline, knowledge, passion and a profound awareness of theatre. I can’t wait, like everyone else, to be a spectator at the Festival he will build as Artistic Director and – from his lectern as an absolute maestro – to watch the young men and women of the Theatre College grow in their art”.

“I was first surprised then happy to receive Pietrangelo Buttafuoco’s invitation to be the Director of the International Theatre Festival of La Biennale di Venezia 2025-2026 – stated Willem Dafoe. I realise that I am known as a film actor, but I was born in the theatre, the theatre trained me and galvanised me. I am a stage animal. I am an actor. Theatre taught me about art and life. I worked with the Wooster Group for twentyseven years, I have collaborated with great directors from Richard Foreman to Bob Wilson. The direction of my Theatre program will be charted by my personal development. A sort of exploration of the essence of the body”.


An actor with an experimental vocation and unorthodox choices, Willem Dafoe (Appleton, Wisconsin – USA, 1955) began his artistic career as a university student in Milwaukee where at age 19 he joined Theatre X (1975-1977), one of the first experimental theatre groups in the US, influenced by Living and by Grotowski, with which he performed in Offending the Audience by Peter Handke and in many of the plays by the director and artistic director John Schneider. In Europe, where he lived in 1976, he was at the legendary Mickery Theatre in Amsterdam, the heart of alternative international theatre, where he performed on stage in Folter Follies, a work by the founder, actor, director, playwright, producer and visual artist Ritsaert ten Cate.

He began his most important theatre training in New York, where together with director Elizabeth LeCompte and actors Ron Vawter, Kate Valk, Jim Clayburgh and Peyton Smith, he co-founded The Wooster Group, with which he would perform on stage for over twenty years (1977-2003), participating in many of the productions, which featured a singular blend of languages and texts – from the classics to American counterculture, from Flaubert to Lenny Bruce – that made it the fulcrum of the underground scene in 1980s New York,  establishing collaborations with many artists – Ken Kobland, Jim Strahs, Richard Foreman, Trisha Brown, John Lurie, Bruce Odland, Steve Buscemi, Jennifer Tipton, Frances McDormand, Hans Peter Kuhn, Amir ElSaffar.

In addition to the Wooster Group, Willem Dafoe worked with directors who have left their mark in international theatre with their imagery. Richard Foreman, playwright, director and experimental theoretician, equally renowned on European stages and founder of “ontological-hysteric” theatre, would call him for Miss Universal Happiness (1985) and The Idiot Savant (2009). Robert Wilson chose him for The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic (2011), and alongside Mikhail Baryshnikov, for The Old Woman, based on the short stories by Russian poet Daniil Kharms (2013). Finally, for Romeo Castellucci, Willem Dafoe would star in Il velo nero del pastore, based on the enigmatic short story by Hawthorne (2016). In 2016 he participated in Biennale Teatro in the masterclass section, teaching a workshop dedicated to acting.

Throughout his career as a film actor, he has won many international acknowledgments and was nominated for four Oscars (the last time in 2019 for At Eternity’s Gate by Julian Schnabel, for which in 2018 he won the Coppa Volpi at the Venice International Film Festival), and for four Golden Globes (the last time in 2024 for Poor Things, the film that won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival). This year he will be in the cast of the opening film of the 81st Venice Film Festival (28 August – 7 September), Beetlejuice Beetlejuice by Tim Burton.