Julia Varley is known in particular for her work as an actress of Odin Teatret, for her vocal work, and for her commitment to the affirmation of women in theatre with The Magdalena Project network, the Transit Festival and the publications of TheOpen Page.
Her difficulties and constraints have always been a creative impulse for her, based on the power of vulnerability and the need to build environments for development and exchange with horizontal structures and a vision that realises a politics with artistic and cultural means.
Born in London in 1954, at the age of three she moved with her family to Milan, Italy, where she did her schooling, including studying philosophy at Milan University.
In 1971, always in Milan, Julia Varley joined Teatro del Drago, an amateur theatre group inspired by the Bread and Puppet Theater, participating in various performances in peripherical neighbourhoods, political demonstrations, schools, factories and popular fêtes.
Julia was also responsible for the theatre activities of the Circolo la Comune and for the theatre school in the occupied house of Santa Marta.
In 1976 Julia Varley joined Odin Teatret in Denmark as actress in ensemble, solo, indoor and street productions all directed by Eugenio Barba (Anabasis, J.S. Bach, The Million, Ashes of Brecht, The Gospel According to Oxyrhincus, Talabot, The Castle of Holstebro I and II, Rooms in the Emperor’s Palace, Kaosmos, Inside the Skeleton of the Whale, Doña Musica’s Butterflies, Mythos, Ode to Progress, The Great Cities under the Moon, Andersen’s Dream, Don Giovanni all’Inferno, Ur-Hamlet, The Marriage of Medea, Killing Time, The Chronic Life, Ave Maria, The Tree, A Character that Cannot Die).
Julia Varley’s main activity is still today as an Odin Teatret actress. She says that everything she knows comes from a way of thinking rooted in her feet and from the experience of creating, repeating, elaborating and sharing stage actions.
Since 1978, Julia Varley teaches in schools and universities, gives workshops and follows theatre groups and artists all over the world. She has synthesised her experience in five work demonstrations: The Echo of Silence, The Dead Brother, Whispering Winds, Text Action Relationships and The Flying Carpet.
Since 1983, Julia Varley has participated in the conception and organisation of The Magdalena Project, a network of women in contemporary theatre. She is artistic director of Transit International Festival, Holstebro, dedicated to themes of interest for women working in theatre. Julia organised the first Magdalena Project meetings in Holstebro in 1987, and the first Transit Festival in 1992.
Subsequently Transit Festivals has been organised every three years. Since 1990, Julia Varley is involved in the conception and organisation of ISTA (International School of Theatre Anthropology) and since 1992 in the conception and organisation of the University of Eurasian Theatre, both directed by Eugenio Barba.
Since 2008, Julia Varley and Eugenio Barba have devised the annual residency for actors and directors The Secret Art of the Actor in Brasilia, in collaboration with Luciana Martuchelli and her company YinsPiração. From 2019 to 2021 Julia Varley was artistic coordinator of Nordisk Teaterlaboratorium-Odin Teatret (NTL) organising its annual festival each January.
Julia Varley has directed 21 performances with different companies: with Pumpenhaus Theater in Germany (Auf den Spuren des Yeti and Blau); with Ana Woolf from Argentina (Seeds of Memory, Behind the Curtain and White is the Night), a children’s production with Hisako Miura from Japan (Fox Wedding); with Lorenzo Gleijeses and Manolo Muoio (Il figlio di Gertrude, L’esausto o il profondo Azzurro, Una giornata qualsiasi del danzatore Gregorio Samsa); with Gabriella Sacco (Il gusto delle arance) from Italy; with Carolina Pizarro from Chile (Tierra de fuego and De Amagaki a shibugaki, geografía de un aprendizaje); with Marilyn Nunes from Brazil (Estrelas, O oposto, O pesadelo de uma borboleta); with Amaranta Osorio y Teresa García from México and Spain (Anónimas); with Teresa Ruggeri from Italy (Rovine del tempo); with the international Jasonites group (Banana Revival and Tomorrow); with Cia Pessoal de Teatro from Brazil (EntreNãoLugares); with Cia YinsPiração from Brazil (Mare Serenitatis).
Julia Varley has published the following books: Wind in the West; Stones of Water – Notebook of an Odin Actress; An Actress among her Characters; Thinking with the Feet (in collaboration with Vicky A. Monteiro and Francesco Galli); and Genius Loci – Odin Teatret’s Home (in collaboration with Eugenio Barba and Francesco Galli). The books have been published in Italian, English, French, Greek, Spanish, Portuguese, Arab and Chinese. She has written various articles and essays published in journals such as “Teatro e Storia”, “Lapis”, “Performance Research”, “New Theatre Quarterly”, “Conjunto”, “Teatro XXI”, “The Mime Journal”.
Julia Varley is editor of “The Open Page”, a journal of women in theatre published annually from 1996 until 2008, and is editor and contributor for The Open Page Publications which has produced four books about The Magdalena Project’s history from 1986 to 2019.
Since 2020 she is editor for the Journal of Theatre Anthropology created by Eugenio Barba. In 2020 with Eugenio Barba, she starts the Barba Varley Foundation to support artists in situations of disadvantage from racial, gender, political opinion and social background points of view.