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The 2024 Lion awards for Theatre
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The 2024 Lion awards for Theatre

The Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement goes to the Australian company Back to Back Theatre; the Silver Lion goes to the Anglo-German collective Gob Squad.

The Awards

The Back to Back Theatre company, the pioneer of renewal in Australian theatre and one of the companies best known around the world for making disability a tool of artistic inquiry, is the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement of Biennale Teatro 2024 (15 > 30 June). The Anglo-German collective Gob Squad, spearhead for new ways of combining media and performance that puts the spectator at the centre, has been awarded the Silver Lion. The decision was made by the Board of Directors of La Biennale di Venezia, upon recommendation by the directors of the Theatre Department Stefano Ricci and Gianni Forte (ricci/forte). The awards ceremony for the Silver Lion will be held on Sunday June 16th in Sala delle Colonne at Ca’ Giustinian, the Biennale headquarters; the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement will be awarded at the close of the Festival, on Sunday June 30th, also in Sala delle Colonne.

Back to Back Theatre
Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement

Founded in 1987 by a core group of artists – Simon Laherty, Sarah Mainwaring, Scott Price – who identify as differently abled, and joined in 1999 by Bruce Gladwin as the artistic director, Back to Back Theatre has captivated audiences around the world for the past thirty years with over thirty productions. Works that address social, political and philosophical themes, challenging the construction of our imaginaries and our perception of normalcy. A career constellated with awards, from the International Ibsen Award in 2022, to the Herald Angel Critics’ Award at the International Edinburgh Festival in 2014, the Bessie Award in New York in 2008, in addition to the many Green Room Awards they received at home.

Back to Back Theatre, under the guidance of Bruce Gladwin – write Stefano Ricci and Gianni Forte – expose the vulnerability of organisms to amplify the meaning of a communication that is restriction, obstacle… The differently able bodies on stage of Back to Back, in the dystopian landscapes of a roaring reality, beyond the artistic representation are truly present and acquire other meaning. A visionary parable of communication that with poetic ferocity disintegrates every prejudice, every stigma of compassion: if the body has expressive limitations, on stage these demarcations themselves become a different grammar. Our fears, our puritan tolerance, our moral blindness are blown away by Back to Back Theatre’s cruel tales of dangerous worlds, where diversity carries with it the amplification of knowledge, of inclusion, to heal the deformities of our awareness as apparently abled people… Because no matter what limitation a person may feel, it is up to us as the human consortium to remove it; this is what culture does, this is theatre to be deserved, this and much more is Back to Back Theatre”.

Back to Back Theatre comes to Italy for the first time for Biennale Teatro with Food Court, on stage at the Teatro Piccolo Arsenale on June 28th and 29th, a production that blends theatre performance, music concert and a torrent of images and emotions.

Gob Squad
Silver Lion

Anything can happen and usually everything does. Every show is absolutely unique. Danced, played, sung, their works, which leave you feeling like you have a hangover, are an unrepeatable opportunity to share passions and desires”, state the directors Stefano Ricci and Gianni Forte about the shows of the “performance warriors” (Arts Journal) known as Gob Squad, an arts collective founded in Nottingham in 1994 and celebrated at documenta X in Kassel only three years later. The directors continue in their motivation for the Silver Lion: “Their personal explorations, defined as Live Art, or better Life Art, are permeated by a sharp vision of society, in relation to contemporary urban existence, where authenticity and illusion, utopia and banality, immediacy and theatrical machines, real life and media, are constantly set on a collision course. Thus, improvising, relying both in theatres and in site-specific environments on the four Rs, the four master keys (Risk, Rules, Rhythm, Reality) to develop unexpected strategies, to surprise themselves, challenge themselves and learn to react to random events within a dramaturgy, playing with the perception of what is familiar and transforming daily life into an epic, the Gob Squad offer audiences – by inviting them to move beyond the traditional role of passive spectator – the possibility of shining as  direct witnesses and principal actors in this ritual”.

At the Biennale, the collective will inaugurate the 52nd Festival on June 15th at the Teatro Piccolo Arsenale with Creation (Pictures of Dorian), openly inspired by the novel by Oscar Wilde: an original reflection upon youth and the passing of time, between art, life and the cult of beauty. One of their most intriguing video installations, emblematic of their work with images of the Gob Squad, Elephants in Rooms, or 14 windows onto the world, will be on exhibit throughout the Festival in Pavilion 30 at Forte Marghera.

The awards of the previous editions

Over the years, the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement in Theatre has been awarded to Ferruccio Soleri (2006), Ariane Mnouchkine (2007), Roger Assaf (2008), Irene Papas (2009), Thomas Ostermeier (2011), Luca Ronconi (2012), Romeo Castellucci (2013), Jan Lauwers (2014), Christoph Marthaler (2015), Declan Donnellan (2016), Katrin Brack (2017), Antonio Rezza and Flavia Mastrella (2018), Jens Hillje (2019), Franco Visioli (2020), Krzysztof Warlikowski (2021); Christiane Jatahy (2022); and Armando Punzo (2023).

The Silver Lion, dedicated to promising young artists in theatre, or to the institutions that have distinguished themselves for cultivating new talents, has been awarded to Rimini Protokoll (2011), Angélica Liddell (2013), Fabrice Murgia (2014), Agrupación Señor Serrano (2015), Babilonia Teatri (2016), Maja Kleczewska (2017), Anagoor (2018), Jetse Batelaan (2019), Alessio Maria Romano (2020), Kae Tempest (2021), Samira Elagoz (2022); and FC Bergman (2023).

Biographical notes

Based in the Victorian regional centre of Geelong in Australia, the Back to Back Theatre company, founded in 1987, is led by an ensemble of actors – Simon Laherty, Sarah Mainwaring, Scott Price – who identify as having an intellectual disability or as neurodivergent and are considered among the most important representatives of Australian theatre.
From 2009 to 2023, the company has undertaken 86 national and 124 international seasons of its work. This includes presentations and screenings at the world’s pre-eminent contemporary arts and theatre festivals on every continent – the Edinburgh International Festival, London’s V&A Museum and the Barbican, Vienna Festival, Holland Festival and Theater der Welt, the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, the Public Theater in New York, Festival Tokyo, West Kowloon Cultural District Authority in Hong Kong, and Buenos Aires International Festival.
Their many productions include small metal object (2007), their first international success, and Ganesh versus the Third Reich (2012), winner of the Helpmann award. We’re People Who Do Shows – Back to Back Theatre Performance, Politics, Visibility (2013) is the book that presents the company’s history.
Since 2009, the company has delivered workshops focused on artistic excellence and inclusive practice to over 34,000 participants.
Back to Back Theatre has received 22 national and international awards including the International Ibsen Award, a Helpmann Award for Best Australian Work, an Edinburgh International Festival Herald Angel Critics’ Award, two Age Critics’ Awards, a New York Bessie and the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Group Award for its long-standing contribution to the development of Australian theatre. In 2015, the Artistic Director Bruce Gladwin received the Australia Council for the Arts’ Inaugural Award for Outstanding Achievement in Theatre. In 2019, the ensemble were awarded the ‘Best Ensemble’ Green Room Award.


Gob Squad is a collective of British and German artists founded in Nottingham in 1994, when they were still attending Trent University, before moving to Berlin in 1999, where the company is based today. The seven core members – Johanna Freiburg, Sean Patten, Sharon Smith, Berit Stumpf, Sarah Thom, Bastian Trost and Simon Will – share all responsibilities, working together on devising, directing and performing their works. Other artists are invited to collaborate on special projects. The Gob Squad explore where theatre meets art, media and real life. Everyday life and magic, banality and idealism, reality and entertainment are all set on a collision course and the unpredictable results are captured on video. In addition to theatres and galleries, Gob Squad place their work at the heart of urban life: in homes, stores, subway stations, parking lots, hotels or directly on the street. Motivated by a desire for collective experiences and authentic relationships, Gob Squad wishes to empower spectators and passers-by beyond their traditional role as passive spectators.
Their international renown has grown continually, earning them space and relevance inside documenta X in 1997. Their works, performed around the world, include: Super Night Shot (2003), Gob Squad’s Kitchen (2007), winner of the Drama Desk Award in New York, Saving the World (2008), winner of the Goethe Preis at the Impulse Festival, Before Your Very Eyes (2011), selected for the Theatertreffen in Berlin and Western Society (2013), one of their greatest hits.