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Monday, March 11, 2013

The Living Theatre at BAM: the revolution never was televised, but it was staged

by Louie Fleck

In 1963, New York had the Bread and Puppet Theater.
In 1963, Detroit had the Detroit Repertory Theatre.
In 1967, San Francisco had the Diggers and the San Francisco Mime Troupe.

But before Oh! Calcutta! (1969) and Hair (1967) came along to commercialize the tribal hippie movement, there was The Living Theatre. The Living Theatre was an integral part of their artistic generation and had a profound influence on further generations of artists, actors, poets and musicians, including Allen Ginsberg, Al Pacino, Martin Sheen, Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Keith Richards, Jim Morrison and practically countless others.

Photo: Don Snyder, 1969.

Maybe you didn’t notice a recent short article about the closing of The Living Theatre’s Lower East Side space.

The Living Theatre was founded in New York City in 1947 by actress Judith Malina and painter/poet Julian Beck. After Beck's death in 1985, company member Hanon Reznikov became co-director with Malina. Based on the philosophy of French Surrealist Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, The Living Theatre had its heyday in the 1960s and '70s. Artaud referred to cruelty not in a violent way, but rather the cruelty it takes for actors to show audiences unpalatable truths. Audience confrontation played a big part.

Check out this video to get a taste:

The Living Theatre performed at BAM numerous times from 1968 through 1973. At one point they shared a home across the street from the stage door on St. Felix Street. Notable shows included: Frankenstein, Antigone, Paradise Now, and Mysteries and Smaller Pieces. They shook up BAM, the theater world, and to an extent, the entire universe.

The Living Theatre's Paradise Now at BAM. Photo: Don Snyder

According to the Daily News article, Judith Malina is entering the Lillian Booth Home for Retired Artists in New Jersey. However, she’s already plotting her next production. Can’t wait!

(All of this video is available on the amazing DVD collection, Paradise Now: a collective creation of The Living Theatre, produced by Arthur Magazine.)

Editor's note: Judith Malina passed away on April 10, 2015, leaving behind a tremendous creative and political legacy. She will be missed.


  1. I was there. for Paradise Now and Frankenstein. If only I remembered.......

  2. All those years ago, at the Roundhouse in London LT knocked Theatre in the UK flat on its breathless ass! Wonderous!


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