“Anita [Pallenberg] and I went to Rome that spring and summer , between the bust and the trials, where Anita played in Barbarella, with Jane Fonda, directed by Jane’s husband Roger Vadim. Anita’s Roman world centered around the Living Theatre, the famous anarchist-pacifist troupe run by Judith Malina and Julian Beck, which had been around for years but was coming into its own in this period of activism and street demos. The Living Theatre was particularly insane, hard-core, its players often getting arrested on indecency charges—they had a play [“Paradise Now”] in which they recited lists of social taboos at the audience, for which they usually got a night in the slammer. Their main actor, a handsome black man named Rufus Collins, was a friend of Robert Fraser, and they were a part of the Andy Warhol and Gerard Malanga connection. And so it all went round in a little avant-garde elite, as often as not drawn together by a taste for drugs, of which the LT was a center. And drugs were not copious in those days. The Living Theatre was intense, but it had glamour. There were all those beautiful people attached, like Donyale Luna, who was the first famous black model in America, and Nico and all those girls who were hovering around. Donyale Luna was with one of the guys from the theater. Talk about a tiger, a leopard, one of the most sinuous chicks I’ve ever seen. Not that I tried or anything. She obviously had her own agenda. And all backlit by the beauty of Rome, which gave it an added intensity…”
Arthur Magazine proudly presents PARADISE NOW: The Living Theatre in Amerika, a DVD/36-page booklet/double-sided poster featuring rare, never-before-distributed films from The Living Theatre‘s historic and influential ’68-’69 American tour.
Here is the trailer preview teaser, which may not be safe for work but is Totally Safe For Life:
In 1968 the The Living Theatre, an anarchist collective theater troupe led by Julian Beck and Judith Malina, triumphantly returned to America from years of self-imposed exile in Europe. Their new production, which has already taken Europe by storm, was Paradise Now, an intense, challenging distillation and enactment of every principle that the Living Theatre held dear.
“Life, revolution and theater are three words for the same thing: an unconditional NO to the present society,” said Julian Beck. The staging of Paradise Now—a series of provocative scenarios involving group nudity, ideological declamations and the like—attempted to dissolve the boundaries of human interactions, forging a new harmony between the actors and audience. Of this process, Beck wrote:
“Collective creation is the secret weapon of the people… This play is a voyage from the many to the one and from the one to the many. It’s a spiritual voyage and a political voyage, a voyage for the actors and the spectators. The play is a vertical ascent toward permanent revolution, leading to revolutionary action here and now. The revolution of which the play speaks is the beautiful, non-violent, anarchist revolution. The purpose of the play is to lead to a state of being in which non-violent revolutionary action is possible.”
The result of this shared voyage was the visionary, flamboyant creation of a temporary anarchist collective—free from the enslavements of war, violence, the State, money and the self. Audiences and critics were alternately enraptured and repulsed, radicalized and shocked. Was this the end of theater? Or the beginning of something else? Whatever it was, it was unforgettable, and it rippled into the increasingly volatile culture of the time via the subsequent work of people like the Doors’ Jim Morrison, who famously followed the Living Theatre’s “Paradise Now” around California and helped fund their work.
Director Marty Topp’s film of “Paradise Now,” produced by Ira Cohen, featuring music by the MC5, the Sun Ra Arkestra, Apache Indians and others, is an intense, unforgettable 40-minute film that documents what happened when the Living Theatre staged Paradise Now in America. We have packaged it with “Emergency!”, director Gwen Brown’s excellent but little-seen 30-minute 1968 documentary on the Living Theatre; a double-sided poster; an elaborate 36-page booklet of Living Theatre archival materials; exclusive video interviews with Living Theatre members Judith Malina, Julian Beck and Hanon Raznikov; the complete Paradise Now! script; and much more.
“I’ve always felt I belonged on the Lower East Side,” the 80-year-old avant-garde theater doyenne Judith Malina said recently as she sat on the terrace of her new apartment on Clinton Street. Several floors below, a half-dozen volunteers were putting the finishing touches on the 100-seat basement space that is the newest incarnation of her baby, the Living Theater. The opening night of “The Brig,” the first show there, was just hours away, but Ms. Malina made time to reminisce.
“The only time I lived down here,” she said, “was when I spent 30 days in the Women’s House of Detention.” That incarceration, for refusing to take shelter during an air-raid drill in 1957, was the second of many in a career that made her a pillar of the leftist cultural movement. Now, she said, “I really feel, finally, I’m where I’m supposed to be.”
And it took only a half-century. In 1947 Ms. Malina and her husband, the painter Julian Beck (she still refers to him by his full name, guru-like, though they were married for nearly 40 years), founded the Living Theater, an ensemble dedicated to challenging artistic and political conventions. For two decades they performed avant-garde and activist classics (Gertrude Stein, Lorca, Brecht) and naturalistic quasi-happenings. Audience interaction was the point, and confrontations, nudity, onstage and offstage sex and frequent police intervention were as much the marks of a good show as an ovation. (Ms. Malina, trained as an actress, did much of her best work with her arresting officers, she said.)
But the company was plagued with administrative and logistical problems. In 1963 its 14th Street theater was closed mid-run for tax evasion. Though the charge was eventually dropped, the couple’s antics at the trial, which they treated as an opportunity for anarchist performance, earned them a jail sentence for contempt of court.
The hoopla made them a cause célèbre but was not enough to keep them in New York. They continued to perform and teach, in various rented and public spaces in the United States and in Europe, but the theater has not had a dedicated building in New York for nearly 15 years.
The cheerful, modernist new Living Theater (the building was originally meant to be a hip restaurant, complete with two-story waterfall) seems at home among the neighborhood’s boutiques and bistros. And so, in a way, does its owner.
With witchy dyed black hair (she played the grandmother in the first “Addams Family” movie), ’60s-heavy eyeliner, a flowy black and orange pantsuit, black sneakers and big jewelry, Ms. Malina looks younger than her age. Her partner, Hanon Reznikov, 56, brought her a cup of coffee, though she hardly needed it. Sitting with one leg tucked under her, she frequently seemed moved enough by her own passion to nearly rock right out of her lawn chair.
“I just need to find sources for all the energy I get from what I see and hear around me,” she said. “I’m very inspired by the younger generation today. They understand, for instance, the balance between art and politics in a way that we had to struggle to understand it. I think it’s a good time for political theater.”
And does she still consider herself an anarchist or a pacifist or …?
“Still?” Ms. Malina said. “I’m just beginning! Still!?” She harrumphed and continued: “Each day starts with, ‘How much can I do today to get toward that B.N.V.A.R.’? You know what a B.N.V.A.R. is? It’s the beautiful nonviolent anarchist revolution. That’s what we work for every day.”
The focus of the Living Theater has changed little since the days when B.N.V.A.R. might have been a household phrase. “As long as you hear the outcry of the needy, how can you not respond?” Ms. Malina asked. “If I was a shoemaker, I’d try to figure out how everybody could have shoes, but I’m an artist and I want to convey hope in a difficult situation.”
Her method today is the same as it was then: “The Brig,” Kenneth H. Brown’s stark drama about a military prison, was one of the Living Theater’s most successful works when it was first staged in 1963. Given the play’s resonance with news about Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, it seemed a natural choice for the inaugural production in the new space, said Ms. Malina, who directed.
“I thought it would be one of the plays that we should do because it would encourage revolution,” she said. “It’s tragic that 30 years later it’s still valid. It shouldn’t be anymore.”
Four years ago she decided to realize her lifelong dream of having a theater with a living space above it. She sold the eight-room West End Avenue apartment where she had lived with Mr. Beck, who died in 1985, and their two children, and put the money into the Clinton Street space, where she has a 20-year lease but no other financing.
The reception from the theatrical world has been warm. “Tony Kushner promised us a new play,” Mr. Reznikov said. “Jim Rado, who wrote ‘Hair,’ just gave us a new play.” And Oskar Eustis of the Public Theater, who has been promoting “The Brig” there, sent a bouquet of flowers, with a black card signed, “In socialist solidarity.”
But it remains to be seen whether socialist solidarity will fill seats. The opening-night crowd was mostly the couple’s gray-haired (and ponytailed) friends, and it had the air of a leftist reunion.
Still, Ms. Malina’s drive remains undimmed. She and Mr. Reznikov were elated to find a building with an elevator to ferry her between the apartment and the theater — “so she can direct until she’s 105,” Mr. Reznikov said.
She still begins her day by writing in a diary. Two collections of her entries — one spanning 1947 to 1957, and the other, “The Enormous Despair,” a memoir of her American homecoming in 1968 — have been published so far. In their three-room apartment, still sparsely furnished, save for dozens of boxes with labels like “thesis + texts,” Ms. Malina sits at a small wooden desk with a green-shaded lamp, editing poetry and working on a book about the director Erwin Piscator, a progenitor of Brecht’s. (She began it in 1945, when she studied with Piscator.)
With the help of one employee, she runs the theater alongside Mr. Reznikov, who took over where Mr. Beck left off, personally and professionally. Among her other projects is preparing for the Living Theater’s next show, a two-woman play based on a Doris Lessing novel. Ms. Malina expects to star.
What does she like to do for fun?
“I like to make love,” Ms. Malina said. “Study. I don’t do much else except study, make love and run the theater.”
“I mean,” she added, “we’re big love bugs. We think that’s the answer: Make love, not war.”
Wednesdays: Pay-What-You-Can (no reservations) Thursdays: $20 Friday, Saturday and Sunday: $30
The Living Theatre has signed a 10-year lease on the 3500 sq. ft. basement of a new residential building under construction at 19-21 Clinton Street, between Houston and Stanton Streets on New York’s Lower East Side. The company should be able to move into the completed space in early 2007. Plans are to open the new Living Theatre with a new production of The Brig by Kenneth H. Brown, first presented at The Living Theatre at 14th St. and Sixth Avenue in 1963.
The Clinton Street theater will be the company’s first permanent home since the closing of The Living Theatre on Third Street at Avenue C in 1993. The decision to return to the Lower East Side reflects the company’s continuing faith in the neighborhood as a vibrant center where the needs of some of the city’s poorer people confront the ideas of the experimenters in art and politics who have settled in the area. The presence of newly arrived upscale shops and venues only underlines the political contradictions which bristle through the crowded, narrow streets
The Brig, written by a veteran who survived incarceration in a U.S. Marine Corps Brig during the 1950’s, is a chilling portrait of the brutality of military prisons. The original production was the winner of the OBIE Award for the Best Play of 1963 and Jonas Mekas’ extraordinary film of the production, The Brig, won the Leone D’Oro for Best Documentary at the Venice Film Festival the following year. The play had great impact in New York and then toured extensively in Europe until 1967.
The prominence of U.S. Military Prisons in various locations around the world at the beginning of the 21st century gives new relevance to this play. The perverse logic behind the treatment of prisoners within the martial system is made stunningly clear in Brown’s play, which was the first production staged by The Living Theatre after director Judith Malina read M.C. Richard’s as yet unpublished English translation of The Theater and its Double by Antonin Artaud, whose radical approach to articulating a theatrical relationship between cruelty and transcendence transformed The Brig into a physical experience of pain and release unlike any conventional drama. Plans are developing for a repertory program as well as musical, dance, poetry and political events. Watch for coming announcements of the projects due to flower at the our new home. We look forward to seeing you there.