Printed Matter co-hosts an event with Boo-Hooray to launch our newly published The Living Theatre Archive In A Box. Collecting half a century’s worth of materials that document the work of one of the most influential theatre troupes in American history, this assemblage publication is unique as the contents are original materials preserved by members of The Living Theatre.
The Living Theatre produced extensive ephemera to publicize their plays and activities. These posters, handbills, programs, and photographs were designed and produced by members of the theatre as well as collaborators and was parallel to art movements of the time and reflected as much.
The Living Theatre Archive In A Box is an edition of 200 that contains dozens of posters, handbills, pamphlets, programs, and photographs. Also included is a photo zine with an essay by long-time Living Theatre member, Thomas Walker, a signed print by Jonas Mekas, a print from the summer 2015 Gavin Brown enterprise exhibition, A Living Collage, and a letter press print paying homage to The Living Theatre written by photographer Larry Clark.
Founded by the poet Julian Beck (b. 1925 – d. 1985) and actress Judith Malina (b. 1926 – d. 2015) in 1947, The Living Theatre is one of the first experimental theatre companies established in post-war era United States. The Living Theatre drew it’s inspiration from Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty and sought to inspire political dissidence using theatre that engaged the audience through direct spectacle. They were pioneers of the avant-garde often working with such notable collaborators as Allen Ginsberg, John Cage, Maya Deren, Walter de Maria, Kenneth Anger, John Ashbery, and William Carlos Williams among others.
In the 1950’s and early 60’s, The Living Theatre staged plays by Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, and T.S. Eliot as well as Bertolt Brecht’s In The Jungle of The Cities, and The Brig by former marine, Kenneth H. Brown. It was during this time that the group staged the first performances of Jack Gelber’s The Connection, a play that explicitly depicted drug use at a time when it still was taboo to discuss such things. Each performance of The Connection was accompanied by an improvisational jazz set by pianist, Freddie Redd and saxophonist, Jackie McLean or alternately, legendary jazz pianist, Cecil Taylor. Soon afterward the IRS forced the company out of it’s 14th Street space, actors in the infamous production of Paradise Now were arrested for indecent exposure on several occasions, and both Malina and Beck were briefly jailed for contempt of court following their IRS hearing. After their release, the theatre took a self-imposed exile to Europe for a few years touring Mysteries, Smaller Pieces, Frankenstein, Paradise Now, and Jean Genet’s Maids.
Returning to the states in 1968, The Living Theatre toured some of the aforementioned plays throughout the country before going to Brazil in 1971 to perform The Legacy of Cain. While there, Malina and Beck were jailed for possession of marijuana. Actor, Steve Ben Israel solicited the help of famous artists from the states to help get Malina and Beck freed from jail that resulted in their deportation and inspired their play, Seven Meditations On Political Sado-Masochism. Upon returning, they took The Legacy of Cain, The Money Towers, and Six Public Acts to Pittsburgh and performed in the streets there.
By 1975 The Living Theatre had gone back to Europe where they spent the better part of the next ten years travelling and performing in unconventional spaces such as prisons, squats, and publicly in the streets. In 1984 they’d returned to the U.S. to stage The Yellow Methusela, Antigone, The One and The Many, and Julian Beck’s final play before his death in ‘85, The Archeology of Sleep. The group continued to produce new work under the guidance of Judith Malina and Hanon Reznikov (b. 1950 – d. 2008) until Malina’s death in 2015.