Founder of Groundbreaking Theater Troupe Returns to the Scene of a Scandal

Judith Malina, the co-founder and artistic director of The Living Theatre — whose legendary performance of “Paradise Now” 41 years ago at the Yale Repertory Theatre resulted in the arrest of 10 performers and audience members for public indecency — returns to campus for a two-day residency at the Yale School of Drama Monday and Tuesday, Sept. 14-15.

Malina will be joined by Living Theatre general manager and archivist Thomas S. Walker and administrative director Brad Burgess for a series of classes and workshops with drama students.

In addition, free public screenings of “Signals Through the Flames” and “Resist!” - documentaries about the work of The Living Theatre, will be held at the Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel St. “Signals Through the Flames” will be shown at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 14; “Resist!” will be screened at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 15. The screenings will be followed by discussions and book signings with Malina, Walker and Burgess. Seating is first-come, first-served.

Films of some of The Living Theatre’s best-known productions, including “The Connection” (1961), “The Brig” (1963) and “Paradise Now” (1968-1970), will be on reserve and available for individual viewing at the Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library, 180 York St.

Founded by the German-born Malina in 1947 as an alternative to the commercial theater, The Living Theatre has staged nearly 100 productions in eight languages in 28 countries. Malina was a student of theater producer and director Erwin Piscator and Julian Beck, an abstract expressionist painter of the New York School.

During the 1950s and 1960s in New York, The Living Theatre pioneered the unconventional staging of poetic drama by writers such as Gertrude Stein, William Carlos Williams, Jean Cocteau, Federico García Lorca, Bertolt Brecht and Luigi Pirandello, which marked the start of the Off-Broadway movement. In the mid-1960s, the company began a new life as a nomadic touring ensemble in Europe, creating a new form of nonfictional acting based on the actor’s political and physical commitment to using the theater as a medium for furthering social change.

After four years of self-imposed exile, The Living Theatre returned to the United States in 1968 to embark on a national tour. The first stop was the Yale Repertory Theatre. Robert Brustein, then dean of the School of Drama and artistic director of the Yale Rep, recounts the happening in his book “Making Scenes”:

“The actors proclaimed their inability to travel without a passport, to smoke marijuana or to take their clothes off — all to a mass of Yale undergraduates who, seeing the actors peel down to loincloths, thereupon stripped down to their underwear, and lit up joints. Mass love zaps and petting parties materialized onstage among couples of various sexes and sexual inclinations; and after the endless, loveless, sexless public groping was finally over, everyone was exhorted to leave the theater and convert the police to anarchism, to storm the jails and free the prisoners, to stop the war and ban the bomb, and to take over the New Haven streets in the name of the People.”

As the cast and audience members exited the University Theatre onto York Street in various states of undress, 10 people — including Beck and Malina — were arrested by the New Haven Police Department for public indecency. The next night the audience at the University Theatre swelled to more than three times the capacity for the second performance of “Paradise Now.” No arrests were made.

For further information about The Living Theatre events, send e-mail to elizabeth.elliott@yale.edu.

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