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European Debut of Judith Malina's Living Theatre

June 15, 1961
Judith Malina
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Photograph by Charles Rotmil.

In performances that were hailed as "good quality directed with great intelligence," "admirable for subtle expressiveness and intelligent composure," and "exceptional," the off-Broadway Living Theatre troupe made its European debut in Rome on June 15, 1961. By the time of the Living Theatre's European tour, co-directors Judith Malina and Julian Beck had been directing off-Broadway plays for over a decade.

Born in 1926, Malina never finished high school, but studied acting at the New School for Social Research in New York City. She made her acting debut in 1945. Just three years later, in April 1948, Malina and Beck incorporated the Living Theatre. Malina and Beck married six months later. The Living Theatre, which sought to break down the barriers between cast and audience, actor and character, art and politics, eventually produced more than 75 plays. The troupe was noted for its use of mime, improvisation, and audience participation. Among the Theatre's notable successes were Antonin Artaud's The Theatre and Its Double, Jack Gelber's The Connection, and the premiere of William Carlos Williams' Many Lives. Malina and Beck acted in most of the Theatre's plays, as well as directing them.

Although successful in a 14th Street loft, the Living Theatre did not stay permanently in New York. Malina and her troupe toured France in 1965, and performed street theatre in Brazil in 1971. When the company was expelled from Brazil as "incendiary," the troupe spent twelve years in self-imposed exile in France before returning to the U.S. While in France for the initial tour, Malina directed two collective creations of the company, Frankenstein and The Mysteries, and helped to create Paradise Now, based on the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley.

As the theme of Paradise Now suggests, Malina was active in progressive politics both through and alongside her theatre work. She was a member of Women Strike for Peace, the U.S. Committee for Latin American Political Prisoners, the War Resisters League, and the Industrial Workers of the World. The themes of peace and politics also appear in Malina's essays and in her poems, which were published as Poems of a Wandering Jewess (1982).

Malina has taught at New York University and Columbia University, appeared in the movies Enemies: A Love Story, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Addams Family, and been a New York State writer-in-residence. She has been awarded six Obie Awards, a Paris Critics Circle Medallion, a New England Theater Conference Award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship, among other prizes.

To learn more about Judith Malina, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.

See also: Theater in the United States; Judith: Part of the Hanukkah Story.

Sources: Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 883-885; New York Times, June 16, 1961, September 10, 1961; John Tytell, The Living Theatre: Art, Exile, and Outrage (New York, 1995).

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Jewish Women's Archive. "This Week in History - European Debut of Judith Malina's Living Theatre." (Viewed on April 25, 2014) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/jun/15/1961/judith-malina>.