"To call into question..."

We are a little more than six months from the end of the world (!) Or from the end of the world as we know it—December 21, 2012. As many who subscribe to the Mayan calendar believe, we are coming to the end of one epoch, about to enter a new era, one that ushers in a physical or spiritual transformation.

We have seen great swells of change, of unity, of people rising up in revolts and “Occupy” movements because they believe in birthing a better world. There was hope that the "Arab Spring" would bring an end to bloodshed and repression for people long under the thumb of dictators. It hasn't turned out to be quite as smooth a journey as many of us hoped. Still I feel optimistic about the future of the global nation. I only need to look to those who have been willing "to call into question" almost everything, even if it put them in danger. 

One is Judith Malina, co-founder and artistic director of The Living Theatre. A German-born Jew and self-proclaimed anarchist and pacifist, she co-founded a company devoted to the "theater of revolt." Its mission statement begins with four powerful words --“To call into question..,” a brilliant beginning from both a Jewish perspective and activist angle.

Born in 1926 to a rabbi and Polish actress, Malina and her family immigrated to New York in 1928. She wrote her first poem when at the age of eight after attending an anti-Nazi rally. She dropped out of high school and a few years later married Julian Beck. In 1948, they established The Living Theatre, a prolific company that has produced over 75 challenging and experimental plays in the past 64 years. 

Often expelled, shut-down, self-exiled, or jailed for their work, Malina and Beck and their company led a nomadic existence for many years, crossing continents and performing in non-traditional venues. The goal of The Living Theatre, based on Antonin Artaud’s iconoclastic The Theater and Its Double, of which Malina translated, was to blur the line between actor and character, cast and audience, art and politics. Actors not only broke the fourth wall, they shattered it and digested the shards, inviting the spectator to do the same.

Mission of the Living Theatre:

To call into question

who we are to each other in the social environment of the theater,

to undo the knots
that lead to misery,

to spread ourselves

across the public's table

like platters at a banquet,

to set ourselves in motion

like a vortex that pulls the

spectator into action,

to fire the body's secret engines,

to pass through the prism

and come out a rainbow,

to insist that what happens in the jails matters,

to cry "Not in my name!"
at the hour of execution,

to move from the theater to the street and from the street to the


This is what The Living Theatre does today.

It is what it has always done.

- Julian Beck

Julian Beck died in 1985.  The Living Theatre at 64 years old and Judith Malina at 86, are still alive and well…well, hanging in there at least. A new documentary, Love and Politics, which debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in April, brings to life the inspiring struggle-- artistic, political, personal, universal-- of the company, of Malina, of humanity.

Love and Politics Trailer

“I wanted to start the beautiful, non-violent, anarchist revolution. I wanted to open the doors of all the jails. I wanted to write the great, divine poetry. I wanted to make music as beautiful as Mozart. I wanted to dance like the great ballerinas. I wanted to do everything… maybe that’s why I’m living so long [so] that I can still do that.”

~ Judith Malina

For more on Judith Malina and The Living Theatre, read about her on our online Encyclopedia.

Topics: Activism, Film, Theater
1 Comment
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I have long been interested in theatre as a vechicle for discussing social justice, but until now, I had never heard of The Living Theatre or Judith Malina. Thanks for this interesting profile.

How to cite this page

Orcha, Gabrielle. ""To call into question..."." 1 August 2012. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on June 4, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/to-call-into-question>.

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