Essential Videos on The Living Theatre

Judith Malina introduces The Living Theatre:

65 years ago, Julian Beck and I found the Living Theatre, and it continues to do play after play. The Living Theatre is a company of actors who want to bring about the BEAUTIFUL NON-VIOLENT ANARCHIST REVOLUTION. We wanted to find a theatre that would grow with history and in history.

That is why we called it the LIVING THEATRE, because we wanted it to change with time. People say ‘Yeah—the world is in lousy shape, and there are wars and horrors going on all the time. But what am I gonna do? Who am I? What can I do?’

And to give people the sense that there is something they can do, that they are empowered.

That begins in the theatre.

The Living Theatre’s mission by Julien Beck

To call into question

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

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 theater.

This is what The Living Theatre does today.

It is what it has always done.

Artaud’s Anguine Audience

Connections to the GCSE, AS and A level specifications

  • Theatrical style
  • Methods of creating, developing, rehearsing and performing
  • Artistic intentions
  • Significant moments in the development of theory and practice
  • The relationship between actor and audience in theory and practice

PC: Another important distinguishing point is his perception of audiences. I know that his work never really had a chance to establish an audience but how did he envisage the audience?

RM: I think one of my favourite quotes, it is not an exact quote but slightly paraphrasing it, he says that, ‘audience members should be treated like snakes and they should feel every vibration.’ The theatre should communicate with the audience through vibration like with snakes. So the audience is a passive vehicle. But at the same time the audience are not passive because they become an active part of the process.

PC: Are the audience’s bodies physically engaged with the bodily experience of the performer?

RM: Yes, what you think of the boundaries between the body of the audience member and what they see on stage should be somehow disrupted. But it only seems to go in one direction, so it is only from the performer to the audience. The audience is incorporated into the spectacle but almost against their will. You have to abandon all intellectual capacity and just be, be subjected to this onslaught.

PC: I know he talks about the audience being encircled in The Theatre of Cruelty manifesto. Has that disruption and onslaught been realised in other peoples work since Artaud? Perhaps The Living Theatre and their ‘happenings’. Their Paradise Now seemed to disrupt those boundaries.

RM: Yes, there is a lot within performance art. I don’t know to what extent they are really ‘Artaudian’ but there are a lot of people who speak about Artaud as an influence. Stephen Barber has written quite a bit about Artaud’s influence on The Living Theatre and Japanese Butoh, as well as, people like Marina Abramovic: people that use their bodies as a vehicle.

PC: What were the aesthetics of his theatre? Was it connected to the Tarahumaras and Balinese dance experience?

RM: When I think about the aesthetics of it, the thing that springs to mind is lighting and sound. It ties in with the all engulfing, sensory experience.

PC: It has to “satisfy the senses”. How does he write about lighting and sound?

RM: He writes about using all the latest technology. Basically it should be spectacular. With sound I know he wanted to use this instrument the Ondes Martenot which is similar to a theremin. It makes a weird wobbly sound. He was really interested with engaging with technology which is another way that he was quite innovative. He was quite anti-sound in cinema but he was into using all the new technical possibilities in the theatre to enhance this sensory experience.

PC: Are there any examples of this sensory experience in action?

RM: Les Cenci but that had negative reviews that said it was too overwhelming and there was nothing subtle about it. It was too much of an assault on the senses.

PC: I think that is a common difficulty that teachers have with the work that students produce under the umbrella of being Artaudian – it can often lack subtlety.

RM: I don’t think it would ever be possible to actually really put Artaud’s ideas into practice. There is a sense that this plague metaphor is not really just a metaphor so it is something that is so violent and destructive. Yes we have the Tarahumaras and Balinese dance, and yes most would say his cruelty is not about violence, but Artaud’s theatre is in theory something that is violent and destructive. He was always writing about these apocalyptic scenarios. It is not possible to take it to the extreme that Artaud seemed to suggest.


  • The theatre should communicate with the audience through vibration like with snakes.
  • The audience is incorporated into the spectacle but almost against their will.
  • Lighting and sound tie in with the all engulfing, sensory experience.
  • Artaud writes about using all the latest technology: it should be spectacular.
  • It is not possible to take theatre to the extreme that Artaud seemed to suggest.