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Living Theatre Collection

An inventory of the collection at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: MRC
Date: 21 Sep 2007

Biographical History

The Living Theatre was founded in 1947 by actor and writer Judith Malina and painter/poet Julian Beck. Intended as an experimental alternative to commercial theatre, it attracted the sponsorship of, and staged works by, important American writers including Kenneth Rexroth, Gertrude Stein, John Ashbery, and William Carlos Williams. Also included were European writers such as Jean Cocteau (French), Bertolt Brecht (German), Federico GarcĂ­a Lorca (Spanish), and Luigi Pirandello (Italian), many of whom were at that time rarely if ever produced in America.

Its reception by the established New York theatre world was not entirely positive, and between 1953 and 1963 three of its venues were shut down by the authorities. The Living Theatre then turned to touring, travelling Europe and refining their vision of "a new form of nonfictional acting based on the actor's political and physical commitment to using the theatre as a medium for social change." ["Historical Notes," Living Theatre website] Over the next twenty years their venues expanded to Brazilian prisons, Pittsburgh steel mills, Palermo slums, and New York City schools; their performances were free to all and included Six Public Acts, The Money Tower, Seven Meditations on Political Sado-Masochism, Turning the Earth and the Strike Support Oratorium.

In the 1980s the group began to focus on participatory theatre, involving the audience in rehearsals and performances; plays of this phase included Prometheus at the Winter Palace, The Yellow Methuselah and The Archaeology of Sleep. When Julian Beck died in 1985 he was replaced by Hanon Reznikov, who brought the troupe to a new Third Street performance space on Manhattan's Lower East Side. Continuing its tradition of challenging authority, the theatre was closed by authorities in 1993.

In 1999, funded by the European Union, the troupe renovated Palazzo Spinola, a 17th century building in Rocchetta Ligure, Italy, and reopened it as Centro Living Europa. One of their first productions from the new venue was Resistenza, a dramatization of the city's resistance to the German occupation in 1943-1945. In 2006 they re-established a presence in New York City at 21 Clinton Street, where they continue to produce new plays, most with anarchist, pacifist, or anti-globalization themes.

The Living Theatre exerted a strong influence on other American experimental theatre companies, including The Open Theater (founded by Living Theatre member Joseph Chaikin) and Bread and Puppet Theater. Over its history The Living Theatre has staged nearly a hundred productions performed in eight languages in 28 countries on five continents, and its productions have won four Obie Awards: The Connection (1959), The Brig (1963 and 2007), and Frankenstein (1968).

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Living Theatre Collection consists of two series. Programs contains programs from several shows of the 1951-1952 and 1959-1960 season including Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights by Gertrude Stein, Beyond the Mountains by Kenneth Rexroth, and Faustina by Paul Goodman. Miscellaneous contains a 1961 prospectus of the group, including a 1-page budget summary.

Other Related Finding Aids

See also the Grove Press Records' editorial files, under "Malina, Judith."


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Subject Headings


Goodman, Paul, 1911-1972 -- Faustina.
Malina, Judith, 1926-
Rexroth, Kenneth, 1905-1982 -- Beyond the mountains.
Stein, Gertrude, 1874-1946 -- Doctor Faustus lights the lights.
Williams, William Carlos, 1883-1963 -- Many loves.

Corporate Bodies

Living Theatre (New York, N.Y.)


Experimental theater -- United States.
Off-Broadway theater.

Genres and Forms

Programs (documents)

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Living Theatre Collection,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Separated from Grove Press Records, 2007. Purchase, various dates.

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