The Living Theatre Performance Review
By Jen Wallace and Marc Rickenbach
As a follow up to our article on The Living Theatre press event, we went to see the final performance presented by the actors after their two day participation with the Bilingual Acting Workshop. The workshop was overseen by Judith Malina herself, founder of The Living Theatre in1947.
The theatre’s philosophy of engaging the audience is also tied to the idea of engaging actors and audiences of different cultures, often on their own turf. Courses and workshops have been held in Italy, Lebanon and Korea (to name but a few). A few years ago, in conjunction with the Bilingual Acting Workshop, The Living Theatre Conservatory was founded in New York’s Lower Eastside, creating a strong transatlantic link between New York and Paris.
The title of the play was ‘A Day in the Life of the City: Paris’ and 17 actors and actresses, of all age ranges had spent 2 days, 6 hours per day, working on the production. The play was divided into 4 sections in which small groups had put together 5 minute long sequences about a subject or a theme that was important to them. Tom Walker, a Living Theatre veteran, explained how it begins with a group activity whereby members share ideas about what they feel they need to say on the stage and what their message to the public could be. Mr. Walker emphasised that The Living Theatre company does have its own strong point of view (related to their pacifist anarchist revolution agenda) but that no member is forced to share that point of view, only to gain the confidence to express their own.
There is a lot of corporal expression in The Living Theatre with actors twisting and writhing to add a further dimension to the lines they themselves had scripted. In fact, there weren’t many lines at all, this being very much a theatre of physical expression. The small sections were divided by ensemble moments using movement, the voice and the chiming of a bell. These moments are deeply embedded in The Living Theatre tradition, something passed on to every group that participates in a workshop, but the rest of the play is truly unique and developed by the members themselves, with a little guidance from Judith Malina too.
For The Living Theatre, engagement begins in the theatre where the so-called 4th wall is broken down. They are known to actively involve the audience, and not always in a playful manner. For the finale of the performance, the audience were brought on stage to chant with the members, standing in a circle with their eyes closed. The chant reached a natural climax and then began to die down, and even though we have to admit to being unable to resist small bouts of giggling, it was an interesting experience that brought everyone together at the end, and left no division between actor and audience.
There were all kinds of people involved in the two day workshop, from filmmakers, to students, to one particularly famous french actress, and it seemed they had worked together intensely to put on the performance. Interpretation of the themes within the play are left very open to the audience, but it certainly seemed like A Day in the Life of Paris is not an easy existence. Let’s hope The Living Theatre will be back soon in Paris with more of their unique style of theatre, and perhaps without the 20 year wait this time.