A LIFE LIVED FOR LOVE & ANARCHY: JUDITH MALINA

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In 1949 Judith Malina founded in New York the Living Theater, the first Off-Theater of the world

New York, the autumn of 1943: While American soldiers are fighting in the Pacific, 30,000 young women stirred the so-called Sinatra Riots to see Frank Sinatra at the Paramount Theater. Captain America cleaned up the bad guys, and cinemas screened patriotic war movies. An 18-year-old in a red coat, the daughter of a rabbi from Kiel, dreamed another dream. Lost, she loitered on September 14 to ‚Genius Incorporated‘, a slightly shabby Times Square pub that served as a hangout for many out-of-work actors. One of them, William Marchant, called Gau-Gau was hungry, and observed Judith Malina’s chocolate cookies longingly. In a vending machine restaurant, she bought him a portion of spaghetti.In gratitude, Gau-Gau promised to introduce her to a genius, a brilliant poet: Julian Beck

Julian, a skinny 19-year-old, and Judith went to the movies and made fun of the patriotic movie ‚Beyond Suspiction‘, starring Joan Crawford. They talked about Oscar Wilde, Cocteau, Gertrude Stein, TS Eliot. Judith dropped out of school and preferring to read Ezra Pound instead. Soon, she and Julian became a couple. Even though he was more likely to be gay. His father was a horse trader from Austria, who became rich in America selling motorcycle parts, and he sent his son Julian to a progressive psychologist that tried to heal him from his homosexuality: ‚Think more often about women,‘ she advised him. Julian tried with Judith, but sexually-speaking it didn’t work out that well.

Julian and Judith stayed together until his death in 1985 of gastric cancer, and shared their lovers from time to time. Judith and Julian took LSD, listened to cool jazz, had two children, and founded the Off-Theater. That was in 1947. Inspired by Brecht, Piscator, Artaud’s Theater of Cruelty, psychoanalysis, esotericism, surrealism, and class struggle, half-naked actors rolled around in the Living Theater at night, shouting pacifist-anarchist-anti-capitalist slogans and urging the audience to start a revolution together. Perhaps the most famous play ‚Paradise Now‘ (1968) goes like this: An actor turns to a spectator and says in a calm voice: “Without a passport, I can’t travel.”. The sentence is then repeated more and more urgently, finally shouted.Then there’s the second sentence: „I don’t know how to stop a war.“ First calm, then shouted. Third sentence: „Without money you can’t live.“ And so on.

Al Pacino and Martin Sheen gained their first experiences as actors in the Living Theater. They later recall a performance of ‚Paradise Hotel‘:

“You sit in a theater and these guys come up to you and say: ‚I cannot smoke Marijuana.‘ The next thing you know they take off their clothes and you think ‚Maybe they will take off my clothes as well‘ and you sit there and think ‚Oh I don’t know if I like this too much‘. Then the people sitting in the upper ranks scream, and a fight breaks out, and you get scared like ‚I really am in trouble, what am I supposed to do? I just wanted to go to the theater and see a play. ‚ People are a leaving the theater and ask,‘ This is what I payed money for? ‚ and the actors are screaming back‘ Such a thing as money doesn’t exist, money doesn’t exist. ‚ ”

At the end, according to the director’s instructions in ‚Paradise Now‘, the actors and audience members were to take to the streets and start a nonviolent revolution. Judith Malina tells:

“At the end, Julian Beck shouted: ‚The theater takes place on the street‘ and then we all went outside, many of us naked, and that is where we got arrested. If you get arrested in America, the so called ‚arresting officer‘ is the one who records the protocol. So, I walk to him and tell him: ‚This is the last scene of our play‘ Paradise Now ‚. I’m playing the arrested actress and you’re playing the cop who arrests me. ‚ He replies:‘ Hey I’m not part of your play. I’m not an actor and don’t want to be one. ‚ And then I say:‘ Very good, you’re doing a very good job. ‚ Then he gets very angry at me and I tell him that he’s part of the play, I mean he really is,Who he is, who I am, yes I am the arrested one, but that’s not too important. What matters is that he understands us. That he knows what we want to say because what we want to say is that we don’t have to have to be afraid, we could get along. At the end of our play lies the path to paradise, the one we’re looking for. We play together with the audience, we call it the spectator participant, he plays along and we search for answers together. „

Sometimes the theater people were beaten up. The one meter 50 tall Malina kind of liked it. „If a police man beats you up, you somehow get really high because you can feel the resistance more intensely.“ The Living Theater performed in prisons in 28 countries. They went to prison because they didn’t want to pay taxes during the Vietnam war, so they emigrated to Italy and toured through Europe for years. There they ignited the spark for an anti-authoritarian megaphone theater: Fassbinder’s anti-theater, Dario Fo’s La Comune, the Amsterdam-based Provo movement, and then in succession Zadek, Castorf, Rimini Protokoll, and respectively Godard, Pasolini, Bertolucci.

Judith wrote poems, published her diaries, and then, after Beck’s death, married the 25 years younger Hanon Reznikov, a member of the theater as well. She also survived him. The New York-based theater collective traveled to Brazil during the military dictatorship, and to Lebanon after Israel’s invasion, always supporting the pacifistic-anarchist cause. “When I was twelve”, Malina likes to tell, “I saw a movie ‚Nurse Edith Cavell‘. When she was facing the firing squad for espionage, she shouted to the German soldiers: ‚Here I stand between God and eternity. I say to you: Patriotism is not enough! ‚ I then ran to my dad. „This was in 1938. The rabbi Max Malina sent out calls to Germany at the time: “Do you know what happens to your Jewish neighbors?” His daughter Judith helped him with the letters. And so, after the film about the noble British nurse, she ran to him and shouted: „We must not hate the Nazis!“ Her father reacted much like her later audience: shaking his head and with very raised eyebrows: Is she serious?

Judith Malina played the grandma in The Addams Family, and made appearances in „The Sopranos“ and „Miami Vice.“ Julian Beck was in “Poltergeist II”, “9 1/2 Weeks” and “Cotton Club”. Acting in blockbuster cinema is how they financed their Living Theater, to perform in anarchy and to allow feminists, queers, and avant-gardist artists a stage on the Lower East Side.

February 2013 was the end. 800,000 dollars were invested in the basement theater on 21 Clinton Street, but four months of rent were overdue. Despite donations from Al Pacino and Yoko Ono, the theater was forced to close after 66 years. Carefully made up with red lips, hippie earrings, and a broad laugh, the now 86-year-old Malina presented herself to New York press photographers before she moved to the Lilian Booth Actors Home (in New Jersey): “It’s a fucking old age home! “ but she promised:“ I will keep on going! „

Judith Malina, born 1926 in Kiel, invented stripping naked, yelling around, and audience harassment in the theater. She was always for the pacifist, anarchist cause. Malina died in Englewood, New Jersey, on April 10, 2015.

This essay was taken from our Winter 2013 print issue of Fräulein 

Text by Lorenz Schröter
Translation by Antonia Schmidt 

Photos courtesy of Bernd Uhlig

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