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Death of the Living Theatre, Vanguard of Downtown Avant Garde Loses Its LES Space

by Allison Meier on February 27, 2013

The Living Theatre (via the Living Theatre)

Archive photo of some highly physical performing arts at the Living Theatre (via the Living Theatre)

The Lower East Side is getting a little less weird, losing not only one of its last stalwarts of experimental performance arts, but one of its most prolific supporters as well. The Living Theatre is closing its Clinton Street location after falling behind on rent, and founder and theater maven Judith Malina is being forced to move along with it.

According to the New York Daily News, Malina is now relocating to a retirement home for performing and entertainment artists in New Jersey called Lillian Booth. (Yes, such a place exists for older artists who have worked in performing arts, and the assisted-living facility, which has been around since 1902, is run by the Actors Fund.) “I’m in the theater because I’m a revolutionary and I’m very unhappy about having to give this place up,” she told the Daily News.

As an instigator in the off-Broadway theater scene, the Living Theatre was founded back in 1947 by Judith Malina and Julian Beck. With stagings of pieces from Gertrude Stein and William Carlos Williams, as well as Cocteau and Brecht, they established themselves in the 1950s and 60s as an alternative to the dominant commercial theaters that was aggressive about attacking its taboos. This isn’t their first time to face loss of space, leaving Cherry Lane in 1953, a venue on Broadway in 1956, a theatre on 14th Street in 1963, and on Third Street in 1993. (It must be said that running an underground performing arts theatre is likely one of the toughest lines of work to go into and requires wells of determination, and it’s remarkable that the Living Theatre has existed not just in its Clinton Street space, but for more than six decades.)

Judith Malina at the Living Theatre (via the Living Theatre)

Judith Malina and Julian Beck (via the Living Theatre)

The last performance to run in the Clinton Street space, where they moved in 2007, was Malina’s Here We Are, an interactive performance concentrating on anarchists collectives that involved the audience through the building of sandals. This Wednesday performance artist Penny Arcade is heading a benefit for Malina that will lead the final evening of performances at Clinton Street. It remains to be seen if the Clinton Street location will be the Living Theatre’s last permanent location, but it seems unlikely that the theater’s devoted community of artists, musicians, actors, and performers will dissolve and that its spirited leader won’t continue to find new ways to connect with the audience, even if it means crossing the distance from New Jersey to engage in something as unexpected as making shoes.

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