Drama students live, breathe theater

Inside a studio at the School of Drama on Monday afternoon, about 40 students standing in a circle, arms linked, took deep breaths. Leading the group, Judith Malina, the Living Theatre’s co-founder and artistic director, told the students to respond to each other’s noises and tones until sound filled the room — rising and falling in a chorus.

Malina, who is influenced by Bertolt Brecht, the founder of modernist political theater, is currently at Yale teaching a two-day residency about experimental collaborative theater at the Yale School of Drama with her company’s general manager, Thomas Walker ’70, and Administrative Director Brad Burgess. Through a series of workshops, performances and exercises, they will demonstrate how actors can rouse an audience through physical interactions.

Malina and her fellow performers at the Living Theatre, an avant-garde performance company founded in 1947, have used this technique at Yale before. After the group’s first performance of “Paradise Now” in 1968, Malina ran out of the Yale Repertory Theatre with a group of nude actors and students and streamed onto York Street. Ten people, including Malina, were arrested for public indecency.

When asked about the scandal that took place after “Paradise Now,” an experimental play about a nonviolent anarchist revolution, Malina simply stated the goal of the Living Theatre.

“The audience participates with us in trying to see how close we can — in that theater — get to feel revolutionary action and how many changes we can make,” Malina said in an interview. “At some places it was greater and at some places it’s less. At Yale, it was very lively and full of imaginary activity.”

Forty-one years later, Malina is still using her method of performance to examine how theater can make a statement, alleviate pain and help people lead a coherent life, she said to the students at the workshop.

Walker, who saw the scandalous performance as a junior at Yale, led the workshop with Malina and demonstrated the capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian art form that he described as part dance, part game. He explained the different biomechanical elements and how they relate to human suffering.

After seeing the performance of “Paradise Now” in 1968, Walker said he was inspired to follow the Living Theatre across the country and overseas to England. A member of the Yale Dramat as an undergraduate, Walker eventually joined the group in Brazil in 1971.

“Back then I was very affected by the social and political ferment of the late ’60s,” Walker said in an interview. “It gave me a great sense of discovery to find in the theatrical world a kind of theater that could embody these hopes and desires and realizations.”

Joan Channick, the associate dean of the Yale School of Drama, said she is excited about the opportunity for drama students to work with such legendary figures in the world of experimental theater.

“The Living Theatre is devoted to collaborative creation, that’s what they have done for decades,” she said. “There’s a chance for the first-year students to learn from the masterful practitioners of this form of creation.”

Malina, Walker and Burgess will hold another workshop this afternoon. Tonight, at 7:30 p.m., there will be a free screening of “Resist,” a 2003 documentary about the Living Theatre, followed by discussion with Malina.

Jennifer Parker contributed reporting.

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