This past weekend, Skidmore Theater welcomed Jerry Goralnick and Lois Kagan Mingus, members of The Living Theatre, to teach a three day workshop. The Living Theatre is a New York City based company, and was founded in 1947 by Judith Malina and Julian Beck. It remains the oldest experimental theater company in the United States. In Judith Malina’s own words, “The Living Theatre is a company of actors who want to bring about the BEAUTIFUL NON-VIOLENT ANARCHIST REVOLUTION.” For the past 70 years, they have performed plays all over the globe which attempt to move and inspire audiences to change the world, or at least change their own worlds.
Over the course of their three days here, Goralnick and Mingus shared with students many of the exercises and theory that The Living Theatre utilizes to develop their work. The weekend began with “The Chord,” in which participants were instructed to gather in a circle, close their eyes, and hum a note. Gradually, the sound grew, floating in and out of harmony and dissonance, and then slowly softened into silence again. “I really loved The Chord, because it made me feel really at peace some how,” says participant Hannah Gross ’21. Gross certainly was not the only one who had this experience; when everyone opened their eyes again, the energy in the room had become calm and focused.
Throughout the weekend, the group worked to create “Tableau Vivants,” or living pictures, incorporating text from Brecht’s Antigone, which Judith Malina translated for The Living Theatre in the 1960’s and which will be performed as a Studio Lab here at Skidmore Theater later this semester. Bridget Schwartz ’21 reflects on this experience, explaining, “before the workshop I had never viewed tableaus as something powerful – in prior theater classes I have taken we never really discussed them that way. But combining tableaus with simple text and letting them tell a story gave the tableaus more of a purpose, which I found really interesting!”
Workshop participants were also introduced to Meyerhold’s Biomechanics; Living Theatre exercises “Sound and Movement” and “The Plague;” as well as some choreography from the original production of Antigone. The weekend concluded with another thought-provoking exercise, aptly dubbed “Exquisite Corpse.” Designed to generate text, this exercise began with participants sitting in a circle. We brainstormed issues that were currently affecting us and our world, mentioning gun control, abortion, human rights, etc. Everyone eventually settled on the lack of U.S. humanitarian aid in Puerto Rico. During our discussion of this issue, we passed around a piece of paper; at the top, the first person wrote two lines, folding the paper so that only the second was visible, then passed the paper to the person next to them. Then, each person added a line or two, folding and passing the paper so that the next person could only read the last line of text. The result was a poem of sorts, written in all of our voices. Mingus explained that The Living Theatre frequently takes these ‘exquisite corpses’ and incorporates them into their pieces, sometimes even translating them into dance or music.
Reflecting on her experience in the workshop, Bridget Schwartz ’21 voiced what most participants were thinking: “I think my biggest takeaway from the weekend was the role of theater in creating political change. It’s easy to feel like we can’t really do anything to make tangible change, but as theater artists we can start conversations and be provocative. I loved learning about how The Living Theater works to accomplish that.”