Judith Malina

As an actor, director, political activist, and writer, Judith Malina exemplified the creative dynamism of the New School. Born on June 4, 1926 in Kiel, Germany, Malina spent only the first three years of her life in Europe before her family emigrated to New York City in an attempt to escape rising anti-semitism. The daughter of a former actress and a conservative rabbi, Malina developed an interest in theater at a young age that was supported by her parents.

After studying briefly at Yale, Malina enrolled in the theatre program at the New School for Social Research in 1945. Under the instruction of Erwin Piscator, the renowned German director and founder of the Dramatic Workshop at the New School, Malina developed a deep interest in political theatre. During her time at the New School, Malina performed in a number of productions staged in the iconic auditorium at 66 West 12th St.

While today Malina may be remembered by many for her roles in films such as The Addams Family (1991), and Household Saints (1993), she left her biggest mark in the world of experimental and political theater. In 1947, Malina, along with her creative partner and first husband, Julian Beck, founded The Living Theatre, an experimental and often highly controversial theater company that focused—and continues to focus—on the themes of anarchism and pacifism and shed light on a number of pressing social issues.

Originally based in New York, Malina and The Living Theatre left for Europe in 1963 following a legal battle with the Internal Revenue Service that resulted in the closure of their theater space on West 14th Street and 6th Ave., around the corner from the New School. Notably, The Living Theatre was no stranger to legal issues in both the United States and abroad, as many of its performances at home featured unprecedented levels of nudity that resulted in arrests for indecent exposure, and the bombastic and overtly political nature of its productions provided grounds for the imprisonment of the group while touring in Brazil in 1971 (though Brazilian authorities claimed that Malina and others were held and later expelled from the country for possession of marijuana).

Although The Living Theatre primarily performed outside of the United States between the 1960s and 1980s, Malina and her second husband, Hanon Reznikov, eventually returned to New York and established two short-lived theater spaces on East 3rd Street (closed by the Department of Buildings in 1993) and Clinton Street (acquired in 2008; evicted in 2013) in Lower Manhattan. Following the closure of the Clinton Street location, Malina moved to the Lillian Booth Actors Home of Englewood, New Jersey, an assisted living facility for entertainers and performers.

Malina died on April 10, 2015, at the age of 88 from complications related to lung disease. While her health declined significantly in her final years, Malina remained socially and politically active until the end of her life, committed to the principles of the nonviolent revolution which her incredible theater company has sought to incite since its inception almost 70 years ago.

Led by Malina until her death, The Living Theatre continues to put on revolutionary performances around the world to this day.


Judith Malina in rehearsal at The Living Theatre, December 31, 1982, photographer unknown, source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judith_Malina#/media/File:Living_Theatre_…