The Living Theatre by Ben Hopper

Living Theatre in SF for 1st time in decades

Love, money, property, state, war, death and revolutionary change: These are the themes of the “Seven Meditations on Political Sadomasochism,” one of the most famous plays in The Living Theatre’s nearly 80-year repertoire as an internationally touring experimental collective. When the New York company presents “Seven Meditations” on Thursday, Aug. 25, at Great Star Theater, it will be Living Theatre’s first San Francisco performance in more than 40 years.

“Seven Meditations” was written in 1973, two years after founders Judith Malina and Julian Beck, along with 10 Living actors, spent two months in a Brazilian prison for, on the surface, possession of marijuana. But their performances throughout the country, which was ruled at the time by a militarist government, gave voice to the general unrest there. It eventually resulted in a trial and, by order of then-President Emílio Médici, deportation of Malina, Beck and the actors.

“They were trying to bring attention to the fact that there was torture happening in Brazil, and as a result they got arrested themselves,” said the Beat Museum founder Jerry Cimino.

When the Beat Museum opened its San Francisco location in August 2006, the first exhibition included photographs of an Allen Ginsberg-led Union Square protest of the imprisonment. The likes of Jean-Luc Godard, Jean Genet, Susan Sontag and James Baldwin also voiced their support.

Performed some 400 times around the world, from the theater to the streets and back — and in many languages — “Seven Meditations” is “pretty relevant to the political state right now, even though it was written in the ’70s,” said Leah Bachar, one of The Living Theatre’s three associate artistic directors. “Nothing much has changed, actually. Everything is more amplified.

“It’s a really important time for political theater right now. We need to go beyond entertainment or entertainment value, and we feel like there’s an obligation for artists to comment on current issues; there’s an obligation to use your art for revolution, to use your art for social and political reasons rather than just for personal gain.”

It is this spirit that’s inspired some members to dedicate large portions of their lives to the project. Thomas Walker, another one of the artistic directors, has been with the company for more than 40 years.

It “tends to veer more towards a movement than a typical theater company,” Bachar said. There’s no auditioning; instead, they have a revolving door and rely on what they call “magic casting” — “basically, all it requires is to be an active human being, or someone who has a passionate soul and can work,” Bachar said.

“We don’t want to consider revolution, or times when people were rising up, to be something that happened in the past; we want to acknowledge the fact that that needs to keep happening. Especially under an oppressive system. And this show goes right into it,” she said, with a laugh. It “doesn’t sugarcoat anything, and we decided on that so we can go from city to city and just start talking about really important issues right away.”


The Beat Museum presents The Living Theatre: “Seven Meditations on Political Sadomasochism”: 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 25. $15. Great Star Theater, 636 Jackson St., S.F..

This article originally appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle.

Photo by Anna de Leon

Other book events

The audio documentary program Arrvls partners with the Tenderloin Museum, Larkin Street Youth Center and the Curry Senior Center to feature residents and community members sharing experiences in the Tenderloin past, present and future. 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 25. Free. Tenderloin Museum, 398 Eddy St., S.F.

Literary Speakeasy presents “Queens Read Celebrity Autobiographies,” with Donna Sachet, Sue Casa, Sugah Betes, MuthaChucka, Shane Zaldivar and Daft-nee Gesuntheit. 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 25. Free. Martuni’s, 4 Valencia St., S.F.

Cleave: Bay Area Women Writers presents readings by Aimee Suzara, Judy Halebsky, Kelly Jean Egan and Mei Li Ooi. 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 26. Free. The Octopus Literary Salon, 2101 Webster St., Oakland.

Saturday Night Special presents a “Musical” open mike, with featured readings by Natasha Dennerstein and G Macias Gusman. 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 27. Free. Nick’s Lounge, 3218 Adeline St., Berkeley.


Image by Ben Hopper, from a performance of “Seven Meditations” on Aug 11th, 2016 at University Settlement in NYC