French surrealist and theatre theorist Antonin Artaud, so wished for a searing realness upon the stage, that he called for the actors to strip themselves of all artifice and to present themselves as “…being like victims burnt at the stake, signaling through the flames.” (The Theater and Its Double, 1931)
His writings had a tremendous influence on the creators of The Living Theatre, Julian Back and Judith Malina, when their vision was coming together in the 50s and 60s. A 1983 documentary about The Living is even titled, “Signals Through the Flames,” such is their association with the Artaud.
In their early days, the LT’s history is almost like a who’s-who of Village artists and aesthetic innovators from the theater, art, musical, and progressive political worlds. In 1959, with the help of a producer in collaboration with John Cage and Merce Cunningham they were able to open the theater on 14th St. and 6th Ave. which was the Theatre’s home for five years. Cunningham had his dance studio on the top floor. The Living occupied floors two and three.
Many years after that I met Judith when I was in my 20s and was lucky to work alongside her, creating music for theater, off and on for the group, for over twenty years. This included performances in the USA and extensively throughout Europe. The modus operandi abroad was that we would perform whatever current production we were touring plus we’d give workshops and create activist street theater with the local population. NYC was no exception. Performative political protests were a part of city life when the LT was based here. Tilted Axes: Music for Mobile Electric Guitars might not have ever come into being had I not had this experience in my formation.
It is in that spirit, taking it to the streets, that we present our latest musical procession, as part of The Village Trip Festival opening on September 10th in Greenwich Village. For the event, we will premiere a new piece with that name: “Signals Through the Flames.”
This performance is dedicated to all of the politically active artists and troupes that The Village has given birth to over the years, but especially to The Living Theatre. Our aim is to bring positive attention to their work and legacy and to all of us who owe them a debt for initially breaking down The Fourth Wall.
To read more about The Living Theatre and its connection to The Village go to: https://www.livingtheatre.org/detailed-history by Thomas S. Walker. Some portions of this text were taken from that page.