Harold Adler’s Photos of Demonstrations for The Living Theatre

Allen Ginsberg, with members of The Cockettes and Magic Theater, demonstrating on behalf of The Living Theater in Union Square. Photographs by Harold Adler

Allen Ginsberg, with members of the Julian Theatre and friends, demonstrating on behalf of The Living Theater in Union Square. Photographs by Harold Adler

From 1970 to ’71, The Living Theatre was in Brazil, hard at work on The Legacy of Cain, a collective piece which takes its name from Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s unfinished cycle of novellas, and “…deals primarily with the topic of man’s enslavement of man, and…is an attempt at an exorcism of this enslavement as we know it.”

One of the pieces we did in Brazil was entitled “Visions, Rites and Transformations.” It was part of a larger section. We performed it in the city of Embo, with Permission from the mayor.

…When we got to the square, there were perhaps 2,000 people waiting and we took up positions at six different points, enacting plays with different subjects, such as the State, Property, War, Love, Money, and Death. These were plays without words, done in an Artaudian style, ritualistically and repetitiously. In the end, there was a transformation with all the actors tied up in ropes or chains. We tied ourselves up in as sexual a manner as our imaginations could invent. Eventually, the people watching the play unchained us and we all joined in a musical Chord of Liberation.

The Living Theatre

The plays were performed in favelas, Brazilian shanty-towns, and explored the martyr-victim relationship, the complexities within sadomasochism, and how these theories related to power structures in Brazil, challenging residents living at the very bottom rung of Brazilian society to question their submission to class systems, to confront government corruption, and encouraging self-expression. At the time, Brazil was under the control of a military government led by General Emílio Garrastazú Médici, who ruled with dictatorial powers, and was responsible for some of the greatest human rights abuses in Brazil’s history, including the imprisonment and torture of dissidents, censorship and harassment of journalists, and political kidnappings.

On July 1, 1971, opening day of the Ouro Preto Winter Festival, the Brazilian Department of Political and Social Order (DOPS) began arresting members of The Living Theatre, first 13 members at the house where the group was staying, then 5 more on the streets. Ostensibly, the arrests were for possession of marijuana, however the group suspected—and feared—that the real reason was political, and that they might be charged with subversion. While in prison, they continued to perform, with the permission of the prison authorities. Three members were released early, and deported back to the US. As soon as their imprisonment became known, several influential figures, including Allen Ginsberg, Alexander Calder, Jean-Luc Godard, Henri Lanlois, John-Louis Barrault, Susan Sontag, Jean Genét, James Baldwin, and Jean-Paul Satre, leapt to their defense. The Living Theatre spent two months in prison, and were then deported. Later, Judith Malina was awarded the medal of culture by President Lula.

As a photographer for the Berkeley Barb, Harold Adler covered anti-war protests around the Bay Area, the People’s Park demonstrations and riots in Berkeley, Black Panther Funeral in Oakland, hippies and street people in SF and Berkeley.

Max Scheer had told me that Allen [Ginsberg] was going to be protesting the arrest of The Living Theatre in Brazil, and had scheduled a demonstration in SF at Union Square. I was delighted to go and cover the event. I was the only photographer who did.

Harold Adler

Allen Ginsberg, with members of The Cockettes and Magic Theater, demonstrating on behalf of The Living Theater in Union Square. Photographs by Harold Adler

After the protests there was a benefit at the Julian Theater in San Francisco. On August 19th, 1971, Adler produced a benefit reading at the Pauley Ballroom at UC Berkeley, featuring Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Diane di Prima, and Michael McClure, and performances by the Cockettes and Magic Theater, which raised $2,000 for The Living Theater’s defense fund.