The Living Theatre Archives at the Fondazione Morra house a range of materials pertaining to the theatre group from 1969-2015. The collection began with the numerous events promoted and organised by the Foundation from 1995, when the Company staged two performances at the Teatro Mercadante in Naples, then, in 2003,the exceptional retrospective Living Theatre: Labirinti dell’Immaginario, with poetry readings, concerts, happenings, and the world premiere of Enigmas, supporting the production and dissemination of their theatrical and artistic work up to 2015.
The Living Theatre Archive at the Fondazione Morra consists of texts, documents, notes and correspondence,and the personal writings of Judith Malina as well as photographs and slides, posters, invitations, newspapers, books, magazines and video recordings. The collection also has a large section dedicated to costumes and props from some of the performances, in particular The Yellow Methuselah, and Masse Mensch.
The Fondazione Morra, always keen to promote artistic heritage as the basis for a different approach to research in late twentieth-century performing arts, has engaged Prof. Lorenzo Mango, Professor of History of Modern and Contemporary Theatre at the Orientale University of Naples and Director of the Theatre Department of the Nitsch Museum in Naples, to set up the Living Theatre Archive. This archive, in addition to constituting a home for documents, will be a Living Archive with the aim of keeping the group’s work alive, but also – moving beyond mere conservation – inspiring activities of various kinds in the spirit of the Living Theatre’s idea of theatrical revolution.
The Living Theatre (founded by Judith Malina and Julian Beck in 1947) is one of the theatre groups that contributed most to shaping the identity of theatre in the second half of the twentieth century. It is no exaggeration to argue that contemporary theatre would not have been the same without the Living Theatre. The Living Theatre was founded in the late 1940s in the United States by a young painter, Julian Beck, and Judith Malina, the most inventive and audacious student of Erwin Piscator’s Dramatic Workshop, and distinguished itself from the start thanks to its love of experimentation, innovative staging, and the creation of a theatre where the technical and formal are closely tied to life itself. For the Living Theatre, the terms ‘art’ and ‘life’ have always overlapped to the point of becoming indistinguishable. If this was particularly evident in the 1960s, when the Living Theatre, upon moving to Europe, brought about a radical shift in the way theatre is understanding and practiced on our continent, the desire to blend art and life is a concept implicit in the name the company chose to adopt: living theatre.
The Fondazione Morra has acquired a substantial part of the Living Theatre Archives, a precious and unique testimony of their history. Living Theatre archive material can be found in various parts of the world, but that of Naples is, together with those of the University of Yale and the Lincoln Center in New York, the most complete. The three archives integrate to form a comprehensive documentation of the Living Theatre’s work.
The Living Theatre Archive in Naples is, therefore, a documentation centre of global importance.
- It contains dozens of chronologically organised folders, holding documents relating to the activity of the group, such as reviews, working notes, etc. This is, in itself, a unique compendium, consisting, as it does, of original materials.
- Another part of the collection consists of hundreds of photographs documenting performances and video materials, including recordingsof shows from various sources, hitherto unreleased footage, and interviews. These are essentialimages for the study of the performances that complement another particularly precious part of the collection: preparatory drawings, sketches, costumes and masks.
- The third part of the collection makes the Neapolitan Living Theatre Archives a truly unique institution: around one hundred paintings made by Julian Beck in the late 1940s and early 1950s, when hewas part of the Peggy Guggenheim Circuit group of young ‘abstract expressionists’. In the past, the existence of these paintings was mostly known only on paper, as they had largely disappeared. The majority of these are, therefore, unpublished works of immense documentary value, but they also represent a unique opportunity to study another aspect of Beck’s oeuvre, which has been totally overlooked until now.
- There are also a variety of items belonging to Judith Malina, including an extraordinary collection of postcardsand her unpublished personal writings.