February 24, 1969: The Living Theatre Opens in L.A.

The Living Theatre

February 24, 1969: The Living Theatre opened at USC’s Bovard Auditorium in Los Angeles. Former theater student and adherent of Antonin Artaud, who introduced the Theater of Cruelty approach to the stage, Jim Morrison was at every performance of the week-long engagement which would lead directly to the events at the Dinner Key Auditorium on March 1, 1969.

The Living Theatre was founded in 1947 by Julian Beck (who is probably best known to audiences today as Reverend Kane in “Poltergeist II: The Other Side”) and Judith Malina. From the very beginning it produced the unconventional plays of Gertrude Stein, Bertolt Brecht, and Jean Cocteau. Also, from the beginning The Living Theatre was targeted by the authorities. In New York, for example, they were closed down for zoning violations, which led them to leave the city. When The Living Theatre got to L.A. they were to perform a different production each night from their repertoire of plays, including “Frankenstein” which was more in the theme of “Frankenstein” than the actual story. The next night was “Antigone” which was a more conventional performance of the play, and the most conventional of the plays presented that week. But on the last night the play was “Paradise Now!” which would affect Morrison profoundly.

“Paradise Now!” had the actors go into the audience shouting slogans to and at them: “I’m not allowed to smoke marijuana!”, “I’m not allowed to take my clothes off!” This was an effort to confront and engage audience members, and challenge their preconceived notions. The actors then took off their clothes (usually to the legal limit and they would leave on g-strings) and would exhort the audience to do the same. Soon the line between the audience and the actors would blur as the audience was encouraged to join the actors onstage, and in the aisles, with those who remained seated being spurred to participate. Morrison was excited by this. Reportedly Tom Baker (who attended the performance with Morrison) said: “He had a madder than usual look in his eyes.” Jim Morrison was a true believer in The Living Theatre and what they were trying to do. Morrison fully participated in the “Paradise Now!” spectacle, joining the actors onstage. Afterwards the Living Theatre was asked to leave Los Angeles, and Morrison met with Beck and Malina to contribute money to the theatre. “Paradise Now!” gave Morrison a methodology and an outline that he would present at The Dinner Key Auditorium.

On February 25, while recording “The Soft Parade”, The Doors started to jam and Jim went into a rap on the history of rock with the band following him. This became known as the “Rock is Dead” session and while the song never made it onto the album it was widely bootlegged. (It ultimately appeared, in remastered form, on The Doors’ box set.) The ‘Rock is Dead’ session provides a look into Jim’s state of mind at the time, and a preview of what was to come in Miami. You can hear Jim include some slogans he would use in Miami at the Dinner Key Auditorium, including “I’m not talking about no revolution,” and “I wanna see some fun…”

Later that night Jim would go to the Living Theatre’s performance.

Originally published February 24, 2013, and appears in “The Doors Examined”.

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