STATEMENT OF PURPOSE: To bring theatre, especially experimental and socially concerned work, to diverse audiences beyond the traditional cities, especially in the hope of reaching young people in search of their own voice and culture. To build a bridge between the artistic and academic worlds by way of performance, lectures, workshops, films, and festivals. To create an environment and conduit by which the community of artists might better share ideas, dialogue and venues. To stimulate and provide a means by which performers might engage with the film and television media. To extend beyond national boundaries to share and embrace the world community of artists, cultures, and audiences.
In September 1968 Amitin enrolled at The New School for Social Research in New York City for an acting workshop class with Joseph Chaikin and Peter Feldman of the Open Theatre, and a directing course with Larry Kornfeld.
During this time Chaikin was working nearly daily with his actors of The Open Theatre and playwright Jean-Claude van Itallie on the creation of: The Serpent. Kornfeld assigned productions for his students to go see and then come back and report on. Amitin was assigned to attend performances of The Living Theatre that had returned to tour America following four years in Europe. They were at the start of their three week residency at BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) and were making front page news with all four of their productions, but mainly for the revolutionary Paradise Now.
After having first seen The Living Theatre’s Frankenstein I reported to Kornfeld and class of its power and intensity, mind-bending imagery and that, frankly, it sort of scared me. Not in the sense of the content or story being “scary” – but of these actors – of their visceral commitment.
Korfeld insisted I return to see the company’s other productions. On Saturday I attended a matinee of their Antigone (adaptation by Brecht) and that night, Paradise Now. I was quite swept away by the complete dissolution of the fourth wall, the interaction of performers and audience and the content – political confrontation, sensual and sexual expression, spirituality and trance.
I went home with 5 people I’d never met before, and the following day quit my “day job” at a travel agency with a confrontation with my boss over not having a tie and jacket on while at my desk (even though it was my day off). I reenacted the rage of Paradise Now against my own “Capitalist” reality!
48 hours later, looking in the “jobs” section of The Village Voice that had just hit the streets, I found this tiny ad reading: “production assistant needed for Living Theatre tour.” I went to the nearest phone booth (remember those?) called the number and made an appointment for 4 pm.
Arriving at the office – actually that of The Drama Review at NYU – that Richard Schechner kindly granted the tour’s producers: The Radical Theatre Repertory (RTR) – I found about a dozen other eager applicants who had been waiting a long time. The producer, Saul Gottlieb, his wife, Oda and the touring manager, Bob Cohen, were behind closed doors.
When they finally appeared about half-an-hour later I jumped up and went right to them before anyone else had a chance averring that I had a 4:00 pm appointment and wanted to be seen (a little pushy for a 21 year old).
They said they were “going out for lunch” and would be back. I followed them out inviting myself to join them – insisting I’d pay for my own. Persistence paid off as I’d told them of my studying with Kornfeld and Chaikin (both with deep connections to The Living Theatre) and of my previous experience as an assistant stage manager with the American Shakespeare Festival and work as a travel agent.
Hired for a measly $87.50 a week, I threw myself into learning everything I could as swiftly as possible, often sleeping overnight in the office on a table. Within a month I convinced them to put me on par with the touring manager and nearly doubled my pay.
I was, shortly thereafter made the general manager of RTR and also went out on the road with The Living Theatre.
The tour ended in April 1969, the company returning to Europe. RTR continued to operate (though deeply in debt) representing a number of other theatre companies at the time including San Francisco Mime Troupe, El Teatro Campesino, The Open Theatre, Bread and Puppet Theater, The Performance Group, among others.
Less than a year later producer Saul Gottlieb was diagnosed with terminal cancer and along with the RTR’s debt it really couldn’t carry on with its work. He, along with other colleagues and friends, convinced me that I was the one to carry on the work.
I began the reorganization and reconstitution into Universal Movement Theatre Repertory in June, 1970 and continued for seven years to run and expand it until 1976. (See listings of theatre companies and artists represented).
First UMTR brochure, 1970:
During those years we produced and booked hundreds and hundreds of performances and tours all over the U.S., Canada, Europe and created and worked with many festivals (having created the first festival of experimental theatre in the spring of 1971 in Rhode Island), assisted in getting many works published, booked lectures, panels, films, benefits, kept the downtown community of performers interlaced aided in many demonstrations against the war in Viet Nam and for labor, women’s and gay rights and so on. We brought several companies from Europe to tour the U.S. and sent many from the U.S. abroad.
The manifestation of “spreading the culture” was of vital importance to me – and the core of the organizational purpose. To not merely perform for audiences in small venues in New York or other home cities, but to bring the work – performances, workshops, lectures, films – to small towns and regions all over. It has always been my contention that everywhere you go you will discover magical people who will be sparked with new ideas and be influenced to expand on them wherever they are.
So be it Tallahassee, Halifax or Hope, Michigan or Pella, Iowa, Los Angeles or Little Rock, I believed – and still do believe – it to be vitally important to bring new work and approaches to students and communities.
Universal Movement Theatre Repertory brochure, 1971:
Poster: Beck and Malina (1971-1974):
Charles Ludlam, The Ridiculous Theatrical Company, Camille, 1973:
The Manhattan Project’s Alice in Wonderland, 1971. Photo credit: Richard Avedon
The Open Theatre, Mutation Show, 1972. Photo credit: Abner Symons
UMTR gathering, 1972:
The Performance Group: The Tooth of Crime:
Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) & UMTR special event THEATRE NOW poster, 1974:
The Friends Road Show, Jango Edwards as Madam LaLa, (Festival of Fools, Amsterdam), 1976. Photo credit: Wolfgang Glitscher.
Joseph Chaikin’s Electra, (1975-76):
Le Plan K: The Penny Arcade Peep Show, 1976.