Remembering The Living Theatre's Hanon Reznikov


 


Because art breathes on in the legacy left with the living,
death cannot defeat an artist. In this eternity of the permanent present, poems
and plays and songs resist the tyranny of death. While this recognition hardly
dulls the sting of mortality in the heart of the bereaved when we lose a loved
one, its message rings clearly today as we celebrate the life of the late Hanon
Reznikov.

When Judith Malina and Julian Beck co-founded The Living
Theatre in the late 1940s, Hanon Reznik (who later changed his name to Reznikov
in keeping with his family's name when they first came to America)
had not yet been born. When Hanon first saw The Living Theatre perform the
politically, spiritually, and aesthetically extravagant Paradise Now, he was an 18-year-old Yale freshman majoring in
molecular biophysics. Not too long after seeing Paradise Now, Hanon left science for drama, and after Yale, was
living in New Haven directing plays
at the Long Wharf Theatre.

When Beck's poetic journal-as-manifesto The Life of the Theatre was published by City Lights in 1972, Hanon
read it before going to hear Judith and Julian give a talk in Hartford.
A month after meeting Judith and Julian at that talk, Hanon joined them in Brooklyn
where he and Judith became lovers. Although Hanon was then half Judith's age
and the same age as his future stepson Garrick Beck (himself known for his active
part in starting the Rainbow Family annual gatherings), their love challenged
and transcended boundaries. Hanon identified as pansexual and was lovers with
Julian as well, although Hanon claims that being lovers with both Judith and
Julian could not be sustained. Around that time, Hanon's creative collaboration
with The Living Theatre began; it would last more than 35 years.

In the early-to-mid 1980s, as Julian battled cancer and
faced death, he remained fiercely creative to the end, speaking fresh poems for
Hanon to transcribe right up until falling into a coma. Before Julian died in
September 1985, he asked Hanon to protect Judith. Immediately after Julian's
passing, Hanon joined Judith as co-director of The Living Theatre, and the
lovers were married in 1988. Hanon helped create a new mission statement for
the collective, written in the poetic voice that has long defined the group's
efforts. That beatitude of barbed-wire eloquence remains the project's
anchoring statement. It's hard to imagine The Living Theatre lasting as loudly
and proudly as it has into the present without Hanon's loving, passionate, and
exuberant stewardship.

Julian Beck had already died when I discovered his work in
the late 1980s, and I would only later learn more about Judith and Hanon. As
part of my immersion in a life-long, self-directed study of anarchism, I
stumbled onto Beck's "Notes toward a Statement on Anarchism and Theatre" and
later devoured The Life of the Theatre
as part of my radical poetic catechism.

Etching an enduring concept into our communal psyche, The
Living Theatre forged the philosophy of the "Beautiful Nonviolent Anarchist
Revolution." Part mantra, part slogan, and an entirely lived praxis, this
template weds the ecstatic and aesthetic to the transformation of society.
Still an attractive and dangerous insight, attaching beauty and nonviolence to
the incendiary notion of anarchist revolution insures that insurgent tactics be
grounded in love and compassion.

For decades, anarchist pacifism has brought with it the aura
of ascetic purity — of Tolstoy, Gandhi, or the Catholic Workers. To some, this
scent of morality mingles too closely with authority, whether that of religious
leadership, institutional protocol, or of a prescriptive edict.

With its unique and unwavering politics rooted in Paradise Now, The Living Theatre made
anarchist pacifism secular and sexy — but never soft. For decades, the members have marched
alongside — and distinguished themselves from — activists for whom pacifism is a
safe extension of liberalism or for whom anarchism necessitates violent
resistance.

Appropriately, my first face-to-face encounter with Hanon
and Judith came in late August 2004 in New York City,
as the collective prepared its creative contribution to the mass demonstration
against the re-nomination of George Bush. In keeping with everything we'd
learned about The Living Theatre, my partner and I joined them as participants
rather than spectators, to perform in the streets rather than on a stage. As
important as that day was for me, finally meeting and marching with those I'd
studied and admired for so long, its active expression of an ideal was for the
collective just one point on an impressive, six decade continuum of combining
peace and anarchy, art and life, love and resistance.

When Paradise Now
introduced Hanon to The Living Theatre 40 years ago, he remarked, "I was very
turned on by it; I found it very sexy. My sense of the event of Paradise Now was one of extraordinary
freedom, and it seemed like the world was just beginning to figure out how free
it could be."

With Judith and Julian, Hanon took the troupe's anarchist
and pacifist ideals quite seriously.

He expounded, "The aspect of theater that makes it
particularly interesting to us as political activists is the way the theater
exists as a social model."

While hundreds of revolutionaries have dedicated their
entire lives to resistance through direct action and numerous artists have
sought liberty through creative expression, few have led such a dedicated
pursuit of both simultaneously — not just in theory but in daily practice.

In the last several years, in addition to traveling and
performing all over the world, Hanon had been active with Judith in securing a
home for The Living Theatre on Clinton Street
in New York City's Lower
East Side. Just last spring, Judith and Hanon appeared on Harold
Channer's talk show on the public access Manhattan Neighborhood Network,
celebrating the new space, the collective's 60th anniversary, and Judith's 8oth
birthday. In this clip available on YouTube, Hanon describes it as "a special
time," and with Judith, speaks quite lucidly about art and anarchy and
enthusiastically about the end of poverty and the end of war.

Approximately a year after this broadcast, with the work of
The Living Theatre going strong in its new home base, Hanon suffered a massive
stroke, followed by pneumonia. Just two days after protesters and revelers all
over the world honored the anarchist and pagan festival of Mayday, Hanon died
in Manhattan.

Contemplating Hanon's life, I looked through my photos from my
New York trip in 2004, especially
one of him, dressed entirely in orange, holding up all of Manhattan
and his hope for revolution in one dramatic gesture. At the computer, I
consulted many sources, including The New
York Times
obituary, an excellent interview with Judith and Hanon conducted
by Will Swofford (from which the Hanon quotes in this piece come), and the
YouTube broadcasts from the Harold Channer program. I watched a copy of Dirk
Szuszies's 2003 documentary Resist: To Be
with the Living
that a friend had given me. To get the details of how Hanon
found Judith and Julian, I turned to John Tytell's excellent 1995 book The Living Theatre: Art, Exile, and Outrage.
As I do with some regularity anyway, I dusted off my copies of Julian's books The Life of the Theatre and Living in Volkswagen Buses.

Still seeking wisdom and solace, I found my hard-bound,
two-dimensional version of the collective's most visionary moment. Written down
by Judith and Julian some six months and 50 performances into it, the text for Paradise Now combines a collaborative
narrative on revolution with readings from the I-Ching and teachings from
Kabbalistic, Tantric, and Hasidic sources. From the Hasidic insights, I found
the words I imagine Hanon would want on our lips at this time:

"Man is always passing through two doors: out of this world
and into the next, and out and in again. When people are merry and dance, it
sometimes happens that they catch hold of someone, who is sitting outside and
grieving, pull him into the round, and make him rejoice with them. The same happens
in the heart of one who rejoices: grief and sorrow draw away from him, but it
is a special virtue to pursue them with courage and to draw grief into
gladness, so that all the strength of sorrow may be transformed into joy."

May those who grieve losing Hanon transform their tears like
this: into comfort for Judith and the collective; into preserving, promoting,
and passing along the mission of The Living Theatre; into becoming the joy that
always comes with the promise of revolution.

 

Will Swofford Interview:

http://www.bigbridge.org/fictwswofford.htm

 

Harold Channer Interviews:

1998:

2007:

 

New York Times Obituary:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/09/theater/09reznikov.html