Remembering Rachel Rosenthal, The Grande Dame Of L.A.’s Performance Art & Theatre Scene

By on May 13, 2015

Rachel Rosenthal, the celebrated grande dame of the Los Angeles performance art and theatre scene, and, who, according to the L.A. Times today, “for 50 years brought experimental productions and other unclassifiable creations to audiences around Southern California,” has died. She was 88.

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Have a look at this intense video we’ve posted of Ms. Rosenthal premiering her work “Gaia, Mon Amour” at The House in Santa Monica, CA, in 1983.

She with a contemporary of John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and Robert Rauschenberg in the 1950s, before moving to California and becoming involved with the Ferus Gallery scene. Her Instant Theatre, an experimental company, was an instant success, and she later earned prominence as a member of the first wave of feminist artists in the 70s. Rosenthal retired from performing in 2000 to focus on animal rights activism. Here’s her bio.

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Rachel Rosenthal, “L.O.W. in GAIA”
(found here).

Here’s an excerpt from L.A. Times ‘ obituary:

Rosenthal died Sunday evening of congestive heart failure at her home in West L.A., said Kate Noonan, managing director of the Rachel Rosenthal Company, the nonprofit theater organization that Rosenthal founded in 1989. During her long career, Rosenthal incorporated many themes in her live performances but would often return to environmentalism and man’s ties to nature.

“The overriding theme in all my pieces is always the same,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 1995. “It’s about our relationship to the Earth. It deals with who we are as a species and how we belong on this planet.”

For years, she performed with a shaved head — a kind of artistic trademark that she started in 1981. (In later years, she let her hair grow out somewhat.) Her avant-garde productions — often performed at small venues around Southern California — were so distinctive that the city of Los Angeles named her a Living Cultural Treasure in 2000.

Born in Paris to Russian parents, Rosenthal fled with her family to escape World War II, moving to Brazil and eventually settling in New York. Rosenthal studied art in the U.S. and France before moving to Southern California in 1955. She became active in the L.A. cultural scene, creating the Instant Theatre, an experimental company, and joining the feminist art movement that took off in the 1970s.

Her productions often combined elements of drama, dance and music. One of her most lasting creations was the TOHUBOHU! Extreme Theatre Ensemble, a group that has carried on her legacy of avant-garde performance. Rosenthal began teaching performance in her studio in 1979 and went on to teach and lecture at universities around the country. She later branched out into visual art after retiring from the stage in 2000.

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Photo by Annie Leibovitz

About Bryan

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide and a dozen other websites and zines, most of them long gone. He’s also worked for over twenty years at reissue record labels, and penned scads of liner notes -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He is now somewhat reclusive and bides his time quietly in his dusty Miracle Mile hermitage in Los Angeles, CA.