Acting Out: Performative Politics in the Age of the New Left and the Counterculture

This paper focuses on the avant-garde theater troupe the Living Theatre and its impact on the development of a performative politics, an expanding repertoire of political action that draws upon the ideas of everyday life as performance. In 1968, the Living Theatre returned from a years-long exile in Europe to find a cultural revolution in progress in the United States. In their performance of Paradise Now they demanded that audience members transform themselves from passive observers to active participants, calling on all to take responsibility in a moment of crisis. This was a direct engagement with the problem of the bystander, being investigated in the same year through the Columbia University sociological experiment “The Smoke-Filled Room.” This growing awareness of social roles and the power of everyday performance within the broader society reflected the changes that the ideas and tactics of avant-garde theater had wrought.


Andrew Green Hannon is a recent graduate of Yale University’s American Studies Program. His research focuses on political actors and the performance of power in the American Counterculture and the New Left. His most recent article is “Hippie Is a Transnational Identity: Australian and American Countercultures and the London OZ”published in the Australasian Journal of American Studies. He currently lectures in the Labor Studies Institute at the University of Massachusetts Boston.