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Joseph Chaikin, actor and director (1935 -2003)
By Moti Sandak

Joseph Chaikin, actor and director, was born in Brooklyn in 1935 and educated at Drake University. He directed one of the most influential experimental theater groups in the United States, the New York City based Open Theater, which he founded in 1963 after working as an actor with the Living Theater. For nearly a decade, the Open Theater devoted itself to the collaborative creation of drama, investigating the essential problems of human existence. Chaikin’s work with the Open Theater, which included directing 14 original plays, was honored with the Vernon Rice Award for "outstanding contribution to the theater." Among other distinctions, Chaikin was a six time Obie Award recipient, including the very first Lifetime Achievement Obie Award in 1977. He was also awarded two Guggenheim Fellowships, the National Endowment for the Art’s first Annual Distinguished Service to American Theater Award, The Edwin Booth Award, and honorary degrees from Drake University and Kent State University. In 1999 Chaikin was awarded the "Last Frontier" Directing Award at the Edward Albee Theatre Conference in Valdez, Alaska. His book, The Presence of the Actor, was re-released by TCG Publications in 1991. Chaikin was the first American director to be included in the Cambridge University Press’ Directors in Perspective series on the world’s most influential theater directors. He was one of four American directors to be featured in Routldege Press’ Twentieth Century Actor Training. His work has been documented in the Greenwood Press series of bio-bibliographies and in the film, "Going On" by Steve Gomer.

In 1984 Chaikin underwent open-heart surgery and experienced a stroke which resulted in aphasia. His recovery process was the source of inspiration for several theatrical pieces, including "The War In Heaven" (a collaboration with Sam Shepard), "The Traveler" by Jean-Claude van Itallie), "Struck Dumb" (a collaboration with Jean-Claude van Itallie) and "Night Sky" (developed with Susan Yankowitz). Chaikin continued to direct productions in New York for New York Shakespeare Festival, Manhattan Theater Club and Women’s Project, Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, Atlanta’s 7 Stages Theater, San Francisco’s Magic Theater, Toronto’s Studio Theater and Tel Aviv’s Neve Tzedek Theater. An acomplished teacher, Chaikin conducted workshops and seminars throughout the United States, Europe, the Middle East and South Africa.

In 1992 Chaikin directed Bill Irwin in an Obie-award winning production of "Texts for Nothing" by Samuel Beckett at the Joseph Papp Public Theater. From 1994 to 1996, Chaikin worked with author Susan Yankowitz on a new version of "Terminal", a play originally created by the Open Theater in 1970. Chaikin’s 1996 collaboration with Sam Shepard, "When the World Was Green", was premiered at the Cultural Olympiad of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta and then played at New York’s Public Theatre, Cambridge’s American Repertory Theatre, and most recently at the Singapore Arts Festival and the Chekhov Festival at the Moscow Arts Theatre. Other recent directing credits include: "The Bald Soprano", Jean-Claude van Itallie’s "The Bird and the Hunter", "All My Sons", "God of Vengeance", Sam Shepard’s "States of Shock" and a version of "Texts for Nothing", featuring Del Hamilton (all at Seven Stages, Atlanta); Arthur Miller’s "The Last Yankee" and "I Can’t Remember Anything" (at Signature Theatre, New York), the collaboration, "Still Alive/Teasing Time", for the Mark Taper Forum’s New Works Festival, and Tennessee Williams’, "The Glass Menagerie", at the Yale Repertory Theatre, "Shut Eye" for The Pig Iron Theatre, and Sam Shepard's, "The Late Henry Moss", at Signature Theatre.

Joseph Chaikin died on June 22, 2003.


Obie Awards for Acting
Man is Man
Victims of Duty
The Exception and the Rule

Obie Awards for Directing
The Serpent: A ceremony
The Mutation Show

Obie Award
Lifetime Achievement Award, 1977
(the first ever awarded by Village Voice)

Drama Desk Award
The Mutation Show

Belgrade International Theatre Festival
Terminal, 1st prize

Brandeis Creative Arts Award
The Serpent: A Ceremony

City University of New York Graduate Center
Edwin Booth Award

Vernon Rice Award

Guggenheim Fellowships (2)

National Endowment for the Arts
Distinguished Artist Fellowship Award

National Council on Communicative Disorders, Kennedy Center
8th Annual Individual Achievement Award

Honorary Ph.D. degrees
Drake University
Kent State University

The Open Theater

The Winter Project

The Other Theater

The Presence of the Actor, 1972 (new edition 1991)

Letters and Texts, with Sam Shepard, 1989 (new edition 1994), including three collaborations: Tongues, Savage Love, War in Heaven

Directors in Perspective: Joseph Chaikin, by Eileen Blumenthal, 1984

Joseph Chaikin: A Bio-Bibliography, Alex Gildzen and Dimitris Karageorgiou, 1992

Broken Glass
7 Stages, Atlanta, Georgia

Pacific Repertory Theatre, Carmel, California

That Tuesday
The Actors' Studio, New York

Happy Days
The Cherry Lane, New York

A Delicate Balance
7 Stages, Atlanta, Georgia

Body Pieces
Public Theatre New Plays Series, New York

The Late Henry Moss
Signature Theatre, New York

Shut Eye
Pig Iron Theater, Philadelphia

Texts for Nothing
7 Stages, Atlanta Georgia

The Glass Menagerie
Yale Repertory Theater, New Haven, Connecticut

States of Shock
7 Stages, Atlanta Georgia

I Can't Remember Anything & The Last Yankee
Signature Theatre, New York

The Bald Soprano & The Bird and the Hunter
7 Stages, Atlanta

God of Vengeance
7 Stages, Atlanta

Still Alive/Teasing Time; The Older Project
Mark Taper Forum's New Works Series, Los Angeles

Counting the Ways
Theater for the New City, New York

When the World Was Green (Chef's Fable)
The Magic Theater, San Francisco

All My Sons
7 Stages, Atlanta

Nacht Und Traume
Judith Anderson Theater, New York

When the World Was Green (A Chef's Fable) & Chicago
Signature Theater Company, New York

1969 Terminal 1996
Bitef Festival, Belgrade
7 Stages, Atlanta
PS 122, New York

When the World Was Green
Cultural Olympiad/7 Stages, Atlanta

A Moviestar Has To Star In Black And White
Signature Theater Company, New York

7 Stages, Atlanta

La Mama, New York

Tongues and Savage Love
Magic Theater, San Francisco

Angel Works
7 Stages, Atlanta

That Time
Judith Anderson Theatre, New York

Talk To Me Like the Rain & Counting the Ways
Magic Theater, San Francisco

The War in Heaven & The Sandbox
7 Stages, Atlanta

Don Juan
Julliard School of Drama, New York

Waiting for Godot
7 Stages, Atlanta

Texts for Nothing - with Bill Irwin
The Joseph Papp Public Theater, New York

Night Sky
Judith Andersen Theater, New York

Waiting for Godot
Taper, Too, Los Angeles

Developed: Night Sky - with Susan Yankowitz
American Conservatory Theater, San Francisco

Developed: Utterance In The Firmament - about aphasia
San Francisco State University

The Bald Soprano and The Leader
The Cubiculo Theatre, New York

Imagining the Other: The Arab and the Jew
with Mira Rafalowicz, Tel Aviv, Israel

Solo Voyages, with Robbie McCauley
Interart Center, New York
American National Theatre, Washington, D.C.

The Detective
Magic Theatre, San Francisco

Winter Project's Lies and Secrets
LaMama, New York

Developed Night Voices for radio

Winter Project's Trespassing, co-directed by Steven Kent
LaMama, New York

Public Theater, New York

Imagining The Other: The Arab and the Jew
workshop, Tel Aviv, Israel

Winter Project's Tourists & Refugees No. 2
LaMama, New York
International Theater Festival, Caracas

Winter Project's Tourists & Refugees
LaMama, New York

Winter Project's Re-Arrangements
LaMama, New York

Manhattan Theatre Club, New York

The Dybbuk
Habimah Theater, Tel Aviv, Israel

The Dybbuk
The Public Theater, New York

St. Clement's Church, New York
North American Tour

Chile, chile
Theatre of Latin America

A Fable: Telling About A Journey
The Mount, Lenox, Massachusetts
Westbeth Theater, New York

The Seagull
Manhattan Theatre Club, New York

St. Clement's, New York
Roundabout, London

The Mutation Show
Space for Innovative Development, New York
Harvard University, Cambridge

Washington Square Church, New York
Harvard University, Cambridge

The Serpent: A Ceremony
Public Theater, New York

The Clown Play
Fourteenth Street Theater, New York
European Tour

Interview from America Hurrah
Pocket Theater, New York

Struck Dumb
for the Aphasia Community Group
Boston University Concert Hall

Texts for Nothing
Berkshire Theater Festival, Stockbridge
A Contemporary Theater, Seattle

The War in Heaven
Magic Theatre, San Francisco

Texts for Nothing
Magic Theater, San Francisco

Texts for Nothing, directed by Anders Cato
The Royal Court Theatre, London
International Arts Festival, Edinburgh

The War in Heaven & Texts for Nothing
La Jolla Playhouse, San Diego

Texts for Nothing, directed by Nancy Gabor
Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Antwerp

The War in Heaven & What Is The Word?
Exiles Theater Festival, Cork, Ireland

The War in Heaven & Struck Dumb
The American Place Theater, New York

The War in Heaven
Sam Shepard Festival, Amsterdam,

Struck Dumb and The War in Heaven
Cleveland, Minneapolis, Seattle
Florence, Milan, Italy

Struck Dumb (collaboration with Jean-Claude van Itallie)
Taper Too Theatre, Los Angeles
Kent State University

The War in Heaven
International Theater Festival, Warsaw, Poland
London, Leicester, England
7 Stages, Atalanta

The War in Heaven
DuMaurier World Stage, Toronto

Is This Real?, directed by Ronnie Gilbert
Interart Center, New York
National Theatre, Washington, D.C.

Developed The War in Heaven (collaboration with Sam Shepard) for radio
Broadcast on WBAI (New York City) and in Canada

Uncle Vanya, directed by Andrei Serban
La Mama, New York

Texts for Nothing
International Theater Congress, Toronto

Texts For Nothing, directed by Steven Kent
The Public Theater, New York
San Francisco, London, Paris

Tongues & Savage/Love
The Public Theater, New York
Paris, Rome and Milan

Savage/Love (collaboration with Sam Shepard)
Eureka Theater, San Francisco

Tongues (collaboration with Sam Shepard)
Magic Theater, San Francisco

Public Theater, New York

Endgame, directed by Roberta Sklar
Fourteenth Street Theater, New York

Me and My Brother
a film by Robert Frank

The Exception and the Rule
Greenwich Mews Theater, New York

Victim of Duty
Writers Stage Company, New York

And Things That Go Bump In The Night
Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis

Man Is Man
The Living Theater, New York

The Connection
The Living Theater, New York

Many Loves
The Living Theater, New York

About The Open Theater

The Open Theater, one of the world's leading avant-garde theater ensembles, was founded in 1963 as a workshop. It was directed by Joseph Chaikin, a key figure in contemporary American drama.

Chaikin, formerly an actor with the Living Theater, founded the group with Peter Feldman to experiment, establish new forms and "open the bodies and minds of actors and audience." Productions were collaborative and began with exercises and group discussion.

"America Hurrah" and "Viet Rock," two of off-Broadway's most significant dramas of the 1960s, originated in Open Theater workshops.

Together with playwright Jean-Claude van Itallie, whose papers are also at Kent, the Open Theater collaborated on "The Serpent," which won an Ohio award, has been produced around the world and was presented on National Educational Television.

The group's late works include the "Terminal," a study of death and resurrection which has been presented off-Broadway and has toured prisons throughout New York City, "The Mutations Show" and "Nightwalk."

Having performed throughout Europe, Middle East, Algeria and U.S., the Open Theater gave its final performance in California in December 1973

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Related Links:

  • Joseph Chaikin and Sam Shepard
  • Resources
  • The Bible Workshops at The Open Theater
  • A brief History of The Open Theatre by Jean Claude van Itallie
  • I CAN'T REMEMBER ANYTHING By Arthur Miller and Joseph Chaikin
  • Jean-Claude van Itallie
  • The Presence of the Actor by Joseph Chaikin
  • Joseph Chaikin, Papers 1935-2003
  • Friends on Joe Chaikin
  • Friends on Joe Chaikin (part 2)
  • between change and transformation

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  • Joseph Chaikin(1935 -2003.)

    The Bible Workshops at The Open Theater

    The Bible Workshops at The Open Theater

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