Monday, August 27, 2007

Joseph Chaikin

Joseph Chaikin (September 16, 1935June 22, 2003) was an American theatre director, teacher and playwright. He suffered from heart complications as a child, and was sent to a children's hospital in Florida the age of five. It was during this period of isolation that he began to experiment in the theatre.

He briefly attended Drake University in Iowa, and then went on to work with The Living Theatre before founding The Open Theater an experimental theatre co-operative that progressed from being a closed laboratory to performing devised work to an audience. In 1970 they performed Endgame by Samuel Beckett, with Chaikin playing the role of Hamm, at the Grasslands Penitentiary, a fulfillment of his desire to experiment with audiences who would be fundamentally different to the ones they were playing for. In 1970- 71 they performed Terminal by Susan Yankovitz in many maximum and minimum security prisons on the East Coast of the USA and Canada. The Open Theater ran for about ten years. Chaikin wound the company up to avoid its institutionalising, since it achieved critical success, something which he spurned saying, "I have rarely known a case where a critic's response to actors, directors or writers has expanded or encouraged their talent- I have known cases where by panning or praising, the critic has crushed or discouraged creative inspiration".

He then formed a company called The Winter Project, whose members included Ronnie Gilbert and Will Patton. Chaikin had a close working relationship with Sam Shepard and together they wrote the plays Tongues and Savage/Love, both of which premiered at San Francisco's Magic Theatre. They were commissioned to write When The World Was Green for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. Beyond performing in his plays, Chaikin was an expert on Samuel Beckett, directing a number of his plays including Endgame at the Manhattan Theatre Club. Beckett wrote a poem for Chaikin entitled What Is the Word?. He received six Obie Awards, including one for Lifetime Achievement, and two Guggenheim Fellowships.

In 1984, a stroke suffered during open-heart surgery left Chaikin with partial aphasia. Despite this barrier to communication, Chaikin continued to direct and to create plays collaboratively with other writers, including John Belluso, whose disability-themed plays were produced at the Mark Taper Forum, Trinity Rep, Pacific Repertory Theatre and the New York Shakespeare Festival. Chaikin was also a lifelong teacher of acting and directing, and lived in New York's West Village until his death.

In 1972 his book, "The Presence of The Actor" was first published with a second edition in 1991 published by Theatre Communications Group. It includes exemplar notes, photographs and exercises from several Open Theatre productions as well as presenting Chaikin's philosophy on how theatre can bring about social transformation.

Chaikin was born and died in New York City. His son, Mauricio, now resides in Deer Park, New York.