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Joseph Chaikin papers

Special Collections and Archives

Joseph Chaikin papers

Special Collections and Archives

Joseph Chaikin papers

Joseph Chaikin papers

Finding Aid

Prepared by Alex Gildzen; Updated by Christine McBurney-Coen; Revised January 2009; Last Updated: June 2020. 

Inclusive Dates: 1921-2003
Bulk Dates: 1952-2003
Extent: 21 cubic feet (37 boxes = 11 record storage boxes, 5 half size record storage boxes, 11 document case boxes, 1 slim document case, 5 tape/vhs boxes and 4 flat boxes)
Physical Location: 11th floor

Abstract: The Joseph Chaikin papers contain the extensive professional papers of director, actor and theorist, Joseph Chaikin. The bulk of the collection covers Chaikin's working life from the 1950s to his death in 2003. The papers include Chaikin's correspondence, theater production information and scripts, directing and theater exercise notebooks, book manuscripts, articles, periodical clippings, photographs, posters, audio-visual materials and artifacts.

Biographical Note: Actor, director, and theorist Joseph Chaikin was born September 16, 1935 in Brooklyn, New York to emigre parents. His father was a teacher and the family moved to Iowa where his father taught Hebrew. He received his education from Drake University in Des Moines, and in 1972 was awarded with an honorary doctorate from there. Kent State University would also award him the same degree in 1990. In 1955 he moved to New York City and co-founded the Harlequin Players with whom he acted and directed. Chaikin joined the Living Theatre in 1959 and acted in Brecht and Ionesco plays, earning the first of his six Obies for his portrayal of Galy Gay in Brecht's Man Is Man.

In 1963 Chaikin founded the Open Theater, an avant garde experimental ensemble theater. He acted in the company's version of Beckett's Endgame and directed a number of productions including America Hurrah, The Mutation Show, Nightwalk, The Serpent, Terminal and Viet Rock. While productions were collaborative, a number of important playwrights wrote for the Open Theater including Jean-Claude van Itallie and Susan Yankowitz. After ten years Chaikin disbanded the Open Theater and went on to form the Working Theatre in New York, an actor-teacher training ensemble. He also founded the Other Theater with playwright Jean-Claude van Itallie, and directed productions of van Itallie's Chekhov translations. In 1976 he founded the Winter Project, an annual 12 week workshop with actors, musicians, and writers who explored storytelling for the theater. As a director, his Beckett productions were highly successful for their lucidity. The Hollywood Reporter said "Chaikin has created a Godot that's full of wit and wisdom and is immediately accessible." Of Endgame, Mel Gussow in the New York Times wrote, "Mr. Chaikin is an experimental artist who is scrupulous when dealing with classics. This is an authentic Endgame down to the last agitated pause." Beckett and Chaikin corresponded and Beckett wrote a poem for Chaikin titled, Comment Dire, which he translated into English as What is the Word. Chaikin acted and directed in Europe and the Middle East. He assisted Peter Brook in Royal Shakespeare productions of US and The Tempest, mounted a production of The Dybbuk in Israel, and conducted workshops with Jerzy Grotowski.

In 1984 Chaikin suffered a stroke leaving him aphasic. He persevered as a seminal figure in American theater, and drew upon the experience of his stroke. He collaborated on three pieces dealing with aphasia, as co-author and actor: Struck Dumb, with van Itallie, and Savage/Love and Tongues, with Sam Shepard. He was awarded six Obies, including the first ever Obie for lifetime achievement in the theater, The Drama Desk award, the Vernon Rice Award, the Brandeis University Award for Distinguished Actors, the New England Theatre Conference Award, the Edwin Booth Award, as well as two Guggenheim fellowships and grants. Chaikin published and was the subject of numerous articles on the theater at home and abroad. In 1972 he published the book, The Presence of the Actor. He was the first American director to be included in the Directors in Perspective series of books on the most influential theater directors, living or dead. Chaikin died in June 2003.

Scope and Content: The Joseph Chaikin papers span the working life of Chaikin from the late 1950s until his death in 2003. Highlights of the collection include items documenting Chaikin's life as an actor, director and theorist, and founder of the Open Theater group. The collection contains Chaikin's personal and professional correspondence, working files, scripts, programs and production information, directing and theater exercise notebooks, book manuscripts, articles, periodical clippings, photographs, posters, audio-visual materials and artifacts. Persons with whom Chaikin corresponded include Stella Adler, Julian Beck, Robert Brustein, Samuel Beckett, Eric Bentley, Jerzy Grotowski, Judith Malina, Arthur Miller, Sam Shepard, Susan Sontag, Jean-Claude van Itallie, and other key figures in twentieth-century theater.

Arrangement: The Joseph Chaikin papers are divided into series as follows:

Researchers should check all appropriate series within the finding aid for desired content. Series 1 contains early donations to KSU's Special Collections and Archives and no additions were made to this series after 1990. Series 1 is ordered chronologically and includes correspondence, book and play manuscripts, working files and more. Researchers can also consult the published catalog of this series Joseph Chaikin: A Bio-bibliography (New Jersey: Greenwood Press, 1992) for more information. Material donated after 1990, even when dated earlier, has been placed in other series within this collection.

Preferred Citation: Joseph Chaikin papers. Department of Special Collections and Archives. Kent State University Libraries and Media Services.

Related Materials: Further information on the life and work of Joseph Chaikin may also be found in the following Department collections: The Open Theater papers, Susan Yankowitz papers, Peter Feldmen papers and Jean-Claude van Itallie papers.

Restrictions on Use: The Joseph Chaikin papers contain some restricted materials, researchers should contact the Department of Special Collections and Archives for additional information.

Acquisition Information: Joseph Chaikin first donated his papers to the Department of Special Collections and Archives of Kent State University in 1972. He continued to add material to this collection periodically until his death in 2003. Small donations by other individuals have been incorporated into these papers in the past and are noted in the finding aid where appropriate.

Processing Information: The Joseph Chaikin papers were originally processed as two collections. The Joseph Chaikin Papers I were prepared by Christine McBurney-Coen, August 1994. The Joseph Chaikin Papers II were prepared by Alex Gildzen. The two collections were brought together and revised by Edith Serkownek, January 2009.