Thursday, April 11, 2002

Joseph Chaikin


Joseph Chaikin acts like a bridge spanning the 20th century dominated by the the thinking, writing and practices of Stanislavsky to the 21st century emerging now from an eclectic, self-reflexive world theatre. At the center of Chaikin's work is, as Hulton observes, "the actor at the heart of the creative process, and at the heart of transformation and change within that process" (170). Chaikin, in the middle of the process of his exploration and examination of theatre, wanted a theater "based on questions rather than answers, on imagined possibilities rather than given formulae." (155).

A great thinker and practitioner, Chaikin sought an articulate terminology to describe his work with actors. Admiring his deep care toward theatre, I want to follow specifically three points of his studies. One of his questions led me into a deep thoughtful state; "a direct rejection of his own training with teachers of Method acting, and the idea of its universal application" (156). He reacted against the four main features: 1. The principle of objectives, actions, and obstacles. 2. Sensory attention and emotional recall. 3. Logical analysis of the text. 4. Inspiration. Chaikin divided actors into two; actors who could work together to make theatre events & and actors who "cared about the whole theatre event they were engaged in" (157). The later he called ‘creative actors'. He rejected these four main features of the Stanislavsky system because they did not address the concept of the ‘creative actor' but focused on the text given to the actors to be interpreted for the playwright and directed by a director. This clear statement gave me a better understanding of the role of the actor in the creative process of theater.

The next interesting point was his study of impulse. In order to be a creative actor, in my personal opinion, it is very basic to know impulse; how to listen to my impulse, how to follow my impulse, how to recognize impulse towards creating and developing a character, and acting spontaneously with impulse. It is an essential issue even though it is hard to define. Thus, Chaikin's thoughtful insights on this concept are remarkable. He defined the actor's impulses into three categories: 1. reasoned association 2. external demands 3. inner prompting and associations. He considered the third impulse building characterization. He questioned where the actor's impulse originates; whether "a liberated consciousness or from the same consciousness which he believes to be necessary for his daily personal safety... or from a common human source or from a contemporary bourgeois ego?" (159).

The last study I am interested in is Chaikin's notes about space. He defined space very precisely; space, place, territories, zones, spheres, abandonment, exile, occupation, and habitation. (155) As an actor, myself, each notion has a different definition and meaning. Theatre is an art of time and space, as we say. So, exploring the concept of space is an important key to answer many of the theatrical questions. It is a great adventure to explore space and it will be a great challenge to practically explore Chaikin's insights about space. Chaikin never copied any system or exercise for itself. He explored everything not as an unchallenged foundation from which to work but as a point of departure to go forward, to lead him and his actors into the unknown zone of theatre questions and a total new expression. He was sincerely listening and watching the emerging image and working of creative actors. He genuinely pushed himself and his actors to transform within the process of acting. He is one of the treasures in today's theatre.

- by Ae ran Jeong