The Open Theater

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The Open Theater was an experimental theatre group active from 1963 to 1973.


It was founded in New York City by a group of former students of acting teacher Nola Chilton, and joined shortly thereafter by director Joseph Chaikin, formerly of The Living Theatre, and Peter Feldman. The group's intent was to continue Chilton's exploration of a "post-method", post-absurd acting technique, by way of a collaborative and wide-ranging process that included exploration of political, artistic, and social issues, which were felt to be critical to the success of avant-garde theatre. The company, developing work through an improvisational process drawn from Chilton and Viola Spolin, created well-known exercises, such as "sound and movement" and "transformations", and originated radical forms and techniques that anticipated or were contemporaneous with Jerzy Grotowski's "poor theater" in Poland.[1] According to playwright Megan Terry the notion of a minimalist aesthetic was fueled by the company's quest to achieve narrative insight and political accountability through the body of the actor:

During the sixties we were concerned with stripping away. Chaikin and the Open Theater actors worked to reveal the actor's imagination as projected by the actor's presence. We showed that full, exciting theatrical productions could be done with nothing but actors and two benches or four chairs or only a bare stage. It was not only a matter of economics, it was essential to demonstrate the profound power of the actor's imagination and the actor's ability to create place; i.e. scenery through the power of belief via total technique and through the use of transformation not only of character but of time and place.[2]


Some of the company's best known works include Terry's Viet Rock (1966) with musical compositions by Marianne de Pury, Jean-Claude van Itallie's America Hurrah (1966) and The Serpent (1969).

Members of the theatre simulated an orgy in Death Valley in a scene in the 1970 movie Zabriskie Point.[3] The U.S. Justice Department later investigated the film questioning whether the orgy violated the Mann Act which criminalized the interstate transport of females for "immoral purposes". However, the movie producers pointed out that no actual sex had taken place and that the actors had not crossed a state line since the town of Zabriskie Point is in California.[4]

After the company's dissolution, its members formed The Talking Band, and Medicine Show Theatre Ensemble and Spiderwoman Theater. Chaikin went on to have a celebrated career as a theatre director until his death in 2003.


  1. ^ Blumenthal, Eileen (1984). Joseph Chaikin: Exploring at the Boundaries of Theater (1. publ. ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521285895. 
  2. ^ Terry, Megan; Sam Shepard, Stanley Kauffmann, Robert Patrick, Lawrence Kornfeld, Crystal Field, Richard Kostelanetz, Carl Weber, Wynn Handman, Rochelle Owens, Carolee Schneemann, and Michael Feingold (Autumn 1977). "American Experimental Theatre: Then and Now". Performing Arts Journal 2 (2): 13–24. Retrieved 20 July 2012.  Cite uses deprecated parameter |coauthors= (help)
  3. ^ Canby, Vincent (10 Feb 1970). "Screen: Antonioni's 'Zabriskie Point'". New York Times. Retrieved 20 July 2012. 
  4. ^ Flatley, Guy (22 Feb 1970). "Antonioni Defends 'Zabriskie Point': 'I Love this country'; Antonioni: 'I love America'". New York Times (ProQuest Historical Newspapers). pp. D15. Retrieved 20 July 2012.