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  • 1969 Terminal 1996: An Ensemble Work
  • Susan Yankowitz (bio)


1969 Terminal 1996 is the product of an extended collaboration among playwright Susan Yankowitz, director Joseph Chaikin, and performers Scott Blumenthal, Shami Chaikin, Hunyap Lee, Ellen Maddow, Nkenge Scott, Tina Shepard, and Paul Zimet. It evolved out of a collective investigation into human mortality and a consideration of both personal and societal responses to the fact of death. This exploration began in 1969 with members of the original Open Theatre and was exhumed in 1994 and rewritten to incorporate our changed and changing perspectives on its themes. A series of workshops has yielded this contemporary version of the piece, which uses as an armature the original structure of the work while interweaving new text and images with the old. It can be seen as a tapestry or perhaps a palimpsest.

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Figure 1.

1969 Terminal 1996. Photo: Courtesy Dona Ann McAdams.

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Figure 2.

1969 Terminal 1996. Photo: Courtesy Dona Ann McAdams.

The piece was conceived from its inception as a theatrical work; the text cannot be fully understood apart from production. Visual and verbal patterns are braided together: word, sound and image reinforce and elucidate each other. This scenario documents the results of many years’ intensive work. The process through which we arrived at these results can only be suggested in these pages. Any group that wishes to perform 1969 Terminal 1996 will have to rediscover the material for itself; it will need to use, adapt, reject, and recreate. This text is a skeleton which a new group of performers will have to flesh. It is intended as a framework and guide and, to that end, attempts to reconstruct as clearly as possible its details.

The following notes are meant to clarify certain basic assumptions and to describe the specific theatrical choices and aesthetic at the root of our production.


Style and Structure

The style of the piece is presentational. It is constructed of general sections within which are a series of fragments. Each fragment is a self-contained entity which [End Page 80] relates to the others and to the whole through juxtapositions and associations. Most fragments are introduced by a title. A single actor, or several, may perform this function during the course of the play. Blackouts may be used to define the beginning and end of major sections. These blackouts can delineate distinct thematic areas and also provide a stylistic counterpart to the cycle of life and death, presence and absence. The movement from fragment to fragment shifts the piece back and forth through various levels of experience.

The piece is organized thematically. Its logic is associative and emotional rather than linear, placing segments in harmonic counterpoint to one another. The central metaphor holds that the living are also the dying and that the manner in which we understand death informs the way in which we live. The strongest organizing convention is the possession of the living by the spirits of the dead. When the dying invite the dead to inhabit them, they are asking to be moved, shifted into a different perspective. To be possessed is to make oneself available to the unknown. At the moments when THE DEAD COME THROUGH, everything is altered: ideas about life, attitudes toward death, rhythms, sounds, movements, expressions. We remain ourselves and not ourselves; we yield ourselves and are taken over.

The Actors and the Space

The actors are always present. When an actor is not directly engaged in the events on stage, he moves into a defined area around the periphery. This space may be considered an on-stage off-stage area in which the actor rests, prepares, changes costume, waits. From this periphery, an actor may spontaneously enter the acting area and join in an action. The line between the on-stage and off-stage area may be crossed. There is only a single space in which the actors are always visible.

Properties and Lights

Like the actors, all theatrical props and materials are visible. Lights are hung in plain view of the audience. Nothing is hidden or disguised, but everything can be transformed...

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pp. 80-106
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