JoAnne Akalaitis Additional Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

The influence of JoAnne Akalaitis’s background appears in various forms in her work. Born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1937, she was reared in a predominantly Lithuanian Catholic neighborhood. She studied philosophy at the University of Chicago and Stanford University, training that emerges in her constant fascination with the nature of being. She worked at the Actors’ Workshop in San Francisco in 1962, where she first met Lee Breuer and Ruth Maleczech, with whom she formed the theater collective Mabou Mines in 1969. Her acting teachers included Herbert Berghof, Bill Hickey, and later Spalding Gray and Joyce Aaron of Open Theatre. She has commented in an interview with Jonathan Kalb that having two children with her former husband, composer Philip Glass, may have kept her from doing more work, but that she would not be who she is without them.

In 1993, only twenty months after being appointed artistic director of the Public Theatre by Joseph Papp, Akalaitis was dismissed from that position in a sudden Public Theatre Board decision. Although the board’s decision may have been partly based on Akalaitis’s performance of her administrative duties as artistic director, her political agenda, her working style, and various theater business issues, Akalaitis remains an artist who is on the cutting edge of theater.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

JoAnne Akalaitis (ah-kah-LAY-tihs) is recognized for her contributions to performance art and avant-garde drama, particularly with Mabou Mines, the theater company she helped form in 1969. After growing up in a Lithuanian Catholic neighborhood, she studied philosophy at the University of Chicago and at Stanford University. In 1962, she participated in the Actor’s Workshop in San Francisco, where she worked with Ruth Maleczech and Lee Breuer. Together with these and other performers, she formed the theater collective Mabou Mines. She received training from such well-known acting teachers as Bill Hickey, Herbert Berghof, Spalding Gray, and Joyce Aaron.

Akalaitis was awarded financial support from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the New York State Creative Artists Public Service Program. Working with Mabou Mines, she contributed to such conceptual collaborations as Red Horse Animation (1970) and The Saint and the Football Player (1976), which initially took place as visual performance pieces in New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Berkeley and Pasadena art museums. Other multimedia events she worked on include performances with the 1976 American Dance Festival. For a time, Akalaitis was married to the composer Philip Glass, who provided music for Mabou Mines in Dressed Like an Egg and Dead End Kids, which were significant contributions to New York’s burgeoning avant-garde theater. Akalaitis won three Obie Awards and in August, 1991, succeeded Joseph Papp as the director of the New York Shakespeare Festival at the Public Theater. Her abrupt dismissal from that position in early 1993 was hotly debated in the theater community.

Akalaitis describes her work as disconnected from the American theater tradition of such artists as Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, and Edward Albee. In contrast to their work, which focuses on domestic issues and personal relationships, Akalaitis’s use of music, art, science, and surrealist and expressionist forms aligns her with the tradition of such European avant-garde performance artists as Bertolt Brecht. Her group, Mabou Mines, shocks audiences out of their usual expectations through nontraditional use of props, opening of the stage boundaries, onstage narration, unconventional exchanges of character portrayal among various actors, and set designs and scene changes...

(The entire section is 994 words.)