Guest Actor Blog: STACIE CHAIKEN

I was the Guest Actor with Tim Crouch in An Oak Tree at the Odyssey Theatre on Sunday, January 24. Friends told me afterwards that they had been fearful for me: I was living the Actor’s Nightmare on stage with no idea what I was supposed to say or do. I’ve had those dreams all my life, have waked from them with palpitations, but that was nowhere near my experience on Sunday. Rather, I found the whole thing exhilarating.

I was careful not to read anything about the play before I arrived at the theatre. I didn’t even read the email I sent on from the producers to friends, inviting them to come. Somewhere in my peripheral mind, I had a sense that the story involved the death of a child, but I guess I decided not to consciously dwell on it, so I wouldn’t do what I would normally do: make it real for myself. I wanted to go in not knowing.

After the show, Tim reminded me that when they invite people to be Guest Actors, they suggest that if we have recently experienced anything like the loss of a child, we not accept, since grief tends to breathe all the air out of a room and it is difficult to create from recent, rampant trauma. That is, by the way, all I will say about the story of the play, as I encourage you to see it here in LA before they close on February 14, and I don’t want to ruin it for you. I’ll be seeing it myself on February 4th.

The whole thing was a blast. The bummer is that now that I’ve done the show, I can never do it again, ever.

Some thoughts:

The invitation for the Guest Actor in the play, I think, is to say “yes” to absolutely everything, and run with it.  The structure, as Tim and his cohorts have created it, is completely supportive for the Guest Actor. There were times when I wasn’t sure what exactly I’d been told to do, but I felt safe and very happy committing to doing whatever I thought I might have heard him ask me to do, completely trusting that if I were to veer off the road (and there is a road) I would be directed back on to it. The opportunity for the Guest Actor within that structure is complete freedom to follow one’s instinct. A rare joy, indeed.

It strikes me that it’s all about “suggestibility,” that earned gift of the actor and madman which allows thought to immediately become belief. Tell me that this ring I am wearing, which was actually purchased on 42nd street in June, was given to me by my beloved grandmother on her deathbed, and I will succumb to that suggestion, and “believe” it, exactly like the madman who believes himself to be Louis XIV. I am probably, ultimately, far more dangerous than the madman, but it’s a similar mechanism

I remember when I decided to do a two-year actor training program with Kathryn Gately <> , a master teacher of the Meisner Technique <> . I had considered myself a professional actor for several years, and Kathryn informed me that it would take 20 years for me to become an actor. I thought she was, well, exaggerating. Now, I think she was right. It takes that long to build those synapses that allow us to effortlessly transform thought to belief. That’s what Tim’s play not only depends on for the doing of it, but has as its theme: our human suggestibility and the power to create.

I could be wrong. After all, I haven’t seen it yet.

That’s all I have to say. Go see it.

STACIE CHAIKEN was in An Oak Tree on Sunday, January 24th at The Odyssey Theatre.

Writer-performer: The Dig: death, Genesis & the Double Helix (LA premiere in 2010); Looking for Louie, Sifting Thru Ashes, and State of the Art.

Representative roles: Los Angeles: Master of the House (title role: Laguna Playhouse); Otherwise Engaged (Pacific Resident Theatre); Oscar Wilde’s Wife (title role: Odyssey Theatre). New York & regional: David Greenspan’s Jack and Principia (Home for Contemporary Theatre & Art); Edith Stein (Jewish Rep); Abe Lincoln in Illinois (Lincoln Center Theatre); Mark Harelik’s The Immigrant (Pennsylvania Stage Company); and the US premiere of Michel Tremblay’s Albertine in Five Times (Lincoln Stage, Hartford).

Stacie is the founder and artistic director of “What’s the Story?” Los Angeles a workshop for writers and performers wrestling with personal story. She is on the performance faculty of the USC School of Theatre, and has taught Master Classes on autobiographical story and performance at New York University, Bar Ilan, and Tel Aviv Universities, where she was a Fulbright Scholar. For her own work, she has received funding from the Durfee Foundation, Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, California Arts Council, USC Arts Initiative, and the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture.


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