The primary Stages Off-Broadway Oral history Project

Celebrating the visionaries who created New York's vibrant Off- and Off-Off-Broadway theater.

Jean-Claude van Itallie

Jean-Claude van Itallie

Playwright, Actor
Born on Monday, May 25, 1936

Interviewed on: Wednesday, April 22, 2015
Location: Primary Stages Offices
Interviewed by: Sally Plass
Interview #37
"However crazy and however ego-full we may all have been--and we were--we dropped it when we were in the room working on what we were working on."
Jean-Claude van Itallie Highlights
Video Length: 5 minutes, 18 seconds
Jean-Claude van Itallie Interview
Video Length: 2 hours, 6 minutes

Jean-Claude van Itallie is a Belgian-born American playwright. He was one of the original playwrights at the La MaMa Experimental Theater Club. He was also the Playwright-of-the-Ensemble with The Open Theater. His over 30 Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway playwriting and translation credits include: WAR (1963),  ALMOST LIKE BEING and I’M REALLY HERE (1964), AMERICA HURRAH (1966, Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Production), THE SERPENT (1968, OBIE Award), KING OF THE UNITED STATES (1973), A FABLE (1975), BAG LADY (1979), EARLY WARNINGS (1983), THE TIBETAN BOOK OF THE DEAD OR HOW NOT TO DO IT AGAIN (1983), the English version of Jean Genet’s THE BALCONY (1986), THE TRAVELER (1987), STRUCK DUMB written with Joseph Chaikin (1991), ANCIENT BOYS (1991), Bulgakov’s THE MASTER AND MARGARITA (1993), LIGHT (2004), FEAR ITSELF, SECRETS OF THE WHITE HOUSE (2006), THE MOTHER’S RETURN (2010), and translations of Chekhov’s THE CHERRY ORCHARD (1977), THREE SISTERS (1979), THE SEAGULL (1980), and UNCLE VANYA (1983). He performed in GUYS DREAMIN’ (1997) and in the one-man shows WAR, SEX AND DREAMS (1999) and CONFESSIONS AND CONVERSATION (2012).

Van Itallie was born in Brussels, Belgium and immigrated to Long Island with his family in 1940. He received his undergraduate degree from Harvard University and received an honorary doctorate from Kent State University in 1997. He transformed his farm in Western Massachusetts into a retreat center, the Shantigar Foundation for theatre, meditation, and healing, with the mission “to teach and inspire people to engage with the world from a more profound place within themselves.” van Itallie has taught playwriting and performance at: Princeton, NYU, Harvard, Yale School of Drama, University of Colorado Boulder, Naropa University, Amherst College, Middlebury College, the Esalen Foundation, the Omega Institute, NY Open Center, Rutgers University, and Columbia University. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1973 and 1980. In 2002, he received the Outstanding Achievement in the American Theater Award from the New England Theatre Conference. He is the author of “The Playwright’s Workbook” and “Tea with Demons: Games of Transformation.”

Mentioned in Interview

Stephen Sondheim, Anton Chekov, Mikhail Bulgakov, Joseph Chaikin, Judith Malina, Jullian Beck, Antonin Artaud, Tennessee Williams, Gordon Rogoff, Gerome Ragni, Ned Rorem, Richard Barr, Michael Kahn, Jerzy Grotowski, Shami Chaikin, Ellen Stewart, Robert Wilson, Jacques Levy, Arthur Kopit, Peter Brook, Jean Genet, Charles Minkos, Jr., JoAnne Akalaitis, Jonathan Glover, Sam Shepard, Robert Woodruff, Joseph Papp, Sheridan Square Playhouse, La MaMa E.T.C., The Open Theater, The Neighborhood Playhouse, The Living Theatre, Caffe Cino, St. Mark’s Playhouse, The Pocket Theatre, American Repertory Theatre, Theater for the New City, Cherry Lane Theatre, THE BRIG, MOTEL, TV, AMERICA HURRAH, THE SERPENT, MYSTERY PLAY, STRUCK DUMB, THE TRAVELER, THE BALCONY, THE KING OF THE UNITED STATES, WAR, INTERVIEW, THE DORIS PLAYS