Moved To Act

“One must be pitiless about this matter of “mood.” In a sense, the writing will create the mood. … I have forced myself to begin writing when I’ve been utterly exhausted, when I’ve felt my soul as thin as a playing card, when nothing has seemed worth enduring for another five minutes … and somehow the activity of writing changes everything.” -Joyce Carol Oates, “The Paris Review” Interview

“Waste no more time arguing what a good [person] should be. Be one.” -Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Stop waiting to be “in the mood” or “being moved” to act.

Move now. Act now. Solve now.

Remember, mood follows action. Not the other way around.

Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?

And So It Begins...: My Favorite Scene: Raging Bull

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.” -Richard P. Feynman

For anything you’re thinking about doing, ask yourself “why” over and over and over again. Until you drill down enough and get at the real reason you wanna do the thing. (Five or six times should do the trick. Bonus points if you have a trusted friend ask you.)

It’s easy to fool or lie to ourselves. To just skim the surface. Don’t. Go deeper.

That’s what will enable you to stick with it. To have staying power. And no regrets.

P.S. – Arguably, the greatest breakdown scene ever captured on film.

Test Drive Month

We’re four days into the new year and maybe some of you feel bad because you broke one or all of your daily resolutions. Before punting on 2022, why not take a different approach? Take the pressure off. Call January your “test drive month.” Just like you wouldn’t buy a new car before taking it for a test drive, do the same for your resolutions. See which ones realistically work for you in terms of schedule and commitments and energy. And which ones don’t. That way you don’t feel bad if you miss a day or two here and there. No biggie. You’re experimenting. You’re iterating. Then at the end of the month, decide which ones go and which ones stay.

Even if you only end up keeping one resolution this year, it’s still a HUGE accomplishment.

And the others?…Put them on a “no for right now list.” You can always revisit in 2023.

Just Get ‘Em Talking

The Friends of Eddie Coyle - Wikipedia

“I’m not doing dialogue because I like doing dialogue. The characters are telling you the story. I’m not telling you the story, they’re going to do it. If I do it right, you will get the whole story.” -George V. Higgins

Some of the best writing advice I’ve heard, especially for playwrights, is this…know your characters inside and out, put them in a room and get them talking to each other. Trust that they’ll tell you where the story needs to go.

If you haven’t seen it, watch the fantastic 70’s crime film, The Friends Of Eddie Coyle (based on the George V. Higgins novel) for a clinic on this writing advice. Everything about the movie bleeds authenticity including the dialogue. Kent Jones writes in his terrific essay, “What is remarkable about the film is the extreme degree to which Yates and the producer and writer, Paul Monash, adhere to Higgins’s aesthetic, banking on the contention that if you render the action among the characters as faithfully as possible, their entire moral universe will be revealed.”

Also, the acting is first rate. Robert Mitchum, one of the most underrated actors of all time, headlines a knockout ensemble. Watch this clip. And this one. So good!

Let Go To Go Forward

“I think of the trees and how simply they let go, let fall the riches of a season, how without grief (it seems) they can let go and go deep into their roots for renewal and sleep…Imitate the trees. Learn to lose in order to recover, and remember that nothing stays the same for long, not even pain, psychic pain. Sit it out. Let it all pass. Let it go.” –The Journals Of May Sarton, Volume One

A new year equals new plans and goals and resolutions. A fresh start. Exciting!

But before you get to the new and to give yourself the best chance of success with those big plans, just make sure you’ve fully let go of the old.

If you’re having trouble, just say “Thank You.” Those old thoughts and ideas and sunk costs are a gift from your past self to your new self.

Moving on.

Vs. 2021 Year End Letter and Fundraising Appeal

“I’m going to count to ten. I’m here, you’re there…You know what to do…Welcome…Welcome back.” –Stand Up If You’re Here Tonight by John Kolvenbach

Dear Friend and Vs. Ally,

I hope you had a great Holiday and this letter finds you well.  I know we’re all still dealing with this pandemic, but we will get through it and come out stronger on the other side.

2021 was a tough start for Vs.  We lost our theatre, our vibrant home for the last decade.  (The building in which we leased space was sold to a commercial kitchen and all tenants had to exit in April.)  Shutting everything down and moving equipment into storage was emotional and a difficult pill to swallow.

But I’m proud to say we didn’t let that stop us.  We persevered.  In August we opened a show!  The West Coast Premiere of John Kolvenbach’s poignant and funny and heartwarming play, “Stand Up If You’re Here Tonight.”  Originally slated to run three weeks at the Atwater Village Theatre, the show ran three months.  It received some excellent press including this article in the Los Angeles Times.  Most importantly, we gave audiences a great night out and reminded them of the power of live theatre and communal gathering (all the while doing it safely and responsibly).   I loved seeing the smiles on people’s faces as they exited.  Talking to them in the courtyard afterward brought me so much joy and affirmed why we produce theatre.

Speaking of joy, in 2021 we also launched the Vs. Studio Solo Workshop.  Aligned with the mission of The Vs. Studio–helping artists find and manifest the work they’re passionate about and doing so with excellence and generosity—the Solo Workshop was another high point.  Conceived and taught by Paul Stein, a world-class teacher and creative guide, it brought many artists together over Zoom.  The work they created, the vulnerability they displayed and the courage they had to share their work with others was remarkable.  When Paul and I first discussed launching the class, we were just thinking a single, stand-alone workshop and maybe 6-8 people would sign up.  By the end of the year, we’ve had multiple workshops and levels; all because the artists wanted to keep going.  The testimonials and feedback we’ve received is incredibly inspiring and I can’t wait to see what work stems from it next year and beyond.

We’ve also continued to offer weekly community through our Tuesday Night Play Readings.  This is a free reading series on Zoom and all are welcome to attend.  What I most love about these nights is that it’s a platform for artists to bring in the work that inspires them.  They have a warm and supportive environment in which they can “sponsor” a night–you can read more about what exactly that means Here and again, it aligns perfectly with The Vs. Studio mission.  One reading had nearly 200 people watching from all over the globe!

While it’s still tough to make specific live theatre plans for 2022, we will continue to offer community and support through our readings and workshops.  And just like 2021–and really every year since we started–when we find the play we’re dying to do, we’ll figure out a way to produce it.  No matter what.  That’s been our ethos since day one and I think it’s served us well.
So now’s the fun part where I ask you for help…Please consider making a fully tax deductible (we’re a 501c3 non-profit) donation to Vs. Theatre Company.

To donate via PayPal, please click HERE.  (You can also donate via Venmo.  Our handle is @vstheatre.  Snail mail is great too.  Checks payable to “VS. Theatre Company”.  Address to send is 3734 Santa Carlotta Street; La Crescenta, CA  91214)

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your financial support.  Every little bit helps.  Know that it means the world to Vs. as it allows us to continue making our art as well as inspire others to do the same. 
Have a Happy New Year!  I wish you good health, abundant joy and creative fulfillment.  (And that I see you in person at the theatre!)  In the meantime, please continue to take good care of yourself and others.

With Love and Gratitude,

Johnny

Johnny Clark
Artistic Director
Vs. Theatre Company & The Vs. Studio
www.vstheatre.org
www.thevsstudio.blog
M: 323.816.2471

Do Hard Things

Muhammad Ali: A WTTW Preview and Community Conversation | WTTW Chicago

“We have a strategic plan — it’s called doing things.” -Herb Kelleher, founder and former CEO of Southwest Airlines

“I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion. ‘” -Muhammad Ali

Ever look back at on all the things you used to stress about when you were young–taking that test, writing that term paper, calling that girl or guy on the phone and asking them out (gulp), going on your first job interview, etc…–and thinking how easy those things seem compared to your life now? To the many challenges you’ve faced or are currently facing?

Yes, some of that’s perspective.

But I think the other part is this…much like training for anything, the more hard things you do, the more equipped you are to handle harder things. So when you reflect on your past, It’s not that those things weren’t difficult, they absolutely were. At the time. But because you’ve continued to live your life, you’ve continued to do hard things, you’ve built up your grit, capacity and skill, those things seem easier.

All this to say…don’t run from the inevitable challenges that life throws your way. Any chance you get to do something hard, especially if it’s aligned with what you want and even sometimes when it’s not, do it.

The more hard things you do, the more hard things you can do.

Courage Follows Love

“Perfect love casts out fear.” -John 4:18

“There is no deed in this life so impossible that you cannot do it. Your whole life should be lived as a heroic deed.” -Leo Tolstoy

“The world wants to know if you have cojones. If you are brave?” -Emilo Perez asking John Grady in Cormac McCarthy’s novel, All The Pretty Horses

The word courage is derived from the Latin word “cor” which literally means heart.

Every courageous act throughout history, all those people we admire for their bravery, had one thing in common.

Love.

They loved something, someone, so deeply and with all their heart. Their love transcended and went beyond self. So much so that when the time came for them to demonstrate courage, to step up, they answered the call. Even if that meant giving up their lives.

You probably don’t have to die to make your art, to make the change you want to make in this world, but you do need tremendous courage. To risk. To be vulnerable. To put yourself out there. To be willing to fail.

Find your love and your courage will follow.

P.S. – If you’re looking for some inspiration, read Ryan Holiday’s latest book “Courage Is Calling”.

Meaningful Consumption

“The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.” -Marie Kondo, “The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up”

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living.” -Anne Dillard, “The Writing Life”

The very first post I wrote was stating a formula for artistic happiness. Here it is again:

Meaningful Work + Meaningful Community = Artistic Happiness.

In the two years since, much of the blog’s been devoted to helping and inspiring you to find and manifest your passion project.

Today, I want to add a little wrinkle to the equation. Something we need to practice so that we can pursue the formula in the first place.

And that is, meaningful consumption.

What is it?

I define meaningful consumption as the ongoing process of examining how we spend our days, and ultimately (as Anne Dillard brilliantly states above), our lives. Bringing awareness to all our consumption patters. Our time, our money, our energy, the foods we eat, the things we watch, listen to and read, etc…Everything gets scrutinized to see if these patterns are bringing us joy or chaos. And when/where appropriate, we make a change.

Why engage in meaningful consumption?

Well for starters, it makes us feel good. Knowing we’re not wasteful gives us peace of mind. It’s just good practice overall.

Second, our planet and future generations are depending on us to be efficient. Right now.

And finally let’s face it, manifesting our passion projects takes a whole lot of time and energy (and often, money). We need to be ruthlessly efficient in our lives so that we can pursue these projects and do them with excellence and generosity.

Meaningful consumption is the necessary oxygen and lift off to make these projects a reality. To pursue the formula. To find artistic happiness.