For the week of January 6, 1999   thru January 12, 1999  

Vincent, I feel your pain

Jim Jarrett presents ‘An Evening with Sanford Meisner’


By MARILYN BAUER
Express Staff Writer

"Most actors are told something about me from their teacher and their teacher was told it by someone who studied with someone who took a weekend lecture from someone who may have studied with me. It sickens me. You see, every time the rent’s due, there’s a thousand actors in this country now calling themselves acting teachers and I can’t tell you how many run around saying they studied with me. And while I’m on the subject, do run from any teacher that tells you their way is the right way, the only way to work. I am violently opposed to such a narrow artistic approach to the craft of acting. My way is not for everyone and for those it is for, I would never be so arrogant to profess that studying with me was the whole story."

Thus spoke Sanford Meisner, one of the world’s most respected and influential acting teachers at Playhouse West in Los Angeles before his death in 1997 at the age of 91.

For 61 of Meisner’s 91 years, he was the director of the celebrated Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theater in New York City and his students included Gregory Peck, Geraldine Page, Grace Kelly, Joanne Woodward, Robert Duval, Steve McQueen, Diane Keaton, John Cassavettes and Sun Valley resident Jim Jarrett.

Jarrett will present "An Evening with Sanford Meisner," an evening of personal reflections and Meisner’s opinions on his days at the Group Theater, Stella Adler, Lee Strasberg, method acting and his vision of the profession in the future, at the Sun Valley Center at 7 p.m. on Sunday. In addition, a portion of Sydney Pollack’s Academy Award winning documentary "Sanford Meisner: The Theater’s Best Kept Secret" will be screened.

"This evening is not an acting lesson or an attempt to convert anyone to the Meisner Technique," said Jarrett. "It is simply a celebration of one of the most respected and colorful teachers of acting this country has ever known."

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Jarrett met Meisner on a summer retreat on the island of Bequia 12 years ago. Meisner had arranged a series of acting classes for 20 actors per month over a period of three months to intensely study his method. After the tutelage of the 60 actors, Meisner selected one third of the group to continue privately in his two-year professional class. Jarrett was one of those students.

Later Jarrett acted as Meisner’s assistant and teacher-in-training, then two years later, in 1988 he "graduated," a gifted teacher in his own right, and has taught the technique ever since.

At around the same time, Jarrett founded the Artists Theater Group – an ensemble of actors, directors and writers dedicated to the standards Meisner believed in.

"Life beats down and crushes our souls and theater reminds us that we have one," Meisner taught. "At least the type of theater that I’m interested in – that is, theater that moves an audience. Actors have the opportunity to literally impact the lives of people if they work on material that has integrity. But today, most actors simply want to be famous. Well, being an actor was never supposed to be about fame and money. Being an actor is a calling and you’ve been given the gift, the ability, to inspire humanity. Think about that on the way to your soap opera audition."

For five years, the Artists Theater Group became a force in Hollywood garnering every major award for theatrical productions including the coveted Drama Logue Critics Award on three separate occasions.

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"I was working my way up the Hollywood food chain," Jarrett said. "I had great agents and a great manager. From student films I was doing national commercials, guest spots on China Beach, Columbo, Cheers, as well as network movies and feature films. But what I realized was I was going to be a Magnum or Ted Dansen from Cheers. You know, ‘I’m really rich but I’m Ted Dansen from Cheers.’"

On the way to yet another audition to assume a series lead, Jarrett said he had an "epiphany."

"I’m a typical actor," he remembered thinking. "I’ve turned my entire career over to waiting for my agent to call. In one week’s time, I dropped my agent and manager and told my wife ‘we don’t have to live here anymore. I’m going to make my own movies my own way and hopefully my talent will catch up with my dreams.’"

Jarrett’s wife, Suzy, was the personal assistant to legendary film producer Don Simpson, who with his partner Jerry Bruckheimer, produced mega hits: Flashdance, Top Gun, Berverly Hills Cop I & II, Days of Thunder, Bad Boys, Dangerous Minds, Crimson Tide and The Rock.

Simpson died in 1995 from a lifetime of substance abuse and a more immediate overdose of drugs.

"For five years I had a view of this ride and what it would be like," Jarrett said.

Suzy became pregnant and the couple moved to a 30-acre plantation on the Big Island of Hawaii to raise their child.

"I continued to teach acting and produced two films," Jarrett said. "Two years turned into four. Hawaii is where I came across ‘Vincent’ a one-man show authored by Leonard Nimoy."

"Vincent" opened on Hawaii in October 1996 and soon after, Jarrett played Van Gogh to sold-out shows at the Liberty Theatre in Hailey. Just prior to taking the show on a 40-city tour, the Jarretts moved permanently to Sun Valley.

The tour ended last month in Manila at the prestigious Philippine International Theater Festival where "Vincent," the only U.S. entry, played before a crowd of 2,000.

After Sunday’s seminar, Jarrett’s back on the road first to California then on to South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. He is also working on two independent films, both documentaries, one on living-legend soccer player Eddie Pope and the other a behind the scenes look at the "Vincent" World Tour.

Jarrett considers Van Gogh the role of a lifetime because he believes this play is what theater should be– educational, humorous, inspiring, visually stunning, and extremely moving.

"I’m sure he’s up there and smiling," Jarrett said of Van Gogh. "That someone in the arts, who also has passion and integrity, could benefit from the story of his life."

Meisner, most likely, is smiling, too. Jarrett’s method is long on his mentor’s technique.

 

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