"Van Gogh was someone doing it not for a dollar bill, but because he believed he'd found his mission in life, God's purpose. I could identify with his struggle, with the hardship of going after your dream."
Art only exists through its creation. From an agnostic perspective a breathtakingly beautiful sunflower is not art, because there is no creator. A breathtakingly beautiful painting of that sunflower, however, is art.
The painter's interpretation of that sunflower, that painter's passion for the flower, imbues the flower's representation with passion.
Thus, art becomes art because of passion. Because the artist cared, was provoked by some thing, some feeling or some experience into creating art.
For a true example of the passion of art meet Jim Jarrett, aka Vincent van Gogh.
Jarrett has devoted 12 years of his life to the story of one of art's most passionate proponents, Vincent Van Gogh. Van Gogh was an artistic genius who received no recognition during his lifetime and whose work was dismissed as that of a mad man (perhaps because he had a tendency to cut off his extremities and mail them to people).
Jarrett discovered Vincent through Leonard Nimoy, the actor of Star Trek fame. Nimoy wrote, produced and starred in a play based on van Gogh's life story, "Vincent." Nimoy's play opened in 1981 and was hugely successful during its three year run. Jarrett however, was oblivious to this.
"I'd never seen it, never heard of it. I hated Leonard Nimoy; well, I hated Star Trek. However, my life was changed, my career as an actor at least, by Leonard Nimoy and by Vincent van Gogh. Two people, who if you said prior to all of this, what do these names mean to you? I would have said Leonard Nimoy, blurgh. And van Gogh? Isn't he the wacko who cut off his ear? I had no connection to the guy."
While on a sabbatical in Hawaii, Jarrett received a script of "Vincent" sent by a former acting student of his.
"My reaction was, Nimoy? Urgh! But on the cover of the script he had put 'this play was written for you.' This man, Tony Montez, is someone I love, he's a dear soul, so I thought, okay, and I read it. When I had finished, all the stereotypes I had about Vincent went out the window. I thought, here's a guy who had a dream, who suffered great ridicule for that dream—boy did I understand that one—from family, from people close to you who don't get you.
"Someone who was doing it not for a dollar bill but because he believed he'd found his mission in life, God's purpose. I could identify with his struggle, with the hardship of going after your dream. He's a purist."
The moment he finished reading the play he contacted Nimoy and within an hour had secured the rights to produce "Vincent."
The one-man play focuses on the week following van Gogh's death. Throughout his life Vincent had written almost daily to his brother Theo. In his 38th year van Gogh died in Theo's arms. Through saving every letter van Gogh had ever written to him, Theo had saved the story of his brother's life. "Vincent" is that story, told by Theo to a room of full of artists and friends that he had gathered to be the audience to his brother's life. Jarrett plays the roles of Theo and Vincent. Slide shows are used throughout to illustrate the performance.
Jarrett's production of "Vincent" has become one of the most successful one-man shows ever—playing to sold-out audiences across North America, Australia, and the Far East
Jarrett premiered "Vincent" in Hawaii, "The show was an enormous success, and people don't go to Hawaii to watch theatre. But I didn't know what I had, I thought, is this success just because we're in Hawaii and they're bored of luaus?! But then we got invited by Bruce (Willis) and Demi (Moore) to come to Sun Valley they'd heard about the show through one of their assistants. We performed two shows at The Liberty and both were packed. That's when I knew I had something. That there had been such strong response in a place like Sun Valley, such an artistically rich community, spoke volumes to me."
An all-consuming passion such as this emotionally wrenching one-man show must take its toll on such an invested actor, but Jarrett has rarely faltered, "One of the things that's great about it is that I tour with the show from September to May. So I take the summer off every year to be with my daughter. Come September I can't wait to go to work again.
"Now I am doing four other shows alongside 'Vincent.' There was a period however, when I didn't have the other four shows. It was just 'Vincent' for the first five or six years. I remember one time we had quite a run, back in Philadelphia I think, and I was doing a lot of shows, and it's a hard show to do. When I walk off stage I'm drained. Sometimes it just feels like you've left a part of yourself out there. That comes at a price. I remember one night thinking I just can't do this anymore.
"That's when I gave birth to the Sandy piece ('The Experience of Sanford Meisner'). Here's a piece that's so powerful but its not so emotionally wrenching, it was nice to have a different ride, if you like."
Jarrett is now touring with "Vincent," "The Sanford Meisner Show" and three youth shows, which he performs in schools across the country. Bearing in mind the expansion of his repertoire, does Jarrett see an end in sight for "Vincent?"
"No. The last show I did I walked off stage and dropped to my knees in a prayer of gratitude. It's still a rich and positive experience for me and I'm not burned out, I'm not even close.
"I mean I'm an actor who makes a proper living doing theater. That's almost impossible! I live so good in Sun-freaking-Valley Idaho! I have this remarkable career, I'm so grateful. I love my job. I love my life.
"I've been doing this long enough to know from the letters and emails and feedback that I'm literally impacting a human being's life. Years ago when George Lucas received his lifetime Oscar he said, 'I simply believe filmmakers are merely teachers with really loud voices.' When he said that I burst into tears, as that's what I believe. That's why I got into this. I didn't become an actor to become a rich and famous guy."
For Jarrett then, "Vincent" still has plenty to offer. He says he is constantly developing the show. For Wood River Valley residents who caught the show's first continental performance in 1997, or in 2001 when it was performed at the nexStage in Ketchum, this will not be a repeat performance, "It's very rich from an acting perspective. Having worked on a part as an actor for so long, it's a great opportunity for development. It changes constantly, not the lines, but it evolves. From the last time I showed it here it's a different piece, it's matured."
There is also the very real prospect of transferring "Vincent" to celluloid, "I've been approached about it and I think it could be quite a film. There's a film director who's a friend of mine, Martin Donovan (the writer of 'Death Becomes Her'). He's a wonderful director. He's the one that first came to me and said what do you think about making this into a film? We just haven't gotten around to it yet. I love film, and I would love to have a louder voice, to quote George Lucas."
"Vincent" will be performed at the nexStage Theater at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 1 and Sunday, Jan. 2. Doors open at 6 p.m. and there will be a Q&A after each performance. The play is not suitable for children under 12. Tickets are $25 and $15 and are available at the nexStage box office or by calling 726-4857. All the proceeds from the show will be donated to Sun Valley Performing Arts nexStage Theater.
"The Experience of Sanford Meisner" will be performed Jan. 6 through Jan. 8 at 7 p.m. at the nexStage Theater.