When author and founder of the retreat Ezekiel Tyrus told me that one of the attendees would be John Kapelos, my enthusiasm for the whole project exploded exponentially. For one thing, my wife Monica knows every single line of The Breakfast Club by heart, and recites each of them just before the characters do, so I was excited not just for me, but for her.
But John is so, so, so much more than “Carl the Janitor.” He was one of the original members of the legendary Chicago-based improvisational comedy troupe, The Second City. He’s starred in dozens of major motion pictures and hit television series, working with everyone from Jackie Gleason to Steve Martin to Jeff Bridges to Michelle Pfieffer, and he is also an accomplished, talented musician. His new album, Too Hip for the Room, comes out this spring. We actually had the honor of listening to some of the tracks and also watching the video for his jazzy version of “Don’t Forget About Me.” It was simply exhilarating.
John is a true renaissance man. And now he’s tackling the art of Creative Writing (though he’s already written a few screenplays). The literary world is in for a treat.
I didn’t know what I could possibly offer someone boasting his impressive professional record as an artist and creative talent on multiple planes. The guy has never stopped working since he first entered the industry while in his early twenties. From comedy to drama to music, John has excelled.
But what I found most respectable about John was John himself. His humility, his empathy, his compassion, his honesty, his sincerity, his accessibility, and his sense of humor were all admirable qualities, but especially so in someone that thrives in an environment that destroys the souls of so many others. That is evidence of his strength of character. It also allowed me to relate to him on sometimes surprising levels.
"How Does One Become a Writer?"
For my workshops, I brought copies of my latest novella, Things I Do When I’m Awake, as an example of the general themes I was discussing, “Dreams, Memories, and Imagination.” The book was largely inspired by the tragic life and recent death of my mother, a former beauty queen and aspiring actress destroyed by the onset of schizophrenia at age 22, while I was still in her womb.
John read the entire novella overnight, and the next day sat me down to tell me how much he enjoyed it, and how touched he was by the subject matter, as well as its execution. This meant a lot to me, not just considering the source, but because I intended the piece to be a tribute to my mother, not mere pulpy exploitation, which is my typical stock-in-trade. John was actually moved to tears.
But this encounter – perhaps the highlight of a brief but bountiful trip that had many, many highlights – told me as much about John as it did about the book. We were able to connect on an emotional level across all barriers of time, status, and history. His response was a revelation not only regarding his sensitivity as a fellow human being and artist, but the power of the written word, its candid expression being the main focus of the retreat.
Perhaps my favorite group event was our Spoken Word Night, when each of us read aloud from our work, either past or current. John read an account of a particular audition that was incredibly insightful and poignant, revealing the vulnerability, insecurity and other challenges even longtime professional actors face on a regular basis, despite their past successes.
It proved to all of us that you never stop growing as an artist, or as a person, since the two are intrinsically intertwined. We all grew by leaps and bounds in both departments, due primarily to our group interaction.
“Don’t You Forget About Me…”
At the end of Zeke’s final workshop, John another piece he had just written, summing up his experiences in Costa Rica. Here is an excerpt, which ironically and perhaps subconsciously channels Anthony Michael Hall’s final voiceover bit in The Breakfast Club:
The Lad from Long Beach, The Lady from Minnesota, The Poet from North Beach, The Pugnacious Floridian, The Seattle Searcher, My New Hero from Stockton, The Gentle Giant from Bloomfield Hills all with sinewy stories and sublime spirits. Thanks so much also to Nick Halverson. It was a great week and well worth it. With Love and profound respect.
I have nothing to add to that, except “Thank you.” Cheers.
PHOTO: NICK HALVERSON