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Apr 7, 2018

My Forrest Gumpy Life: Godspell and Joan Rivers

In my undergrad years at Rocky Mountain College I undertook a triple-major in art, drama and music. There in 1975 I was cast in a role in the musical Godspell, that turned out to have a profound and lasting effect on my life. The production was directed by Larry Whitely from the professional Godspell circuit. Our little production ended up being a pretty big hit that played for weeks in Billings, and then eventually toured throughout the region. The play, based on the gospel of Matthew, featured me as Jesus, my brother Steve as Jesus' right-hand-man, John the Baptist/Judas, and several of our lifelong friends, like Nancy Harper with whom I still sing in church choir every week now. Promoting the show brought a former Rocky student, Bob FitzGerald and his buddy (Nancy's brother) Rusty onto the Rocky staff, (both also in said choir) who eventually formed a group with Steve and I called the Montana Logging and Ballet Co., which became famous in its own right.

But I digress. our show became somewhat of a phenomenon, quite successful at Rocky, and pretty sweet for me as it launched me on the road of a number of subsequent Godspell productions around Montana. In fact that summer I got a call from Larry asking if I would be willing to take the "Jesus" role for actor on the east coast since he was moving to the Broadway production. I said yes and opened within a week at a theater in Stockbridge, Mass., where I was the youngest and the only non-professional cast member. My dressing room had just hosted Leonard Nimoy, who'd just closed a performance run there (and whose name I myself removed from the door!)

Stockbridge is also the site of the famous Arlo Guthrie album (who makes an appearance elsewhere in my narrative) and his hilarious story of Alice's Restaurant. But that's another story altogether.

Joan Rivers and John Davidson on the talk show set.
The funnest story I recall came in the form of a call from a small local TV station in nearby Buffalo, NY. They requested that the "star" of our show come for an interview, so I was sent over. I arrived on the set of this small-time TV station and was introduced to the local host and his two other guests from another production also passing through: John Davidson and Joan Rivers! (I don't know much about him but she was perhaps the first really great American female comedian!) The host basically ignored me, but every so often would ask me some innocuous question about some local restaurant or something I would have no earthly idea about, making me seem pretty irrelevant. Joan recognized what was happening and so she graciously took over the interview! She asked me a string of very interesting questions about my show, she was very funny and we had a great time. I'd even say she saved my bacon! (That is if I wasn't vegetarian). I will always be grateful to her for rescuing me from that embarrassing situation.

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I'm a sculptor/filmmaker living in Montana, USA. I am using art to move the evolution of humanity forward into an increasingly responsive, inclusive and interactive culture. As globalization flattens peoples into a capitalist monoculture I hope to use my art to celebrate historical cultural differences and imagine how we can co-create a rich future together.

I see myself as an artist/philosopher laboring deep in the mines of joy. I've had a good long career of exhibiting work around the world and working on international outreach projects, most notably being the first American to be invited to present a one-person exhibit in the Hermitage Museum. Recently I have turned my attention from simply making metal sculpture to creating films and workshops for engaging communities directly, tinkering with the very ideas and mechanisms behind cultural transformation. I feel that as we face tragic world crises, if the human species favors our imaginative and creative capacities we can cultivate a rich world to enjoy.

For me the deepest satisfaction in making art comes in engaging people's real life concerns rather than providing simple entertainment or decoration. Areas of conflict or tension are particularly ripe for the kind of transformative power that art uniquely carries. I invite any kind of challenge that serves people on a deep level.