7/3/20: Liberation from Belief and Myth #poetry


7/3/20: Liberation from Belief and Myth #poetry

My father loved me, but he didn’t like me

He liked the parts of me that I created to please him

and had to dispense with later to honor my natural and honest reality


he barked at me

at an early age

He scared the shit out of me

He was an Italian immigrant

He changed his name

He “believed in America” like the character who delivers the opening monologue of “The Godfather”

That was myth number one — America

“I believe in America”

the first line of “the Godfather”

My life has been a crucifixion

on a cross

of belief and a drive to understand the truth

I’ll get back to America

the main point is even bigger

the main point is belief — not faith

but belief

Belief in something that is more authoritative and powerful

who always has your best interests in mind and would never hurt you

Like a father

but as much as a father loves you

and I was lucky, my father loved me

He still has his own agenda

he still has lies that he uses to justify his life

to rationalize his sins

to maintain his power

to give him meaning

I was taught to believe in things

(belief is different than faith)

and I was born to question

The conflict of my life

is a conflict between nature and nurture

I always enter innocently into relations with persons, places, ideas and things

in a romantic way

I always start idealizing the object of my affections

and becoming disappointed

I embraced new meanings of living

again and again

only to be disappointed

The importance of everything disappears

My dead parents are something much different to me now than they were when I was younger

Previous desires and passions seem silly

Even fundamental things

like money and society and community

seem illusory

I am a pretty smart guy

but I just learned

that Mount Rushmore was created in the same spirit as Confederate War Memorials

The sculptor was a white nationalist

the mountain was defaced

it was a natural Native-American spiritual shrine

Mount Rushmore is a myth

constructed to subjugate a conquered people

A reminder of who was in charge

My father always admired who was “in charge”

even though he was rarely was

I’m sure it drove him crazy that I would argue with him

and wouldn’t listen to him

yet also never fully broke free

You can’t leave family

even when you are totally estranged

The chains of DNA are unbreakable

I am the product of my parents

and of every myth that I ever believed in

and the un-taught, un-influenced essence of my peculiar humanity

I stand naked before the world


intelligently perceiving

an eternally unknown

Deconstructing Myth


participating in reality

Deconstructing Belief

moving fearlessly with faith

discovering meaning

beyond the reach of the authorities

Here’s a list of myths

that I felt and feel driven to understand

MY FAMILY see above — real love and individual agendas.

“FRIENDSHIP” not what I thought it was, a kind of spiritual connection that can’t be invented. When souls expand or contract, friendships end. Friendships are finite, and when they end the result is a solitary state. A friend is alone when he or she meets you. A friend doesn’t have to be like you, but they have to see and support who you are — and vice versa. When the acceptance ends, so does the friendship. Any soulful connection requires surfing the transformations of the other — staying connected based on past iterations of one’s character is mere nostalgia and/or socializing.

THE CATHOLIC CHURCH like America, the beauty of its founding principles is largely betrayed by its history, and includes an endless “do the right thing” debate.

THE JESUITS really smart, too seduced by power. The movie, “The Two Popes” shows this dynamic — Pope Francis’ journey outside of the power structure after trusting it and experiencing the inevitable betrayal — but what compromises has he made today?

EDUCATION No one teaches anyone anything. Primary and secondary education socialize to belief system myths and teach basic skills — often poorly. This combination of propaganda and incompetence causes a lot of problems.

HIGHER ED Colleges brand themselves as citadels of brilliant excellence and high character but fail miserably on both counts. Witness the damnable re-openings planned for the nations’ universities which are stupid and immoral without exception. The operative word here is “brand”. Higher Ed is a cake and eat it too proposition — claiming to be high minded leaders, operating like craven exploitative business.

ENTREPRENEURSHIP Look at the pandemic. Business is asking people to go to work for it, consume for it and die in the process. People are saying no. Narcissism and selfishness marketing itself as noble, increasingly revealing itself as anything but even to people who don’t pay attention until their lives are endangered.

THE LAW One of the great ideas, betrayed by the greed and ego of the professional class that administers it. Only a few lawyers understand THE LAW’S purpose. Most manipulate THE LAW, again, to serve their own base agendas.

MOVIES Only occasionally good. For years I went for the solitude (I usually went to the movies alone) . I could sit in the dark and dream with my eyes open. I’d chew an unlit cigar after I finished my tub of popcorn. The usual mediocre movie was just pleasant color and noise — light and sound flickering over me. A good movie was a bonus — like drawing a $25 lottery ticket. Now that I wouldn’t be caught literally dead in a movie theater, I don’t miss the movies at all. Occasionally, a good movie is playing on our TV. Usually, old movies provide the same banal soothing sound and light in our living room as they did in the multiplex.  

PSYCHOLOGY At a certain age, psychology is replaced by existentialism. For example, I began this piece writing about my father. My act of writing had no emotional content for me. It would have years ago. I look at my relationship with my parents now in a detached, kind of clinical way. I do still feel psychic pain related to other relationships, and I will act out on it from time … but if some memory or current circumstance engenders rage or sadness or anxiety in me, I see that as a flashing light inviting me to reflect upon and understand what is bothering me. Emotion leads to understanding, if you let it. Feeling keeps coming up because there is always something to understand. I don’t practice therapy. I learn.

IMPROVISATION There aren’t any rules. There aren’t any heroes. Improvisation is what I say it is when I do it — just as writing is. Improvisation is a myth destroyer that is often sold as a belief system. I am improvisation. I have nothing now to do with the teachers who loved me years ago, or the hacks that nominally were nurtured in the same tradition but pursued goals antithetical to my conscience and values that I was born to pursue.

SECOND CITY I was part of this place and I identified with it. I don’t any more. It is just lines on a resume. What remains of Second City for me is how I was different than SECOND CITY. Like every other job that I ever had, my experience while working at that job  is what I take away from it. The institution makes no difference whatsoever. What I did is what matters, either with SECOND CITY’S support or in spite of what it wanted. My biography is what matters to me, not SECOND CITY’s history. I resent the conformity of the theater’s informal alumni association, and appreciate the friendship of some individuals that I met there. The moments when SECOND CITY transcended that tendency to conform, are the moments that remain important to me personally. I don’t care about the rest of it.

ART This is the word that I chose to call my freedom. Liberated from BELIEF, I take the responsibility of creating my own meaning. I take on the quixotic task of understanding myself and the world on my own terms.

SUCCESS I resent the idea. Why should anyone assess anyone else’s life? I’m proud of my life and work, but my pride just exists as a boundary-setting mechanism. When it comes to assessing who I am and what I do, I just want to be left alone. I don’t want to hear other people’s opinions about my value  — unless of course they are friends who support my soul. What good are these evaluations? All artists are battered by negative assessments of people incapable of understanding what the artist is doing. And it is a battering because making art requires a good amount of sensitivity. It’s hard. All the ignorant kibbitzing is like rattling a table while a jeweler cuts a diamond. It is VERY ANNOYING.   So I do everything that I can to avoid negative people, and when I have to I lash out at them. I used to try to be above it, and not say anything, but I have learned that I feel better when I tell them off. I don’t lay them out for their benefit, but rather for my own. I shout them down. I don’t blame them for their ignorance. I do blame them for their invasion of my privacy and freedom. They can be bothered that I reject their MYTHS. They should keep it to themselves and not mess with my freedom. And feeling better is important, because it is necessary to keep going. And keeping going is connection to PROCESS and PROCESS is what is important — not SUCCESS. I have no tolerance for discussions of SUCCESS. SUCCESS is an insult to, and imposition upon, my freedom.

WORK Real work doesn’t feel like work. I spend hours and hours on my writing and don’t resist a second of it — no discipline is required. Teaching and house cleaning and other chores require discipline and are necessary. I don’t want to call them work — how about NECESSITY? I just want to write and think now, everything else is a distraction. I have FAITH in ABUNDANCE, but not a belief in it. I feel OPTIMISM this morning, but I know that OPTIMISM is not trustworthy. HOPE accepts the feeling of OPTIMISM, in the full knowledge that things don’t always work out — but it doesn’t matter because it is all about PROCESS. PROCESS is what important. The right thing at the right moment is what matters — not the success of it. 

MONEY is now an abstraction — just a way to organize power and control which is redistributed when the powerful fuck up — which is happening at the moment. The rich are slowly realizing that they have to give much of the money that they have stolen from the rest of us back to us in order to save the economy. If they don’t surrender money they’ll lose everything. So MONEY is bullshit — it flows — no one holds it permanently —- MONEY is not the bedrock of reality that I BELIEVED it was my entire life —- MONEY was the incontrovertible fact — you had to enslave yourself to a certain extent to survive — now if MONEY wants to live, it has to support YOU — and if the rich don’t catch on — it’s all over for them too.

and AMERICA — I write in detail about all of these themes and probably more, and AMERICA is as big as any of them. For today, let’s look at Mount Rushmore — that statement of idealism as an assertion of white supremacy elevated to MYTH and converted into a BELIEF in an AMERICA that never existed — the product of a murderous nurturance in opposition to our nature, and the liberation from MYTH and BELIEF for me, is my ART, the WRITING of THE RICK BLOG.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas



6/29/20: Simple Elements of Art #poetry


6/29/20: Simple Elements of Art #poetry

A biographer of James Baldwin says that Baldwin wrote with moral outrage and love

I think I do that too

I think all artists do that

Comparisons between artists are useless

Looking at what is essential to all of their work is what matters

in consideration of what is elemental in art

Moral outrage from a place of love is a simple element of any art

Art paradoxically is detached and take sides

Being detached while taking sides is a simple element of art

The artist looks at “what is” with innocent honesty

and advocates for the higher potentials inherent in what is

An artist has nothing to work with besides him or her self

and his or her perspective on the outer world

The depth and complexity of what the artist sees and feels

determines the craft and form of the art

Arts “education” that emphasizes craft and form first encourages superficiality and conformity

Aesthetics are unimportant in art

As the poet says truth is beauty

The degree of truth in art is equal to the degree of beauty

Genre is unimportant in art

Classification of forms of art is an after-the-fact academic exercise

much as an obituary defines a person after he or she is dead

Art is created by the interaction of the spontaneous and the structured

Jazz and classical music meet

Improvisation fills the space of art

rationality steps in and brings organization

Sometimes the artist starts with a blank campus and an impulse

Sometimes he or she starts with an elaborate architectural structure

Always the interaction between the two hemispheres of the human mind

leads to the final form and content

Art is more than performance

Art is more than self-expression

Art is simply the pursuit of consciousness of the nature of reality and truth

and communicating the documentation of that journey.

The artist must contain him or her self

Sequestering him or her self from all people and influences who would distract him or her from his or her artistic orientation

Art is not an opinion

Art, like science, should be revered

Art is what an artist DOES

An artist is NOT art itself

Therefore an artist actually loses him or her self in the act of creating art

Everything petty and small in the artist is transcended

when he or she creates

The artist touches the highest potentialities of mankind

like an astronaut, the artist sees and communicates about places man has never been

and then eventually returns to current circumstance with everyone else

The artist lays out the challenge

a marker

of what we can work to be

Without art, man descends to his animal nature

only concerned with survival

Ignoring the higher aspects of being alive

An individual artist can never impart the absolute truth

An individual can never have that omniscient perspective

An individual artist points to the truth

An artist points

When artists work collectively

they never work from one shared perspective

they share a common focus

not a common point of view

and then they harmonize their points of view

each artist educating his or her collaborators on their unique perspective

a costume designer opens up a new view of a character for an actor

a composer reveals new themes in a film for a director

and so on

An artist is always open to influence

An artist can’t work at all when closed off from the world

and at the same time is completely unmoved by others on questions of what is real and true

This is a very subtle distinction

an artist always listens

but never listens to

Often an artist is driven by the desire to remove the pain resulting from his or her personal ignorance

Each achieved level of enlightenment brings an easing calm

In this way, art is transformative

Everyone is not an artist

but everyone feels that pain of personal ignorance

What distinguishes an artist from his or her audience is simply the ability to research and communicate the reality and the truth

The ability to understand and experience reality and the truth belongs to all human beings

So the artist is in that sense nothing special

He or she just has a job to do

to chart what experience and nature teaches us all

if we listen and pay attention

and challenge ourselves to go further and further

not to solve mysteries

but to more fully participate in those mysteries.

When people are informed by art

they participate in work and the other activities of life in new and more complete ways

The formerly mundane takes on meaning

Art provides all that education promised to us but failed to deliver

Art liberates

and gives us direction

in our eternally new found


Independent particular unique reflecting and participating in the All

Atoms are solar systems

The cells of our bodies organize themselves into galaxies

Each point in an infinite field is the center

Deeper and broader

than linear time and locality allow us to see

beyond occasional glimpses of ecstatic epiphany.

The artist has to know that he or she is an artist

and then simply not worry about it.

When the artist consistently and persistently engages in the process

his or her efforts

will be necessary and worthy.

That which seems most abstract

and away from the exercise of power

is what determines the fate of the world.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas









6/27/20: Improvisation’s Looming Existential Decision #improvisation #secondcity #poetry

the rick blog live on stage

6/27/20: Improvisation’s Looming Existential Decision #improvisation #secondcity #poetry

I wrote an open letter to the new head of Second City. I posted the letter, as I do all of my pieces on various social media pages and platforms.

Here’s the link to the letter if you haven’t seen it. https://richardsteventhomas.wordpress.com/2020/06/08/6-8-20-open-letter-to-anthony-leblanc-interim-executive-director-of-second-city/

I had a generally positive response to what I wrote, but an internet troll nicely personified an existential decision that improvisation currently faces — and is discussed in the letter.

Here is the troll’s comment and my response. What’s it going to be, improvisers?

  • Steve Lubin So you had some good times and some bad times. Sounds like life to me. But of course if anything offends you it must be eliminated. I tried to read your whole letter but it really became redundant as a woe is me and pity me. Look, comedy is now dead along with history. You social-justice warriors have seen to that.
    • Like
    • Reply
    • 3h
  • Steve Lubin I think you were reading something else and you should work on your reading comprehension. Look up the meaning of the word “redundant”. And get out of improvisation and go to a Trump rally. I stand by my writing and my teaching and my improvisation. I ask everyone to read my piece and look at my website to see my credentials and background at www.richardthomasjd.com/about and to not be distracted by this internet troll. Steve, sorry if this is long — I know you have problems paying attention. LEARN what comedy and history are. You know how you do that by WORKING. I studied with Paul Sills. I worked for 4 years in the resident company. I became a lawyer and specialized in ethics litigation. I applied my work as a college professor. What the fuck have you ever done? Who are you? You are what has happened to Second City that has been so destructive. People like me have ignored people like you forever. Really, why should we care. I don’t need your approval. But your trolling is very effective for my purposes. I don’t write this reply to you but to anyone else that sees it. Compare me to this asshole and choose what you want — not necessarily us personally, but what do you want for SC and improvisation in general. Steve’s brand of mean lazy stupidity has had far too much sway over the years. Why not go for something better …

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

6/27/20: Culture of Brutality #poetry #blacklivesmatter #pandemichumansacrifices #willtopower #therootoftheproblem

george floyd mural

6/27/20: Culture of Brutality #poetry #blacklivesmatter #pandemichumansacrifices #willtopower #therootoftheproblem

Of course it is racism

But its even worse

Skin color is the threshold question

once “otherness” is established

other hatreds come into play

George Floyd was killed out of envy

the huge man

was felled by an inferior rival

who could never beat him fair and square in a boxing ring

It wasn’t fear driving the killer cop

it was competition

The killer wanted to be able to cast George Floyd’s literally giant shadow

To have Floyd’s natural authority

the authority of the large, gentle man

but the killer knew that was impossible

The killer had to be certified in his authority

with a badge

and qualified immunity

There was nothing natural about it

Floyd’s existence reminded the cop of his own smallness

The cop knew his own power was just a Halloween costume

Floyd’s royal stature was an unintended indictment of the cop

The cop saw his better walking in the street every day

and he hated him

so the cop killed Floyd

Natural superiority in a place of social inferiority is dangerous

Floyd didn’t belong in the same space of that limited, petty cop

and the hazard was insurmountable

the tragedy inevitable

God did not create the noble to be subjugated by the small

Envy is murderous

“If I can’t have what you have, you can’t have it either”

Cops killing black people

like slander killing good people’s careers through office gossip

same dynamic

Grimmer results

These cops are just crude unsophisticated examples

of a lousiness in the American character

that rifles through all strata and activities of our society

from the hoi polloi to the wealthy

from the unskilled laborer to the the most brilliant academic and professional elites …

The black flower child who was killed in Colorado was another story

A poetic massage therapist

with a natural courtesy, innocence and kindness

that the cops perceived as weak

was killed for that perceived weakness

for the same reasons that bad children torture kittens


This is all mortal and not venial sin

Racism gives leverage

for the deeper problem to come to the fore

a perverse lust for the sensation of power

the need to dominate

The rapist sees that which makes a woman desirable

and chooses to hurt it rather than love it

This culture of brutality

This admiration for bullies

Stealing joy

stealing credit

stealing money

stealing self-esteem

stealing confidence

stealing possibility


in family rooms

and schools

and social clubs

and mean streets

and fancy offices

among the barely literate

and the people with large vocabularies

Genitals on fire

hearts of stone

The Culture of Narcissism is The Culture of Brutality

George Washington knew that slavery was wrong

He “gave” his slaves their freedom in his will

What took him so long?


Washington was brutal to preserve his prestige

Justice and kindness would make him look like a loser

So he kept up appearances

His bad character was useful in preserving the image of his good character

Lincoln wanted reconciliation with the South

so he named Andrew Johnson his Vice-President

It was a big mistake

The Civil War should have defeated the brutality of slavery

600,000 men didn’t die for nothing

but it didn’t

You can’t reconcile with evil

You must not tolerate the intolerable

I fear Biden will repeat Lincoln’s mistake

He will make good progress on many fronts

but will be lax in ending the brutality once and for all

We have to put a dagger in brutality’s heart

with justice

without hate

aiming for rehabilitation instead of reconciliation

People of color murdered for fear, envy and need for domination

Hundreds of thousands murdered as human sacrifices to the greed of entrepreneurs, corporations and universities

We must defend human life and its natural and spiritual impulses

against brutality’s false authority

World War II had a more satisfying conclusion than the Civil War

Nazis were judged at Nuremberg

Germany owned up to its sins and repented

and taught its evil past in its schools

Redeemed by holy shame

American brutality in all of its forms

in all of its venues

in all of its permutations

in all of the myriad guises of its bullies and victims

must be punished in a humane and enlightened way

in order to end this mean foolishness once and for all

It won’t be easy

but we’ve already started

We just have to stay focused and look deeply enough to see what is animating all of our suffering.

We’ve done a great thing already

We’ve called out the brutality

We’ve repudiated its fraudulent claim of power over us

now we have to deal with it.

History will aid us in a long, complicated and arduous process

if we remain courageous

honest with others

and true to ourselves.

We were born with an innate sense of decency and justice

So were our adversaries

we must train ourselves to always listen to that innate sense

even when it seems impractical or to lack common sense

the true action

the true word

performed and uttered in a modest room

will fell empires.

We must give our lives to save our lives

As we ourselves are delivered from evil

we can’t tolerate it, or cooperate with it

or fight it on its own terms.





Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas








6/25/20: Mike Nichols #poetry #America #movies #theater #improvisation

Video from Mike Nichols’ Heartburn — 30 year old me working for Mike Nichols in the brown shirt and brown hair

6/25/20: Mike Nichols #poetry #America #movies #theater #improvisation

Some of my beats are America, movies, theater and improvisation. All of those beats are in trouble right now, and also on the brink of great opportunity. Today’s segment is a song of praise that surprised me about a man who surfed time from Hitler to Obama, adapting and thriving as a human being, artist and businessman — in that order — maintaining his core and transforming his approaches to stay timely, relevant and healing until the end.

Mike Nichols was a nice man

a good man

a man from another time

I worked for him briefly

He made me feel like I was a genius and the next big thing

He did that for most everybody

He loved actors

and writers

and audiences

He personified the best of what Second City could be

during and after

he hit a sweet spot that touched art and commerce and being a mensch

He was very smart

and very warm

I didn’t set out to praise him so today

I started with the idea that Mike Nichols’ life and work and career are already of a time gone by

never to return

Nichols tracked the arc that America followed from culture to markets

he died before our descent into fascism

but he surely saw it coming

he knew it

he saw it as a seven-year old escaping Nazi Germany

and he never forgot it

He was a hybrid American

a refugee

A paradox

The ultimate insider

deflecting all eyes

from his role as precocious outsider

That was his ultimate magic trick

a master of disguise

Therefore …

He wasn’t as innocent as most of the rest of us

He knew how dark Man could be

But also how light

He was Einstein’s cousin!

What kind of crazy strains of goodness and brilliance was at his childhood dinner table

from the lesser members of the family who shared that gene pool?

He was a bard of how psychological and sociological attitudes affected ordinary people’s behaviors

His work, to me, seems to be about always finding a route to kindness, empathy, humanity

through a field of weakness, quiet desperation and temptation

He wasn’t nice just to be nice

Like everything else about him

he knew that it was smart to be nice

He got the most out of his colleagues with the sweet attitude

and he relied on them greatly

Nichols was less a creator and more of an arranger of other people’s talents

He had remarkable taste

Like a great baseball manager he knew how to put his players in the optimal positions and situations in order to win

Working that week for Mike Nichols was a great experience for me

Very instructive

Turns out, I was just a brief visitor to his world

I don’t do what Mike Nichols did

I just tell the truth

He was more subtle

He told as much truth as the audience could hear

He listened to the audience

and like a master politician

he led them as far as they could go and never went farther than what they were ready for

It’s my job just to tell the truth

I don’t think one approach is better than the other

Both are needed

Nichols was, and I am an untrained intellectual

Our type isn’t certified to understand things

We just look

I retreated to Mike Nichols yesterday afternoon

watching old videos in my sanctuary

as America goes through its necessary unraveling

and begins to

at long last

deal with racism

and capitalism

and sexism

and all the other abstractions we attach

to our fear, ignorance, arrogance,

stupidity, meanness and cruelty

and old, dead, man of the past

Mike Nichols

was less an escape

and more of a balm to me

Nichols made a lot of money

and made a lot of art

but as I watched him get progressively older in his interviews

those material things

were revealed to be means and not the end

I liked him much more than I expected to

The man dwarfed the prodigious body of work

and the gold medal career

Mike Nichols had a special life

My week with him was a special week

Nichols saw the world’s darkness with the eyes of refugee from Hitler’s Germany

its potential delights as a golden boy who enjoyed stratospheric early success

and its moral responsibility as a spoiled boy who more than anything wanted to grow up to be loving man

When I was with Mike Nichols for a week

I was in awe and nervous for that week

Stunned by the movie stars and New York intellectuals that I sat by

He was impressed by all of that too

but never to the exclusion of what really mattered

and now I see why fate sent me into that brief close proximity to Mike Nichols

and to my distant appreciation of him in the subsequent years

culminating with my video viewing yesterday

and it has nothing to do

with Hollywood


show business


art even!



Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas









6/22/20: Charles Grodin #poetry #successandfailure #rejection #choice

character film

6/22/20: Charles Grodin #poetry #successandfailure #rejection #choice

Success and failure

Acceptance and rejection

“Rich and famous” and “getting good”

“Anger and aggression” and self-esteem

Charles Grodin went back to the Neighborhood Playhouse in 2008

He had studied acting there

He didn’t have much good to say about acting teachers

“They are usually too self-important”

“If I were teaching acting I would get out of the way. Just create a place where people can get up and act in front of other people. That’s the whole point of acting class. You can’t get work so you go get some experience and the experience teaches you. If I were teaching, I’d be sure not to say anything negative. Let people do scenes again and again. They will get better with repetition — simply learning from the experience.”

Grodin was talking to Dabney Coleman, another talented actor who didn’t have Grodin’s self-esteem.

Coleman loved the Neighborhood Playhouse because he was accepted there and recognized for who he was.

Grodin didn’t really love the Neighborhood Playhouse.

He appreciated the fact that it gave him a space to get crucial experience.

Grodin didn’t need the approval of the other people. He didn’t need acceptance or to be recognized for who who he was. This attitude inoculated him from the grinding rejection of pursuing a career as a professional actor.

In a certain way, Grodin didn’t pursue a career as a professional actor. He simply “wanted to get good.”

He took each rejection and either used it as a lesson in how to get better, or trusted his own assessment of the value of his work. He never saw that a person’s position of situational authority necessarily meant that they knew what they were doing.

Grodin is a compassionate man who shares his wisdom about:

Success and failure

Acceptance and rejection

“Rich and famous” and “getting good”

“Anger and aggression” and self-esteem —

with anyone in the general public who is ready to listen.

It is no accident that some of Grodin’s first opportunities to act in challenging roles came in separate projects directed by Mike Nichols and Elaine May.

Nichols and May began with the Compass Players

whose foundational acting methodology came from the work of Viola Spolin

Spolin rejected (rejection is a two-way street, and on closer inspection almost always mutual) “success and failure”

and replaced those oppressive concepts with “play” (which in my writing I usually call “art”)

Spolin transcended “social acceptance and rejection” and wrote of getting beyond “approval and disapproval”

She did not see the group as a collective of conformity. She saw it as a collective of play.

Spolin rejected “teaching”. She wrote “No one teaches anyone anything.”

Spolin knew that experience is the only teacher

and that all authority in the person of a boss, leader or group

is false.

Self-esteem and real connection.

Spolin asserted another kind of “acceptance”

not as an antonym for “rejection”

but as an embrace of truth

Grodin and Spolin believed in achieving our individual highest potentials in loving congress with the world

There is something very profound in this play

Spolin’s son, the theater director and teacher Paul Sills, loved the philosophy of Martin Buber … I and Thou … 

this mystical interaction between the self and the world

resulting in an at-one-ment

a unity

Peter Brook, a great theater director, who never worked with any of the people previously mentioned here, I don’t believe

described theater as “dreams mixed with shit”

Grodin tried to achieve that mixture

and had moments

a few

when it came to pass

but largely he found it impossible to prevent the shit from overwhelming the dreams

He left acting

and did other things

occasionally returning

only to be freshly disappointed

This dissatisfaction is not a bad thing

We don’t care about success or failure, remember?

Certainly, most pseudo-improvisational acting is a betrayal of Spolin

paying formal lip service to exercises, games and rules

to serve the value systems of the advertising agencies and commercial film and TV studios

that are devoted to the antithesis of what Spolin was

or what Grodin is

My own experience has taught me that I feel good in the company of Grodin and Spolin

and in the company of Jesuits

who also believe in learning through experience

the blossoming of the individual in loving intercourse with the world

and a mystical contact with the All which is beyond faith

and can be accessed through exploration and reason …

I feel good there with those people

I feel bad with:

Success and failure

Acceptance and rejection

“Rich and famous” not “getting good”

“Anger and aggression” not self-esteem

Grodin writes

and so do I

The theater was never what I loved

it was that Grodin/Spolin thing

that way of living …

Another actor, Alan Alda …

(these actors know some things)

said that you can’t go around difficult emotions

you can only go through them

Grodin says that he saw through rejection

He lived another way

I still think he felt it

so did Viola Spolin

I don’t think they could have spoken and written about it so beautifully if they hadn’t

I told a now lost friend

lost before he died

that people had criticized me but I proved them wrong

I was so proud of who I am and what I have done

and he looked perplexed

The next time I saw him, he said “your value is not determined by what you think — what matters is what other people say”

It hurt me so deeply

It was irrationally painful

I couldn’t even admit to myself how painful his statement was

it seemed so stupid

I felt so vulnerable

and childish

why did I care so much?

The lessons which I learned through my own experience

that I try to communicate to you here by talking about Charles Grodin and Viola Spolin and Jesuits

They are all me

just as Grodin was Spolin before he met Nichols and May

It hurts to lose a friend

It hurts to think that you are welcome somewhere and then you are not

If you don’t feel hurt you were never there

If you get stuck in the pain you are no good to yourself or the world

If you don’t go through the pain you don’t learn anything

and have no higher consciousness to express to the world

I learned in my pain

more about what a friend is

I needed someone smarter and more secure

(I met Dabney Coleman once when we were both much younger — he was insecure then too — his classmate Grodin is more my speed)

I need someone who doesn’t believe in

Success and failure

Acceptance and rejection

“Rich and famous” instead of “getting good”

“Anger and aggression” instead of self-esteem

I teach and write

I need friends and groups where I can teach like Spolin and the Jesuits in my own unique way

and write with the same spirit as Grodin in my own unique way

This is all about me and my transforming relationship with the world

It’s not about Charles Grodin or Viola Spolin or the Jesuits or my lost friendship

The black and white film of the Neighborhood Playhouse

The “successful” old alumni coming home

The black box theater

and the dance rehearsal area

the dressing room and the lounge

the administrative offices serviced by the tiny old elevator

littered with posters and props and playbills from student productions from years gone by

the play is not the thing

it is the old actors themselves

some nervously looking for approval

igniting the flames of long-forgotten rivalries

some nostalgically wandering through the premises

clinging to a moment when they were young and loved

and Grodin detached

making the past something else

suffering and liberation

Life Lessons.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas












6/20/20: Institutions #poetry #iO #secondcity #lyricopera #mercurytheater

6/20/20: Institutions #poetry #iO #secondcity #lyricopera #mercurytheater

Institutions rise and institutions fall

They begin with creative innovation

and attract the talented and smart

like moths to flames

The talented and smart blossom

the institutions are the places where they grow

and then they leave and make names for themselves

Business people step in and turn the innovators’ work

and the talented and smart people’s subsequent success

into brands

As if the walls of the institutions magically made men and women

innovative, talented and smart

People pay to watch the institutions’ walls

and to learn from the institutions’ walls

suckers born every minute

But by this time the magic has left the building

the innovators are all dead

the talented and smart are off making it in larger institutions

or on their own

making it in all sorts of innovative ways

that have nothing to do with the institutions

Some talented and smart people still pass between the institutions’ walls and succeed

because that is what talented and smart people generally do

they find places to grow and water themselves

turn their faces toward the sun

take any experience

good or bad

and use it to develop the seed inside of themselves

which was placed there by God

and more powerful than any institution

charged particles in a cyclotron

destroying and creating worlds

So the brand survives.

Marketing is a powerful thing

and crowds of people visit the institutions

learning and watching

and the institutions make a lot of money

taking something less than ordinary

and packaging it as special

Then something happens from the outside

a pandemic

a revolution

a depression

all of the above

and the institutional dinosaurs become extinct

it seems sudden

but it is a natural thing

a process of evolution and demise

like when an old person’s memories die at the moment of their death

It is the innovation and talent and intelligence that matters

not the institutions’ walls

Good riddance or nostalgia

what difference does it make?

That which seemed so concrete

all the money and buildings and rooms

is what is transitory

the innovation talent and intelligence

the love that shines through the layers of trivial mediocrity

the excellence that transforms the mundane to all that truly matters

is what stays.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas





6/17/20: Why I Never Went For It #poetry

6/17/20: Why I Never Went For It #poetry

No offense, but I don’t owe you an explanation

I don’t write, or teach for that matter, to explain anything to anybody

I write to understand

I overhear myself and I invite you to overhear too

Your presence here makes me feel useful

But I hate the idea of owing other people explanations

I hate how the black families who lost loved ones to police violence

feel pressured to perform their grief in front of television cameras

I used to think that I wrote in order to justify myself

that notion bothered me

but I never did

I wrote and write to understand myself.

I never went for it

I never wanted to part of it

Then I would think that there was something wrong with me

Because peers who went for it

told me I was weak for not going for it

They called me “effete”

and “poetic”

When they felt kindly toward me they compared me to St. Francis Assisi

and Henry David Thoreau

They called me an artist

I lived on those kind evaluations

Held onto them like life preservers

never fully understanding who I was

One of the first good things that I wrote provoked anger from a would-be mentor


I didn’t want to

I didn’t know why

I didn’t know how to

I still don’t

I don’t live in the world

“Build relationships with critics,” well – meaning friends advised me

They were sad for me

They had some success and they wanted me to enjoy what they enjoyed

For awhile, I was ashamed of myself

I thought that I was jealous of those friends

But I wasn’t jealous at all

I enjoyed watching their performances

I was happy that they were happy

I guess I thought that I should be jealous

I guess I thought that there was something wrong with me

I felt like I was being physically beaten by criticism

People saw the intelligence and character

but they saw me as a coward

and they told me so

Even people who thought very highly of me

said that I was hiding

I heard an actor say on TV that the best actors that he knew never made it

They were too sensitive for the business

And I was and am certainly that

People well-disposed to me and indifferent or worse

always went to the weakness track

They never saw the pain

and I do hurt more deeply than they do

not because I am more of a human being

but because I am an artist

and everybody doesn’t make art

It’s an occupational hazard

My father who knew me better in some ways than all the personalities of society, that big father substitute

heard me deciding whether or not to regret a past decision

I didn’t pursue an opportunity to write for a big TV show

and wondered whether that was a great error

at a later moment when I was at loose ends and didn’t know what to do

My father told me

“Maybe you didn’t want to do it.”

Dad was right

I didn’t want to do it.

I didn’t and don’t want to do any of it.

I live in a parallel universe

where people don’t “get” publishers

and ingratiate themselves to favorable critics

and compromise their work to give the bosses what they want

Artists quietly do their work

and get support




side jobs

Somehow one gets by

supported by an abundance that isn’t driven by the laws of business

Life and spirit become one

I don’t enjoy my old friends’ movies and TV shows anymore

I only liked those things before I understood who I was

My old friends do “near art”

I just coined the phrase

Their work has elements of the truth

but they can’t go all the way

They worry about how their words get over

You can’t really write until you don’t care about “success”

Art has nothing to do with popularity

Other things that I heard from professionals

“You are too sincere to be an actor” — well-meaning

“You are an amateur” — dismissive

I am sincere

and I am an amateur

I can’t claim to be the voice of truth

I’m not arrogant

but I don’t lie

I am not even tempted to lie

and I won’t lie for your applause or money

and I guess that makes me an amateur

All artists — real not near — are amateurs

we’ll take needed money wherever we can find it

but we would never change a word of our work for money

I hear “successful” people

on TV and in social media

discuss how the economy must re-open

they say, “yes, the pandemic is dangerous”

“but we have to take risks”

the most direct of them acknowledge that hundreds of thousands of Americans are dying and will die

They don’t get more granular in their observations

Granularity meaning — old people in nursing homes, prison inmates, poor people in “essential” jobs and a few unlucky younger, whiter more affluent people

will die

These people will die

so that small businesses


so that upper middle-class young people

“have optimal educational experiences”

So that deans won’t have their schools pursue more modest growth agendas

so that shareholders get their dividends

so that rich people get richer

The pursuit of American success

is violent

To “make it” is to have blood on one’s hands

I never wanted any part of that

I didn’t know why

but I knew it was wrong

Mass murder to maintain our water parks

I’m no St. Francis of Assisi

I understand myself at age 64


He got it when he was very young

Thoreau was ready to write his words when he was in his 30’s

I wasn’t ready until I was 60

I felt conflict about all of this until this morning

and who knows if there isn’t deeper to go

It is still

and will always be mysterious to me

how Thoreau and St. Francis

and van Gogh

and all of the others …

“got over”

not for their own sake

but for effectiveness

to further the purposes of art …

People read me

things happen

practical opportunities arise

You simply keep working and move forward

Just self-overhearing this morning

thanks for listening in …

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas










6/14/20: I Write To … #poetry

6/14/20: I Write To … #poetry

I write to hear myself

to listen to what I think

to catalogue what I know

to process all of my thoughts and emotions

to make my life my own

to keep my life my own


my heroes

my teachers

archetypes of my psyche

dream figure victims of injustice

noble figures struggling

thrown in quicksand and left there

for dead

valiantly trying to climb to solid ground

Stunned by the violence





trying to get beyond it all

and live in the joy of their immense potential

Sometimes purposeful

sometimes flailing


with knees occasionally buckling

under the burden of white oppression …

African-Americans argue with the white power structure

asserting that they suffer and feel

they hurt

they demand justice









they can’t keep asking our permission to live in their God-given equality

having to ask in itself is unequal










The bartering

the fighting

the demanding


Fuck them

fuck the white power structure

you don’t need their permission for a goddam thing

you don’t have to be an entrepreneur or live any other way they tell everybody is the way to live

you don’t have to amass money

or be the new master

you can be who you are right now

the condescension doesn’t  have to bother you

Fuck them

do whatever you goddam please

know that they will kill you

rape you

steal from you

so avoid them

they aren’t worth it

not to say that you don’t fight them when you have to defend yourself

but fuck them really

You have been leading the rest of us

making concrete America

making moral America

You keep leading us to being better people

But fuck us now

Really — enough is enough

at a certain point a shitty student just isn’t worth the energy

You have loved us so much and we haven’t deserved it

get over that

we’ve exhausted you

depleted you

Some of us are complete assholes and the rest of us are dense fools

Fuck us

Do what you want

Pay us no mind

You are too good for us

First you really love somebody or group or job or thing

and you feel like they love you

then you can’t breathe

something is wrong

why? why?

You’re trying to get along

why are they like this

and the next step is that you see the truth of the assholes that you loved

and they weren’t worth it

Black people you have been denied dignity by people who don’t have any

Don’t work with them

or belong with them

Protect yourself from them

and do whatever you fucking please

and think about yourselves in any way that you fucking please

don’t let trash define you

You came to this continent as innocents

You have been abused children for 400 years

You looked up to us

You expected help from us

You loved us

We wounded you

grave wounds

we were jealous and tried to destroy all of your genius

some of you were martyrs

some of you adapted to our bullshit

and became almost one of us

but sensing that dreadful difference at all times

some of you became enraged and fought back

answered violence for violence

None of you were wrong

I write to know what I think

I process my own life

I identify with you more than I have a right to

You go somewhere

you work hard

you care

you help people

you ignore the bossy

for as long as you can

and then you finally realize that you can’t associate with the bossy anymore

You are better than the bossy

and you leave

History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake

I don’t want to care anymore

I don’t want to care about my wounds anymore

I don’t want to care about where I don’t fit in

I don’t want to care what other people think about what I am doing

I hate assessments

I hate grades

I don’t think I care about that bullshit anymore

I have never acted like I cared

I don’t think that I have ever acted like I cared

I learned at every stop

about myself

and the little shreds of connection

a person here, a person there

I honestly believe that I am better than every person, place or thing who ever said that they were better than me

I don’t think that I am rebellious

I think that I should be honored as a guest wherever I go

I never signed up to be used as a tool

I’m not a slave

I believe in mastery

and I don’t believe in masters

I think that the shaming to be doing something

the persistent hectoring

you should you should you should

is an assault

a pummeling

I have to block the punches

and dance around the ring

avoid the hassle

stay in place

don’t get infected

I don’t do

I be

I be and I do when I have the opportunity

and the opportunity comes

it always comes

if you be every day

I have no problem with suffering

I want to end this type of suffering

I don’t want power

except over my own life

and I want equality

and no one ultimately can give those things

but me

Oh they can fuck with me sometimes

but they can’t hurt me

I’m almost on to them

I’m almost there

We shall overcome.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas












6/14/20: The Artist is Brilliant; The Man is Small #poetry

6/14/20: The Artist is Brilliant; The Man is Small #poetry

The Artist is brilliant

The Man is small

The Artist hears everything

and listens to no one

clear and brave and not confused

full of wonder and as large as the universe

The man is solipsistic

hurt, doubtful, angry

burdened by petty slights

frustrated and dissatisfied

The Artist reflects

The Man obsesses

Yet let us praise small things

The Artist is glorious

The Man is admirable

The Man clears away obstacle after obstacle

so that the Artist can run free

The Artist luxuriates in solitude

The Man worries there

The Man takes care of business

and makes a thousand mistakes

The Artist is perfection

The Artist brings peace

The Man is struggle

The Artist is wise

The Man is in pain

The Man is courageous

He refuses to avoid any agony

The Artist’s canvas is the fruit of the man’s labor

The adversity of every provocation of the world

is the Man’s ordeal

and the Artist’s opportunity

The Man fails at all that he should have been

so that the Artist can proudly be what he is.

I’ve always known that everyone is not an artist.

I read it once or twice and then observed it’s true

It has taken me longer to understand that everyone is also not a man …

Not men doing what their fathers want

Not men competing with the others

Not men playing out proscribed roles

written for them by master planners

dull and dead

feelings reduced to sentimentalities

off-the rack insights

cowards, really

never tuning out the dictates of the world

in order to really perceive it

and their unique nature

Thoughtless, insensitive and cruel

animals really, these Not men

surviving or Not by dint of their fitness

winning and losing

achieving nothing

lives of quiet desperation

sound and fury signifying nothing

never taking the next step

until they are incapable of doing so

suffering from atrophy of the soul

divine impulses engender sclerotic responses

Not men feel vague occasional pangs of longing

which they ignore

and over time simply accept as their fate

and the acceptance makes it true

A Man

on the other hand

is always anxious

a flame of dissatisfaction gestates in his belly

A Man tends that flame every day

and the inspiration explodes from within him

A Man is only a host

for the divine

a most humble vessel

for the manifestation of …

For a moment a Man is sure-footed and secure

serenely aware of the stupid and unreliable structures created by the Not men

and the perfection of Life as created by …

the pantheons of gods who live furtively and sluggishly and impatiently and expectantly

inside the Man

Man’s labor transforms into God’s song

and then the cycle repeats itself

Grace and awkwardness.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas