Amos’ ‘Comet’ aims for the Eccles Center
December 2, 2011
In 1986, character actor John Amos, known for his roles in "Good Times," "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "Roots," "The District" and "The West Wing" was in dire need of money.
He wanted to create something he could own that would provide him with revenue to help support his family and provide a creative outlet for all the characters and dialogue that he hadn’t the opportunity to play throughout his career.
"I remember standing one night looking at Halley’s Comet and an elderly man was standing near me, laughing as if he had found a long, lost friend," Amos said to The Park Record during a phone call from Northern New Jersey. "He had his kids and grandkids around him and he was telling them about the comet, and I began to wonder about all the things that have happened to this man from the first time he saw the comet until now, and what kinds of experiences he had lived through."
That’s the origin of Amos’ "Halley’s Comet," which he will bring to the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, Dec. 3.
During the play, Amos plays an 87-year-old man who first saw Halley’s Comet when he was a boy and sets a goal to live long enough to see it again. The man then relays all the events that have happened within his lifetime including man’s first landing on the moon, women’s liberation, and technological developments.
Amos decided early on to make it a one-man show.
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"If I had a one-man show, as egotistical as it sounds, I wouldn’t have to put up with any other actors’ egos except for my own," he said with a laugh. "I also knew if I was on time, then the cast would be on time and the production would be ready."
After selling the idea to a couple of venues, Amos contacted his friend John Harris, a tenured professor at Clark Atlantic University and Morehouse College in Atlanta, Ga.
"John taught mass communications, set design and lighting design, and I went to him and told him I had an idea for this show needed his help to shape it," Amos said. "So, John embarked on a tour with me more than 20 years ago and never went back to teaching."
Throughout the years, "Halley’s Comet" has opened more doors than Amos had imagined.
In addition to having the opportunity to take the show on the road, Amos uses a teachers’ guide, based on the play, and holds assemblies and workshops in schools in the cities where he performs.
Harris also gives a session during the workshops on the technical aspects of the performing arts and Amos’ son, K.C., an award-winning director, occasionally accompanies his father on tour, he said.
"Halley’s Comet" was also fundamental in establishing the Halley’s Comet Foundation, which provides positive opportunities for at-risk youth through nautical and maritime programs.
"The foundation is the love of my life because through the it, I get to be a little boy again," Amos said. "You see I fell in love with sailing some 25 years ago, when my son graduated from Cal Arts. As a reward, I took him to the British Virgin Islands and we chartered a sailboat."
The experience had a profound effect on Amos insomuch that he bought his own Spanish galleon, and teamed with the United States Coast Guard and the New York State National Guard to give kids a chance to experience the ocean and sailing.
"It’s a way to help the kids put the pistol down and pick up something more worthwhile," he said.
John Amos’ "Halley’s Comet" will be performed at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, 1750 Kearns Blvd., at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 3. Tickets are $18 to $65 and available by calling (435) 644-3114 or visiting http://www.ecclescenter.org