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Our Lives Have Changed: Traverse City actor uses pandemic stimulus money to present one-man show

Kendra Carr


John Klapko was able to have his dress rehearsals at the Old Town Playhouse. The stage still had ladders and lamps in the back to illuminate construction work happening backstage. The rest of the stage was empty, except for John and a chair. 

The Traverse City actor didn’t have anyone to run stage lights so he performed in the work lights.

“So the curtain will go up, and it’s just going to be a black stage,” John said. “You’ll see the flame of the lighter. ‘How wonderful to see you all.’”

Before the pandemic, it was common to see John surrounded by other performers rehearsing a show. But with playhouses impacted by health regulations, there are just fewer opportunities to act. So, when he got the stimulus check, he started thinking.

“Part of this was just a whim,” John said. “Like, what if I did a show?”

He wanted to get lost in a script. 

John decided to apply for the performance rights to the one man show, “Thom Pain (Based on Nothing).” It was written in 2004, and the script was a Pulitzer finalist.  

When he got the rights, the first challenge was figuring out how to adapt a stage show for a virtual performance. 

John admits, it's hard to capture the magic of live theatre.

“If you think about it like a drug, it's just enough to get your fix,” he said. “But it's not really what you’re looking for, you know? ‘Cause you want to be in front of an audience, and you want to be with people on stage.”

He’s working with a film crew who set up four cameras and a GoPro on the Ramsdell’s stage in Manistee, where he'll film the show.

“We’ll do some other angles too that will be inserts,” John said. “It’ll be edited more like a film.” 

Without a formal director, John’s running his own show. For help, he's invited some theatre friends to give him feedback on the show. That night, Stacia Sexton, with Parallel 45, was there.

Because it's just him, John can bring some personal touches to his production, like laminating the script so he could re-use it for each person giving him notes.

“What? Oh My gosh! I’ve never taken notes on a laminated script before,” Stacia said. “I’m so excited about this!”

While in some ways, he’s enjoyed the freedom of running this show, John says he still misses the structure of theater rehearsals. 

“[If I put on this production before the pandemic] I wouldn’t rehearse in my car so often,” he said. “I wouldn’t be doing it in people's living rooms. So, it's definitely more gorilla style.” 

Stacia says it felt good to be in a playhouse again.

“I have not been in a physical theatre… Oh my god, I’m going to cry,” she said. “I haven’t been in a physical theatre for a year.” 

John picked a unique play for his post-pandemic performance. The show uses a rambling monologue and mini stories that keeps it open to interpretation. The narrator, Thom Pain discusses painful moments from childhood, the awkwardness of puberty and attempts to reconcile trauma as an adult.

“When did your childhood end? How badly did you get hurt, when you did? This hurtable little thing,” John recited. “Nothing but, big eyes, a few hundred words, a heart. Isn't it wonderful how we never recover?”  

In the production, John delivers his monologues to an empty audience. But Stacia says the subject matter will translate well online. 

“I think this might be one of these plays that is gonna work really well for virtual, because I wonder if this is not a better medium for this,” she said.

Talking to an empty audience is a good metaphor for how John has felt over the last year. He says performing this character has allowed him to process his thoughts and emotions that have come up during isolation.

“I get in my own head about that stuff and I feel like I can’t show that stuff.” John says. “Maybe it’s because I’m a guy, or because of my past or something, or both. But it's like, if you’re acting you have permission to do whatever you want and be as expressive as you want.”

He says the play may be cathartic for the audience too.

“The show has adult language and it's got adult themes,” John says. “It is a little bleak, and a little scary, and a little disturbing. I’m not sure I’d dare to say it's hopeful. But I think it’s encouraging. I think at the end of the show the audience is encouraged to keep trying, no matter what. Which is a message that I think everyone can use right now.”


Thom Pain (Based on Nothing) is premiering online Friday, February 26th and running through Sunday February 28th. Tickets cost $5 dollars plus a processing fee.

Kendra Carr joined IPR as the All Things Considered host in 2019. She previously worked at WMOM in Ludington as the News Director. In 2017, WMOM received the Michigan Association of Broadcasters "Station of the Year" award.