By Reda Tipton
It was Edie Kerouac, Jack's first wife, who urged actor Vincent Balestri to portray Kerouac on stage. The resulting show, "Kerouac: The Essence of Jack," ultimately inspired the film "Beat Angel."
Vincent was introduced to Edie in 1979 while directing a play at one of Jack's old hangouts, the Punch & Judy Theatre, in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. Edie and Vincent hit it off immediately, spending weeks together, with Edie telling stories about her life with Jack at the heart of the New York bohemian scene. She shared tapes of Jack reading, impossible to find at the time, and urged Vincent to play Jack on stage.
"Kerouac: The Essence of Jack" began performances in the early '80s and toured periodically for the next 17 years, playing across the U.S. and Canada, including San Francisco, Chicago, and Jack's hometown, Lowell, Massachusetts. Along the way, Vincent had the opportunity to meet a number of Jack's old friends and family, and the show evolved accordingly.
By 1993, just as Vincent was ready to retire "Essence," he was contacted by Seattle actor Frank Tabbita. Frank was very persuasive, and the show soon began the first of three successful runs at the Velvet Elvis Theatre in Seattle.
By the time the show returned to Seattle for the third time in 1996, Frank knew he had a mission: how to translate the 'essence' of the piece to film. "Essence" was a beautiful and cutting-edge piece of theatre, but it was still biography. The events of Jack's life have been well told. Both Frank & Vincent felt that a film should convey what the author's life stood for.
One day while attending the Seattle Film Festival, Frank found himself sitting next to filmmaker Randy Allred. They began talking script ideas, and soon the project was off and running. The pair later recruited writer/producer Bruce Boyle and together with Vincent they created the film "Beat Angel."