LW Profile: Gregory Abels and Where to Begin

Profile on Gregory Abels: poet, mentor, director, actor

Lightwoodpress is proud to announce the publication of Where to Begin, the new book of poems by Gregory Abels. We published several of Gregory’s poems in the summer issue #2 of Lightwood magazine, and now we’re pleased to bring a new volume of his work to readers. We also thought this would be a good time to share a profile of Gregory Abels’ long and distinguished career in theatre and literature. Spanning more than half a century, he has performed in or directed some 600 plays, television dramas, and films, and has been heard in numerous voiceovers and narrations. Over these years, he noted that he’s had the pleasure of working beside many of the finest theatre artists in the English-speaking world. And to this is added the roles of poet and Zen Master. Here’s a short bio-profile.

As a theatrical director, two of Gregory Abels’ notable productions are:

Let It Be Art! Harold Clurman’s Life of Passion, written by and starring Ronald Rand. The play, about Harold Clurman, a co-founder of The Group Theatre, premiered in 2001 and to date has played in 18 states and 22 countries. 

Roman Nights, by Franco D’Alessandro, opened in Prague in May 2006 playing to sold-out audiences. It is about the deep friendship between Tennessee Williams and Anna Magnani, and features the great Czech actress Simona Stasova as Magnani.

His directing work has been prolific from the classics to contemporary: Shakespeare, Chekov, Moliere, O’Neill, Williams, Miller, Shepard, Beckett, Genet, and the Greeks, as well as supportive of new work in a variety of New York City and regional theatres. In 1980 he founded St. Malachy’s Theaterspace, where he directed a highly acclaimed production of T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral (starring Lee Richardson) and the world premiere of Sally Dixon Wiener’s Show Me A Hero. The former marked the first time in the history of the Archdiocese of New York that the nave of one of its churches was used for a professional theatre production.

He is perhaps best known as an actor for his portrayal of the relentless prosecuting attorney in Nuts on Broadway. And daytime television audiences will remember him as Michael Hathaway on Where the Heart Is (CBS, 1969–1973). He retired from acting in 1990.

Gregory Abels is one of the foremost Master Teachers in the United States and was profiled in Acting Teachers of America. He ran his own school, GATE (Gregory Abels Training Ensemble), in Manhattan from 1996 to 2004, a classically-based, intense, one-year Conservatory Ensemble Training Program. He has also served as Master Teacher on the faculties of NYU (undergraduate and Gallatin); National Theatre Institute at the O’Neill Center; National Shakespeare Conservatory; Stella Adler Conservatory; National Academy of Prague (DAMU); Janacek Academy (JAMU); and the Warsaw State Academy (Alexsander Zelwerlowicz). He particularly enjoys coaching and mentoring young actors and was Master Teacher of Scene Study at Circle in the Square in New York City for many years.  

The Poetry of Gregory Abels

He began writing poetry in 1991, and very soon gravitated to short forms, particularly an 11-syllable form, although he’s worked in longer poems. Early on he studied with Jean Valentine, J. D. McClachy, Stuart Friebert, and Debra Weinstein and believes that Western poets influenced by the Dharma have long written “simple” poetry that can stand alongside the more recognized and revered work of vintage Asian poets. Abels writes out of his Zen practice and a heightened sensitivity to the subtle dynamics of nature and human consciousness. There is no thing, no moment, that is not interdependent and impermanent; what remains, what suffices after experience and observation, will fall away. Avoid clinging. Let go. 

Zen Practice

Roshi Gregory Abels began practicing Christian forms of meditation in 1973 and teaching them in 1977 before turning to Zen Buddhism in the early 1990s. He entered into intense training, study, and travel with his teacher, Robert Jinsen Kennedy, Roshi, and in 2006 was made Roshi in the White Plum lineage, which empowered him to teach and transmit the Dharma of the Buddha. His Dharma name, Hosho, given to him by his teacher, loosely translated means, Voice of the Dharma. 

He is Co-Resident Teacher at Still Mind Zendo in Manhattan with his wife, Sensei Janet Jiryu Abels, who founded the zendo in 1994. Still Mind is a “shirt-sleeve” zendo where the Abels and the sangha (community of practitioners) strive in a no-frills manner to model a fully lay Zen practice outside monastery walls, thereby helping to nurture American/Western forms of Zen. 

Roshi Gregory’s work at Still Mind is to guide the sangha generally and his students in particular by giving Dharma talks, offering one-on-one teaching, and leading retreats at Still Mind’s New York City location and in rural settings. 

The poems in his volume Never Something Else: Poems from the Eye of Zen encourage us to be at ease with is before our eyes. To let go of notions such as large, small, human, non-human. To be satisfied that reality is never something else. 

Not only is each poem a sparkling gem, but the act of reading through them one at a time is a great teaching. 
—Roshi Nancy Mujo Baker 
Zen master, Professor of Philosophy at Sarah Lawrence College

I read the poems over and over, each time with surprise and pleasure. Your writings are so visually present on the page, I couldn’t help but resonate with them. 
—Jean-Claude van Itallie 
Playwright, Tibetan Buddhist

Reading the poems, one concentrates on the reality of the moment and is freed from imagining a past or future time. The verses celebrate the mystery of the passing moment, which, like rain falling drop by drop, will be repeated “never, never, never.” 
—Roshi Robert Jinsen Kennedy, S.J. 
Zen master, Professor of Theology, Psychologist, Author

Both of Gregory Abels’ poetry books, Where to Begin and Never Something Else, can be purchased through Lightwoodpress. (Please contact publisher Laurence Carr for prices and shipping details. larrycarr521@gmail.com) or you can purchase through the usual online booksellers.)

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