Volume 2 Book 6 Part 5 of Living In The Bonus Round
The Online Diary of Steve Schalchlin

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March-April 2001.
El Lay CA, Shippensburg PA, Ripon WI, Orlando FL.

March 24-26, 2001.
Falling In Love In Shippensburg.
Here's the first thing I heard when I slipped into a seminar being held by the beautiful and brave GLBT students at Shippensburg University: "Pennsylvania has more documented hate groups than any other state in the union." That's when I knew that these kids were doing something extraordinary, something straight kids do every single day: being themselves openly and proudly. I also knew they were putting themselves at risk.

I have to say that one of the great things about touring colleges and singing for kids is that I get to see first hand what an incredible new generation is coming up in the ranks; a generation that ASSUMES equal rights are for everyone; a generation that WON'T take no for an answer; a generation that seems to be free of so much of the psychological baggage my generation was saddled with. It's a totally different world from the one I grew up in, where the word "gay" was not known -- and where the word "pervert" was commonplace.

Jessie & Mariel are officers in SALE,
The student GLBT group on campus.

Saturday night I sang my usual "Bonus Round" concert with the songs from TLS, but the next day I was to deliver a 90 minute keynote address. Not ever having done this, I was a nervous wreck. What could I say? 90 minutes of talking??? I called Ken McPherson and asked him for advice. He said, "Just tell stories. You'll do fine."

Dustin totally cracked me up. He found a paper tiara and just HAD to wear it the first day during lunch.

Luckily, they had a piano in that room so I could fall back on "Gabi's Song," "William's Song" & "The Closet" if I ran out of ideas. I took time during the conference to go to different seminars and to listen. Like the one boy, "I'm going to be an activist no matter what, so the world just better be get ready for me."

Here in the wilds of Pennsylvania at a small university I met an extraordinary group of youngters who were undeterred in their enthusiasm and their love for each other. Like for instance, unlike previous generations of gays and lesbians, the girls and the boys freely intermixed and hugged each other to the point that just looking at them, one might have guessed them to be straight couples!

How do I describe the sheer joy I felt as they expressed so much affection for each other; as they danced together and loved on each other? And that's when I knew what I would talk about. I looked over their eager faces as we gathered in the big cafeteria and began:

"If you had lived during the 50s, you wouldn't be sitting in a big open room like this. If you met at all and you were male, you'd be in a dank basement, sitting upright, wearing ties trying to look as respectable as possible. You would have pulled some drapes around you and someone would have been watching out for cops.

"If you were a woman, you would have most likely been meeting separately, rarely ever speaking to male homosexuals and you all would have assumed -- even if you were talking about freedom -- that you were sick. That you were psychologically ill."

"There would have been nothing in the news about you unless someone killed you on the side of a road somewhere. You wouldn't have been a character on a sitcom or in a movie. No legislature would have been talking about civil unions and there would have been no one fighting for you or advocating for you anywhere.

"If you were male, your group would have been called The Mattachine Society; female, the Daughters of Bilitus. Remote strange names to hide behind. Living in shadows. Hiding from violence and hate."

I found myself talking about my own young adulthood; how my friends circled me one day in my own apartment, accused me of being a pervert, driving me out of town; of being attacked in Dallas by a truckload of rednecks who attacked us with bats. I told them how I didn't meet my first gay person until I was well into my 20s, how I never had a chance to date or go through a normal adolescence. How I would loved to have had a boyfriend in high school and college.

And I told them all this because I wanted them to understand that it might seem like the world is unjust, that we have come a long way and that we stand on the shoulders of brave people who marched and lost their lives for us -- that they should fight on and on because our cause IS just and it IS righteous. And that by knowing our history, to know where we came from, we can better understand where we are going.

Later on, this boy Neil sat next to me. Neil was the one who said he would forever be an activist. He thanked me saying he didn't really know this history -- and that he would go out first thing and find as many books on the movement as possible.

You know what's funny is I have never thought of myself as an activist or as even being particularly political. But someone said once that gay and lesbian people perform a political act every single time they go to bed with someone they love. I don't know if that's true or not, but I do know that if I ever DO decide to be a political person, it will be for the young people I met in Shippensburg Pennsylvania. They deserve every break in the world.

March 27, 2001.
Ripon, WI / Orlando, FL.
After the emotional weekend in Shippensburg, I found myself flying north to a town that was even more rural and more remote. But Ripon Wisconsin wasn't without its own history. This picture alone should tell you the story: "Birthplace of the Republican Party????" (That's Josh DeWar standing in front). But tucked into the countryside filled with dairy farms and beautiful open country is modest little Ripon College where some very cool students decided to bring in sections of the AIDS Quilt and a certain HIV-infected songwriter.

This is Heidi. She works with Josh in the office that sponsored my concert. Heidi is an athlete and a totally gorgeous girl as you can see. :-) This performance was the opening night of the week they chose to devote to AIDS awareness.

One of the buildings on campus

Downtown Ripon, Wisconsin

This is the beautiful hall where I sang my show.

I saw a lot tears in the audience and Josh said later that my show provided emotional context for the arrival of the Quilt the next day.

We (Josh, Heidi and I) had lots of great laughs at the expense of the locals, not in a bad way, but joking about the "Fargo" (the movie) accents. I had dinner at a steak house near my hotel and when I asked them if they had vegetables, I was informed that they only served vegetables on Sunday. And since I cannot reproduce that accent in writing, you'll just have to trust me that it was all I could do to keep from falling on the floor every time she asked me if I was "Ohn-nkay!"

The next day I flew down to Florida where the humidity, as Victor who drove me around described it, was "Thick enough to chew." And it rained like crazy.

Valencia Community College has two campuses, east and west. At the west campus I spoke for an hour (no piano) with students and basically just told them my history of living with AIDS. I was nervous at first cuz I rely on my songs, but the time flew by as I described being afraid of testing and ending up in the hospital nearly dead. My relationship with Jimmy and the success of TLS.

That afternoon I sang a concert on the east campus which is devoted mainly to the arts. I sang in a big open commons area surrounded by artwork. It was an open atrium-type room with people going in and out but the sound system was great and a Microbiology student sent me this:

"My Microbiology class was seated on your right in the second, third and fourth rows today and we were expecting a lecture.  What a joy it was to hear you sing and witness a little too!  Too bad more lecturers do not write their own music and perform it.   We would be humming little ditties about all kinds of things and learning more too.   I wish you success in your mission to inform and entertain.  I will keep you in my prayers."

I am posing with this faculty diversity study group.
They are responsible for bringing me to Valencia.
Back in my room, exhausted from the long trip and the high humidity, I was thrilled to get this letter from a student who attended my first lecture:
I myself am Southern Baptist...  I was raised in a little "redneck" town I guess you can say, and I have never been exposed to any type of diversity. To be honest, you are really the first gay person I have ever been in any contact with. I grew up my whole life being taught how bad and sick in the head gay people are but after listening to you today I was able to make a few decisions for myself about gays. I was able to see that gays are just like everyone else. It actually makes me mad that I was taught all those things about gays in the first place. You really opened my eyes today and for that I am very greatful. I considered it my privilege to have met you. I hope you continue to be strong in your battle with AIDS and I want you to know that I am praying for you.
Everytime I get a letter like that it reminds me that it's not ALL "Christians" who are the "bad people" in this world. Just those who would lie and lead others astray in the name of God. I guarantee you every single conservative Christian church is FILLED with people who will jump at the chance to believe the truth if only they are allowed exposure to the truth -- that gay people are people. We're good and bad and talented and boring and wonderful and terrible -- everything heterosexuals are.

This trip has been an amazing journey. From the energized GLBT kids in rural Pennsylvania to the open-hearted students in Wisconsin to the wide-eyed loving people in Florida. They say the best way to combat homophobia is to just come out and be yourself. Look how hearts get changed when you release your fear and just live your life.

The truth always does and always will set you (and everyone around you) free.

March 28 - April 2, 2001.
Chip, Patti, Sardi's & Stan.

Chip & Patti Esten.

We were just lounging around the apartment Sunday night when we got a phone call from the theatre telling us that Chip Esten (the original Buddy in the LA workshop of TLS -- and regular guest star on "Who's Line Is It Anyway?") was down at the theatre with his wife Patti. So we threw on our clothes and raced down to say hi.

Can I just say how much I adore this man? He's so sweet and so "real" and so wonderful, you just want to scoop him up like ice cream and lick him to death. (But not in a gay way of course). LOL

Patti, Chip & Jim

The next day I was volunteering down at Jimmy's office when a FedEx arrived. I opened the package, pulled out the contents, got a huge grin on my face and then turned it around for all to see. It was Jimmy's caricature to go on the wall at Sardi's.

If you're not in the theatre, that might not mean much to you, but for Jimmy who grew up in the theatre, who was raised in New York theatre, who sat endless nights at Sardi's looking up at the many faces adorning the walls -- to have his picture up there... well, for him it just doesn't get better than that. It means you are person OF the theatre. You don't go up there just for being famous. You go up there because you have a record of theatre achievement and history IN the theatre.

As we sat looking at the caricature, his eyes began to well up and he literally fell on my shoulders weeping. I was so proud of him and so happy that they afforded him this honor.

Jim Brochu's caricature for Sardi's

As long as I'm telling stories about "visits" from beyond -- remember Dickie appearing in my dream? -- last week when I was in Pennsylvania, I was invited to the home of one of the professors (Bob and his partner Russell) where we played the piano and sang together. (Bob has this magnificent operatic voice).

Anyway, their friend, another professor, Blaine was playing the piano and Bob was choosing music at random. First Blaine played a section from "Rhapsody In Blue" -- and this is where the spooky part comes in. Bob picks up a piece of sheet music and puts it on the piano. It was, 'C'mon-a My House' and I got these chills all up and down my spine and I said to everyone, "Wait. Hold it. I have to tell you a story."

I said, "I'm not one to believe in spooky things, but this is just too weird. My friend Stan Freeman died a couple of months ago. We just held his memorial service. Stanley was famous for two things in particular. One was that he was a Gershwin interpreter and he played 'Rhapsody In Blue' with orchestras all over the world. The other was that he played the famous rock and roll harpsicord solo on Rosemary Clooney's 'C'mon-a My House.' You couldn't have picked two more disparate pieces of music to play back to back here. Except for Stanley these pieces have NOTHING in common."

And as I write this on April 3, it's Stan Freeman's birthday. Hi, Stanley. Thanks for popping in. Don't be a stranger, okay?

April 3, 2001.
Steve Upstages Jim!
I'm so proud. Not only did I upstage Jim Brochu tonight by getting the biggest laugh of the night in front of the L.A. Drama Critics Circle Awards but I was able to happily pass the torch, so to speak, to a young composer I've admired (and talked about here) for a long time.

Ken Werther held up Jimmy's Sardi's pic
when he introduced us.

Two years ago, Jimmy and I were the recipients of writing awards from the LADCC so it felt wonderful to be up there again facing the same critics as "celebrity presenters", giving out awards for set design, musical score and musical direction. (I love the above photo. It looks like the girl doing the American Sign Language is saying Jimmy is crazy).

The theme for presenters that night was "couples." Jimmy began by describing us as the "Steve Allen and Jane Meadows of the netherworld of the third sex." Nice laugh.

Then I said, "Tom and Nicole were supposed to be here but they broke up. You just can't trust these heterosexual relationships to last." HUGE laugh. Then Jimmy said, "Yeah, they shouldn't be allowed to adopt." (That line got a malevolent "Ooooo.")

I couldn't have loved it more. Then we proceeded to read the candidates for each award and the winners. LADCC rules are such that they can and do frequently give multiple awards in a category. So when we got to Musical Score, I held my breath because there was someone I wanted desperately to win. Jimmy opened the envelope and handed it to me. Only one winner...

Now let me back up. I need to retell this story to set it up.

Back long before TLS was finished show, I was on a local gay internet site touting my songs quite shamelessly. No one had heard them, of course. And I was, at the time, very sick. So promoting my songs from my sick bed was about all I could physically do. One day I received an email from a young man -- barely in his 20s -- who had seen my postings and he said he too was a composer and that he would love to hear my work.

Well, six months passes by, I nearly die, we do our staged reading and finally, in the summer of '96 we get to do our first workshop at the Zephyr Theatre on Sunset Blvd. (the production with Chip Esten as Buddy). Lo and behold, after one of the performances, this little slip of a boy comes up to me, introduces himself as Damon Intrabartolo -- his name being bigger than he is -- and he says, "You've totally inspired me. I know I can do this."

Okay. Flash forward a couple of years. We've been to New York and back, have won scads of awards, etc. when I get an email from Damon. "Do you remember me? Remember I told you how you inspired me to write a musical? Well, I've done it, it's called 'bare' and would you come to the staged reading? I really want your advice."

So Jimmy and I (who hate to go anywhere) give up one of our nights and we trog down to Santa Monica Blvd. to see this staged reading. Get this: a cast of 21 all outfitted with microphones, a full band with synths and live instruments, and little Damon on keyboards leading this whole thing. Well, it was WAY too long. So long, in fact, that Jimmy and I left at intermission as I recall because I wasn't really feeling that well.

But there was SOMETHING there. Something totally thrilling and unique in a rock and roll "RENT" sort of way. Anyway, Damon calls the next day. "Would you meet with Jon and me and tell us what you thought?" We did. Basically, it boiled down to, "Cut the slow stuff and get your first act down to one hour."

(Something the reader must understand is that people frequently ask for our advice. I try to avoid giving it because people don't really WANT advice. They want me to tell them they are geniuses. And if I tell them to rewrite (for heaven's sake) the response from them is rather cold in a "well maybe I can find someone who will appreciate me" sort of way.)

Flash forward to last year. "bare" has a production at the tiny Hudson Theatre and I go to see it with Barefoot Ron and Michael Sugar. And what do I discover? Brilliance. Total brilliance. He not only followed (he said) our advice, but the advice of a coterie of talented people.

Okay. Present day. April 2, 2001. Jimmy and I are standing in front of the L.A. Drama Critics Circle and I'm holding a little card with the name of the winner of "Best Musical Score." I look down and with my heart in my stomach, I lean into the microphone and say, "Ladies and gentlemen, this young man represents the future of musical theatre in America. The winners are Damon Intrabartolo and Jon Hartmere Jr. for 'bare.'"

I thought the place would come unglued. Damon and Jon raced to the stage and we hugged for what seemed like forever. Then he gave the most nervous acceptance speech, but everyone was with him. I felt like a proud papa.

I hope all Bonus Round readers will go see 'bare' when it debuts in New York because you will be witnessing the birth of a vital new young voice in theatre. I say this here for the record: what we lost in Jonathan Larson is more than made up for in the talent, energy and music of Damon Intrabartolo. You read it here first.

Steve hugs Damon

Steve with 'hetero presenters" Orson Bean & Ally Mills
(remember her from "The Wonder Years?")

By the time the show was over, I was beaming. I got to upstage Jim with the funniest joke and I got to give an award to someone I love. In the bonus round, giving a prize is as good as getting one.

April 4-10, 2001.
Helpin' Daddy At The Office.
My friend Kerry said, "When I don't get new diary updates I always assume you're too busy to update them." Actually, I haven't updated the diary because after the past few weeks of non-stop travel and awards shows and everything else, the truth is I just plain haven't done anything to write about.

Well, that's not completely true. I've been volunteering down at El Portal Center For The Arts where money is scarce and the phones ring off the hook. Yep, I've been helping daddy at the office.

It's actually not so bad cuz I can sit here -- in fact I'm at the office typing this -- and instead of being distracted by the TV and the cats and everything else at home, all I have here is a desk, a computer and a phone. Rather than having 500 emails in my inbox waiting to be answered, I can use the time to answer them all. Last week, I whittle them down to 12! And none of those 12 require a response!!

Here I am hard at work.

I've been communicating with students from Pennsylvania, Florida and Wisconsin (the last tour), I've been setting up new appearances in San Francisco, New York, Columbus, Arkansas and Cincinnati, I've been reading a lot of news stuff on the web and writing opinions to various columnists, I've taken photos for El Portal, sent emails to friends who haven't heard from me, argued gay issues on message boards, participated in PFLAG-Talk, etc.

It's been a lot of fun. Plus, I know I'm a real help here screening the phone calls and making things nice for Jimmy and Pegge who practically run this place by themselves. I keep getting comments about how "friendly" my voice sounds. One lady, a former agent even suggested I should do voice-overs. Now, ain't that nice?

I also bought Jimmy a surprise present that finally arrived yesterday. It's a coffee mug with his Sardi's caricature.

Jimmy drinks from his own face.
Ryan from Denver said he heard me the other day on gaybc internet radio. They used my voice promo and played "I Want To Make Music."

Also, this Saturday night I'm singing at Kulak's Woodshed here in North Hollywood, so I've been trying to figure out what I'm going to sing. Anyway, as I said, there's not much news. Just me hanging out and enjoying life. It may not be exciting, but sometimes it's nice when life is like... well, like when someone asks me on one of my trips how my plane flight was. I answer, "Uneventful. Exactly the way I like it."

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© 2001 by Steve Schalchlin.
You have permission to print from this diary and distribute for use in support groups, schools, or to just give to a friend. You do not have permission to sell it.