Volume 2 Book 8 Part 2 of "Living In The Bonus Round"
The Online Diary of Steve Schalchlin
[ Book 7 ] -- [ Part 1 ] [ Part 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ] [ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ] [ Pt 9 ] -- [ Book 9 ]
The official Cincinnati cast portrait.
by Sandi Underwood.
July 10 - 12, 2001.
Today I feel SO good. There's a huge grin on my face sitting here in my hotel room and I had a GREAT night of sleep because opening night last night last night was more powerful than I ever dreamed possible. When all you have are five people on a bare stage, as Lynn Myers the artistic director noted in her curtain speech, it falls completely on the material, the director and the performers to pull anything off. And, frankly, we had all three.
The house was jammed full and we were all pretty relaxed backstage waiting to go on after a successful dress rehearsal the day before. Here are a few backstage shots of the cast getting prepped.
Deb Girdler before Vicki make-up and after, studying her lines.
Spring Starr Pillow (Tryshia) looking at Todd's ever-present picture album. (I haven't stopped teasing him about it).
Did you think I was kidding that Todd Almond (Buddy) is tall?
And no, I'm not standing in a ditch.
The backstage area.
Jeff the House Manager.
Laura Fitzsimmons, the Asst. Stage Manager salutes
Buz-with-one-z Davis the Stage Manager.
At the top of the show, I was a little spooked because I couldn't tell if the audience was with us or not. But I keep forgetting that the subject matter always spooks new audiences at first. They hear the comedy but since Gideon has just announced his own suicide, they aren't sure how they're supposed to react. So sometimes it's just a nervous laugh that comes to us onstage.
But then Deb Girdler as Vicki made her stormtrooper entrance. She comes screaming into the studio from the rear of the stage, stands stage center and says right to the audience (cuz the booth is theoretically where the audience is), "Jim! Why the HELL do you have two handicap parking places out there? Have you ever had two handicapped singers in there at the same time???..."
And the audience COMPLETELY fell apart. Deb is a very funny lady, very loud with years of stage experience and with no doubt many fans in the house. And from that point on, the audience was with us all the way.
It was PURE electricity.
By the time we got to the end of act one, Todd Almond had tears streaming down his face -- we could barely look at each other during "Going It Alone." And I even cried on stage! Look out, Meryl Streep!
Martha Lare (who I poked fun of in the last diary entry -- and yes, folks, I was joking with them) wrote to the TLS list and described the evening this way:An almost capacity audience did an instantaneous STANDING OVATION AND TWO CURTAIN CALLS tonight for the official opening of TLS in Cincinnati! This cast rocks big time!!!! Steve was absolutely marvelous.....he had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand (what else is new ;) ) During the ovation when Steve did his bow the applause went up a few extra decibles!! Todd "Buddy" was militantly adorable tonight. As "Going It Alone" began he teared up (we were in the 2nd row in front of him) by the end of the song the audience was totally hushed, not sure what to do, then the applause broke out. Deb "Vicky" really rocked on her numbers and her comedic timing is wonderful. Starr "Trisha" brought the house down on "Singer & The Song".That's right! I had forgotten that we had that "moment of audience silence" after Going It Alone. The moment that tells us the audience is totally in the moment, not wanting to break the spell, and not just applauding because the song is over. I LIVE for that stuff. Also, Laura told us we even got a mini-standing ovation after "Singer And The Song."
Afterwards they would NOT let us leave the stage. We did multiple bows, exited and they stomped and applauded, demanding that we come back out and bow again. That was amazing. Backstage, we all hugged each other and kissed. Inside, I was so proud. Proud of these actors. Proud of Terry LaBolt who brilliantly directed us, proud of the Cincinnati audience for "getting" us, proud of Jimmy for his beautiful and hilarious book and, frankly, proud of myself for remembering my lines!
I can't wait till all the TLS fans get here this weekend. The cast is starting to get an idea of what they're in for but if they think tonight was fun, they haven't seen anything yet.July 13, 2001.
Broadway actress Pam Myers was in the audience.
She now lives in Cinci and is doing "Hello Dolly".
So today I spend the rest of the day in BED just SLEEPING. It's been a rather arduous week but I'm so happy we did it and so happy I'm here.
Reviews & Ticket Sales.
Steve with students from area Cincinnati/Kentucky schoolsWe woke up Thursday to one of the most scathingly negative reviews I have ever read. The woman who reviews for the Cincinnati Enquirer did a hatchet job on us like nothing I've ever read before. She said she was glad it was a, "...blessedly short run" as if she had to attend every performance. At first it made me laugh because it was so over-the-top negative.July 14, 2001.
Then I started to feel bad for the theatre that this might affect their ticket sales. But later Sue Cohen the publicist told me ticket sales were through the roof. She said, "We are breaking every record for our 'off center'" -- meaning risky issue-oriented material -- "series." She continued, "One lady just called the theater and said, 'I just read the review and after reading this woman's previous review of 'Hedwig' I want to order two more tickets.'"
Apparently everyone HATES the Enquirer critic and usually will only go to shows she pans -- and the more she hates it, the more likely they are to buy tickets. Meanwhile, we are playing to near sell-out houses, instantaneous standing ovations and multiple curtain calls. In three performances we've sold almost 75 CDs for Youth Guard.
In other words, word of mouth is so hot, the tickets are flying out of the theatre and they said they've never had this many "walk-ups" before for any show.
On Saturday morning, we got a new review from CityBeat online that praised the production up and down -- and the reviewer was particularly affected by the honesty of the songs and the message. He said:
"What we should all do is form an orderly line up at 12th and Vine, file into the lobby of Ensemble Theater of Cincinnati (ETC), shake the hand of producing director D. Lynn Meyers and speak some obliging thank yous to her ó for bringing singer-songwriter-actor Steve Schalchlin to town, albeit briefly, to appear, more or less as himself, in his energizing musical, The Last Session. Which is not to say that the production is untroubled. It is. But, it's also a gift, and a rousing way for ETC to bring down the curtain on its successful, 15th anniversary season. Unhappily, there are only six Sessions: July 11-15.Some of the fans were appalled by the earlier bad review but I told them, "Look, this is show biz. If you're gonna put yourself out there, you're gonna get the good with the bad so you just take the hits, believe in yourself and keep on going. Not everyone is going to like you no matter who you are." All we know, and all the Ensemble Theatre knows is that the audiences aren't just loving it, they're coming back over and over again and bringing friends.
"Meyers likes to say that ETCís Off-Center/On-Stage series of less conventional material is "all about ideas." Last Session is certainly that. It investigates the fright, frustration, anger and depression that attend the treatment of AIDS. And it asserts, then demonstrates that these are fit and proper topics for a pocket musical. Singing Schalchlin's grave thoughts on the subject give them power, point and poignancy ó as well as wit and no small measure of mordant humor..."
I'm just sad that as I write this, we only have two more performances -- Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. It feels like we've just barely started and now it's time to go home. I do miss Jimmy and the cats back home but I also know that lives are being affected and changed.
In fact, D. Lynn Myers the artistic director called me on Friday morning and said that a lady PWA called her to tell her that she, the lady, had not too long ago made the decision to stop taking the meds and end her life because she was sick of the drugs "controlling her life." But then, on a fluke -- borrowed tickets -- she came to see the show on Tuesday night. After seeing the show, she changed her mind and decided that she would get control by staying on the protocol and fighting for life.
As Lynn was telling me this story, I could hear tears in her voice. Lynn fought like crazy to get TLS mounted at ETC even though she had no sponsorship and no money. But she had faith that the show needed to be seen. And now, through her efforts and the efforts of everyone connected with the production, a life had been saved.
I wanted to just tell her that we are almost used to hearing these stories -- that TLS has had that kind of effect in every town, every city and every production. Or as Bob Stillman once said, "I've been involved in a lot of shows, but never one that saved someone's life!"
So, reader, forgive me if I sound like I'm just standing on a box and bragging, but I am so full of joy and energy and pride right now. On Saturday we are having a reunion party at Martha & Gary's. So I'll post all kinds of pictures and stories. Stay tuned. It's not over yet. Not by a long shot.
They came from Toronto, Atlanta, Washington State, Washington DC, Virginia, New York, Kentucky, El Lay, Columbus, Davis CA and from I don't know where else. They came to see a show featuring a "lousy actor" with AIDS playing a guy living with AIDS. But first, a reunion featuring many people who had never met before. The only things they had in common was the TLS list or Cincinnati PFLAG. Andrew from Atlanta had only heard the news of this production last week and he still managed to fly in with a buddy.
Andrew "Ender Wiggin" from Atlanta.
The home, a beautiful stone house with a back gazebo -- Gary and Martha Lare's -- was filled with the scent of barbecue, fresh cut fruit, and laughter by the time the Jasons, Linda Delayen and I arrived from downtown.
Let me back up, until now I've been alone in my hotel room. But for the reunion weekend, I had Linda and the two Jasons in my place. And just to keep the boys in line, Linda on the first night, became Sister Mary NunZilla.
L: Linda as NunZilla.
R: The Jasons run Youth Guardian Services.
Anyway, we got our road instructions and, with Jason S. driving, we made it to Gary and Martha's. I'm going to show you faces but I am NOT going to label names because I will get someone wrong. I didn't get every face but I got most of them. If I left you out, please forgive. (The Lares you saw in the previous diary entry.)
After eating a meal and enjoying each others' company, we settled in for a little concert by yours truly which featured a surprise (for me, anyway) rewrite of the song "Lazarus" -- rewritten by Michael Sugar with an assist from Bev Sykes. In other words I was sitting there prepared to sing when they thrust these new lyrics in my lap. So, without preparation or knowing was I was in for, I just started singing what was in front of me. Here are a few excerpts. Instead of singing, "A life of Lazarus," it goes...
"A life so FABulous!
Another chance to shine again!
but with a Broadway kind of spin.
Last year I shopped for caskets
Or perhaps a Grecian urn
And now Iím clipping coupons
No deposit, no return...
When I think I cannot make it
ĎCause it seems my aching body just slows down
Then comes a call from here and there
Itís time to do a show
I know I canít give up
ĎCause I have miles and miles to go
A life so FABulous
A real theatrical rebirth
Sometimes I worry
But still I know what life is worth
Iíve got a bunch of loving friends
They act like Iím their Daddy
You know they really love me
Ďcause they came to Cincinnati..."
I was laughing so hard while trying to sing this, I could barely get the words out. I sang "Gabi's Song" and "William's Song" and a couple of others. But the really nice moment happened afterwards - and this is where I got the title for this new diary book.
I finished singing and then turned around to face everyone. And I had this overpowering feeling of just being a small part of an incredible group of people. I told them that looking into their faces I knew so many stories -- of pain and suffering, of victory and struggle. That each of them, in their own ways, had conquered great odds just to survive and how each of them had taken their pain and were using their experiences to fight to help others.
It's something one writer calls "mutuality." It's the power of a group of people with a common goal, who love each other as individuals and who know that alone, they can do some things, but together, they give each other the strength to move mountains.
"Modern Mutuality" these days is done electronically. How could such diverse and interesting people find each other and then find strength and devotion across an entire continent. I saw the group as little circles overlapping other circles. They didn't all knew each other but they were connected through their mutuality, their connections to each other.
Lyndsay said it best. She said her epiphany came when she saw herself touching little Patrick touching Mark touching the Jasons... a chain of people all connected. And she elaborated in email:"I think for me, this weekend was a verification of something I've believed for a long time. People talk about the internet as closing us off in our own little worlds. But for someone like me who can't always muster the right words in person or on the telephone, I think it has just the opposite effect. I think the idea of being able to communicate with the written word, but faster than regular mail has given a lot of people the courage to speak out and become themselves."That Saturday night we played to a full house, two curtain calls, lots of CDs sold for Youth Guard... But that's for the next entry.
[ Diary Index ] [ WRITE ME! ]
© 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.