Volume 2 Book 8 Part 5 of "Living In The Bonus Round"
The Online Diary of Steve Schalchlin
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El Lay CA.
Jimmy as master impressario.
August 11 - 29, 2001.
My August Diary.
It was nice to take a few weeks off from writing in the diary. After six years of doing this I just felt I needed a break from the pressure of keeping it up.
One week after the lunch with Fred Ebb we got to have lunch with another show biz legend, the Broadway legend Phyllis Newman. Ms. Newman has written the book for a new musical revue which Jimmy is producing next season at El Portal called "Vamps." It features the music of Jule Stein, composer of such shows as "Gypsy" and "Funny Girl."
Phyllis arrived one afternoon with director Jim Pentecost and music arranger Larry Blank for the full tour.
Jim Pentecost, Phyllis Newman, Jim Brochu, Larry Blank
on the stage of El Portal standing in front of the fire curtain
Jim & Phyllis chat on the bare stage.
One of my favorite moments of the whole day was when Phyllis asked if she could just sit on the stage and look out at the house to get a feel for the place. There was something so nice about just being able to show it off.
Larry, Phyllis, Jimmy and Jim look out over the mainstage seating
while discussing their plan for "VAMPS."
Is Phyllis Newman ignoring me??
...And our now obligatory pose in front of the NoHo Arts District sign.As I said before I've been spending a lot of time at El Portal answering phones and making myself as useful as possible. Also, I've been working on new songs. I've also managed to turn my home computer into a full recording studio -- for the first time I was able to record vocals! However, the processor is too slow and it locks up so I'm going to have to get a new motherboard, etc. in order for it to work properly. Right now I can only record one phrase before it crashes.
And where will I get the money to buy a new motherboard? I'm glad you asked. I've been invited to appear on a new talk show -- nationally syndicated -- called TALK OR WALK. The object of this show, according to the producers is to be an "anti-Jerry Springer." That is, two people who are friends but who have a problem try to resolve their differences and "save" their friendship.
I will be appearing with an exgay minister named Tom Cole. For me, it's going to be a real test of my SoulForce training and principles. Naturally, this being TV we have to resolve our differences in 15 minutes. BUT I found out they're gonna give me 200 bucks. So there's 2/3 of my motherboard paid for. SCORE!
We also finished casting THE LAST OF MRS. LINCOLN and I took a few candid shots of the cast sitting around the table at their first reading.
The cast of "Mrs. Lincoln" going through their first reading.
This is the same scene from the back of the mainstage theatre.Meanwhile, in the Circle Theatre (the 85 seat black box at El Portal) we're world premiering a new musical called MUSICAL CHAIRS. It's a work with a stunning score by Joel Hirschhorn about a small Jewish orchestra in the "model ghetto" of Theresienstadt. The Nazis would put up false storefronts and ship in fresh food just before the Red Cross would inspect. In other words, it was used for propaganda to show how well "we treat our Jews."
Actors Alley cast of "Musical Chairs" take a bow.August 30 - 31, 2001.
Red Buttons, Jennifer Dlouhy Carter (story),
Joel Hirschhorn (book, music, lyrics), Jim Brochu
Though the subject matter seems bleak, it's actually very inspiring and thoughtful work. One song in particular called "Palestine" is so amazingly beautiful it just stops everything and holds it bare for five minutes. Really breathtaking. Naturally, we were all there for the big opening night.
L: Cast members Michael Uribes & Erik Ashmore.
R: Hope Alexander (Actors Alley's new Producing Director)
with Jules Aaron (Director of "Musical Chairs")
Pictured above is Hope Alexander who has become one of our new favorite people on the planet. Hope has taken over the duty of taking care of El Portal's company of actors, Actors Alley. Pegge and Jimmy brought her on after Jimmy complained that trying to produce four mainstage shows along with handling 80 actors and producing four more shows a year in the Circle Theatre was simply too much for one person to handle.
Hope comes from a strong background of working with acting companies and conservatories. Her goal is to make Actors Alley into nationally recognized institution. What I love about her is she is SO sharp witted and intelligent -- and not afraid to show it. LOVE that woman!
Finally, I end this diary entry with a most embarrassing story. Last night Jimmy and I were awakened by our smoke alarm going off. I had no idea what was happening until he shouted, "Smoke alarm!!" We smell smoke and realize something is on fire. So we're racing through the apartment.
I check the kitchen and the oven. Nothing.
I look around the living room. Nothing.
I run to the bathroom. Nothing.
We can smell it in the closet. So I'm grabbing boxes and tossing them out, digging through clothes on the floor, I race over to Jimmy's side of the bed to check for cigarettes burning. Nothing.
Then I look up. We have this free standing ceiling lamp that has an open top. It stopped working a year ago and somehow it turned into a hat rack. Well, I guess we accidentally at some point plugged it back in because the hats were smoldering and nearly on fire. Smoke was pouring out of the top.
So we quickly unplugged it and I ran it through the apartment onto the tiny balcony and then doused it with water.
Jimmy said, "What if we hadn't been here? The cats would have been trapped here alone." It's funny because Jimmy is really paranoid -- not in an excessively compulsive way -- about leaving anything electrical on when we leave the apartment, including lights or anything. I'm just glad we were there and that we didn't burn the place down. But man, that was scary and the place still smells like smoke.
Talk Or Walk!I hate teevee. I don't hate television. For instance, this year I've gotten hooked on Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, Queer As Folk and Sex And the City but I hate teevee mentality. Let me explain.
I was invited along with my friend Tom Cole to participate in a new "reality" show -- it's actually a talk show but on their website it's called a reality show, presumably because "reality show" sounds better in this day of rampant reality mania. The set-up: An out gay confronts an exgay on his "anti-gay" religion -- then they decide if they can work out their differences, in other words, to either "talk or walk."
That morning, just before I left, I checked out the website and noticed that the Executive Producer was an old friend of Jimmy's and mine, Scott Sternberg. Scott used to direct the NAS songwriter shows I used to co-produce (and Jimmy wrote).
They picked Jimmy and me up at 9:30 am and drove us to the studio in Hollywood. He would sit in the audience with Tom's wife, Donna and an ex-ex-gay singer named Jallon Rix. First off, was a voiceover as an intro to the segment. We had worked out a little script where I told my story about how anti-gay theology made me feel worthless and self-destructive in my younger years -- and how much it bothers me that my friend Tom is now preaching that same theology to young people.
On our way back to our dressing room, we asked if Scott was in and sure enough, there he was in a big office, happy to see us. He hadn't even noticed my name as a guest on the show so he was really happy and we had a blast getting to know each other again.
You could tell this was a new production because the waiting room consisted of a TV, a couch and a chair -- nothing on the walls. Soon, we were joined by two other people, a woman with a European accent who hated the fact that her sister worked as an undercover P.I. to catch straying husbands, and a guy accompanying her.
After about an hour, we met with Lori Read, the segment producer who had put all this together. Lori is a very bright, sympathetic and attractive woman from New York who immediately heard Jimmy's accent so the two of them played, "What block did you grow up on?" while I read over what was going to be expected of me.
Lori Read and Jimmy compare neighborhoods.
The show deals with conflict resolution and my job was to present a challenge to my friend ("I feel your anti-gay theology nearly destroyed my life and I believe it will hurt other gay kids who are exposed to it.") Then we confront each other, discuss it and finally at the end of the segment I'm given a choice to either "talk or walk." That is, to continue our friendship or walk out on it.
The script called for me to walk. I stood over Lori and rather strongly declared, "I'm not walking out on Tom." Jimmy later said I sounded like I was going to walk out on the show altogether. I responded, "I would have." But Lori quickly assured me I had a choice, that I could do either.
After another seemingly interminable wait back in our room, we were getting REALLY hungry. Jimmy noticed the schedule for the day called for a catered lunch so we were really looking forward to that. A knock on the door revealed a production assistant holding tray of sandwiches. "Turkey or ham?" he asked. One piece of turkey on white bread with a watercress.
(Scott, could we work on the catering just a bit, hun?)
Tom and I were kept separate so I wouldn't see him until the show began. Soon, they led me to the studio stage so I could understand what was going to happen. The set was rounded so it felt more like an arena with the audience facing us in a half-circle. Three chairs were set up on the stage.
The set of Talk Or Walk from audience point of view.
I was told to sit straight forward and just turn my head to talk to Tom or the host, Michael Baisden. Soon it was time to start the show. The audience was in place cuz I could hear them loudly getting their warm-up. I was standing backstage all ready to go.
I wasn't very nervous, just a few butterflies and I felt I did really well when Michael began questioning me. Jimmy was sitting right in the front row next to Donna, Tom's wife and next to her was Jallon. It all felt really good. Then when Tom came out, I was so happy to see him I know it showed on my face. This was a problem, I found out later.
Tom Cole, Steve, host Michael Baisden
We explained our viewpoints and the audience asked questions. One guy had his Bible all ready: "Don't you think AIDS is God's punishment for being gay?"
I quipped back, "No more than breast cancer is God's punisment for being a woman. And right now in China there's a whole city with HIV because of some stupid mishap with the blood bank. Is that God's punishment for being Chinese?"
It all went really well, I thought, until we broke for a commercial. That's when Scott took me aside, over behind the set and said, "Look, this is really informative but you and Tom don't seem to be antagonistic toward each other. This sounds more like CNN. Do you think you could get in there and fight a little? Be more passionate about your problems?"
And that's why I hate teevee.
The audience, frankly, was on the edge of their seats. They were seeing something they NEVER see. Here was an out gay and an exgay talking about life and death issues, the kind that normally cause infantile and hotblooded fights; angry denunciations -- schoolyard crap. But Tom and I are rationally sitting there opposing each other in love and mutual respect.
The affection we have for each other, as far as I was concerned, was TEACHING people that adult behavior actually CAN happen even when people are discussing things that are difficult and threatening. Isn't this WAY more interesting than the usual bullshit back and forth, people taking positions, black and white crap that usually passes for discussion on television shows like Crossfire or Hannity and Combes? Aren't people SICK of that kind of pointless theatrical nonsense? I KNOW they are.
I looked at Scott and said I'd try to be more... forceful. Something. He said, "Okay, we're going to start over from scratch and retape the whole segment. Just do your best." I wasn't offended by Scott. I know he has a show to do and he's afraid people won't see the real stakes if we're up there being all lovey dovey so his point was well taken. I just didn't want to hear it at the time. Still...
Tom and I took our seats again and apparently they had given him the same instruction. So I said to him, "Look. We do feel passionately about our beliefs and we're both peacemakers. However, there are a lot of people out there watching who DO feel anger and resentment on these issues. Maybe if we realize we're articulating that anger for them, we can find a more passionate middle road that won't compromise who we are." He agreed.
I don't know if I said it just those words, but he got the gist and responded, "I trust you. We can give it a shot. I won't be offended if you lay into me."
So we started the show over. And I tried to be more passionate, show more anger over the things I didn't like, and so did he. But I was less confortable and I could hear myself stumbling over words. I felt fake. But we made it through and the producers now seemed happier.
Finally we got to the end where I had to decide whether to talk or walk. And, frankly, I think this was the most honest and most passionate thing I said all day. I looked at Tom and said, "Tom, I hate what you preach. I really do. But in the exgay community there are so many hateful and ugly people, at least I know you're a man of love. And though I believe your theology hurts gay kids, what's even more destructive is the cultural war where everyone gets caught in the crossfire. So I choose to talk."
And with that we stood and I hugged him tearfully. Afterwards, Lori said we did really well and that my last speech was wonderful. My heart was beating out of my chest, of course.
Later, as Jimmy and I talked about it. I told him I didn't feel good about the second take, that I was stumbling and feeling out of place trying to be so confrontational. He said, "The truth is, honey, you're not a fighter. You're a peacemaker. And you're a lousy actor. So you couldn't get up there and pretend. But you did okay."
And now it's up to the producers. I sent Lori an email expressing my misgivings at having to put on a show, but she said I did well and that I just came off as more passionate. So who knows. The entire series debuts on September 17th. Our segment will be in one of the early episodes -- if they choose to use it, of course.
I just wish Tom and I had had a chance to really show the world who we are and how important it is to stop all war, all violence, as Martin Luther King said, "...of the heart, tongue and fist." Maybe this is a first step. Maybe I'll look like a total fool. Either way, it's done and next month we'll see the results. God be with us all. :-)
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