Volume 2 Book 8 Part 6 of "Living In The Bonus Round"
The Online Diary of Steve Schalchlin
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El Lay CA, Olympia WA.
1. Actors Alley and "Mrs. Lincoln": cast member Jason Guess holding a candle.
2. Me doing the same.
3. Actress Lori Allen Thomas (Actors Alley "Musical Chairs") & her mom.
September 1-12, 2001.
Everyone's Tragedy.When I woke up yesterday, September 11th at the crack of dawn, I logged onto the internet and saw a blurb about the World Trade Center but didn't really grasp what I had read. So I flipped on the TV and there in front of my eyes I saw two of the most proudly gleaming symbols of New York City belching smoke. Immediately I got a horrible sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Then I thought of Jimmy. New York is his hometown. I might have lived there once or twice but for him... I screamed/groaned loudly, "OH MY GAWD. OH NO."September 13 - 18, 2001.
Jimmy heard me in the other room and woke up. "What?? What??" I tried to describe what I was seeing. He flipped on the TV in the bedroom and I heard a wail and then sobs. It wasn't ten minutes before we saw the second plane plow right into the south tower. I screamed. It was the same scream I heard myself cry during the earthquake of '94.
The rest became a blur. Jimmy lying on the bed, looking at the carnage, the smoke and the fire, crying, "Look at what they've done. Look at what they've done."
Then the buildings began to collapse and once again I screamed. We laid on the bed holding each other and just weeping. Soon I was pouring through every website looking for every bit of information. On the TLS list a call went out to all our friends in NYC to please check in to let us know if they were okay.
And thank God for the internet. We couldn't get through long distance but we heard from TLS cast members Bob Stillman, Amy Coleman, Stephen Bienskie, plus our Sessionauts Karen, Julie, Mandy, Lori and others. As each one either checked in or was accounted for we breathed sighs of relief. I still haven't heard from some of my friends so we're still hanging on, but we're hopeful.
Meanwhile, down at El Portal we made the decision to go on with our first preview performance of THE LAST OF MRS. LINCOLN even though every other theater was closed. We did so mainly because the play itself is about an American tragedy and the ultimate healing of those wounds.
I manned the phones in the box office where the phone was ringing off the hook with patrons wondering if we were open. Some of them were crying, "I have relatives in New York and DC." Some of them were relieved that they could get out of the house and away from the TV. We offered them free ticket exchanges and invited others to just bring their neighbors for free.
Then I heard from Jim Musselwhite in Olympia Washington that the big fundraiser they had planned for this Friday had been called off. That they just couldn't see doing a big crazy "Babes With Big Hair" show. I totally understood and then realized that the FAA had locked down all the airports, so it would doubtful I could get out of here in time anyway.
Meanwhile, buildings were falling and people were dying. We had a little black and white TV set going at the office; everyone stopping now and then to watch the news for developments. But the trickle of bad news just got worse and worse. Hundreds of fire fighters and policemen dying when the building collapsed. People jumping a 100 floors to their death rather than breathe smoke or burn alive.
By the time the second building collapsed I was numb to it all. Lower Manhattan didn't even look like Manhattan anymore. I couldn't cry or feel anything. I answered phones, read email, watched for news of friends, designed a little flier and finally went to dinner with our new bookkeeper Ernie while Jimmy went home to shower and change into his suit.
As the evening rolled around, about 120 people filed into the theater and we watched Jimmy, red eyed and barely able to speak, address the crowd standing in front of the huge set -- a tattered American flag that hung from the rafters and stretched out over the stage and down the front to the floor; a totally fitting symbol for the pain and anguish we were feeling.
He began, "This is normally my favorite time, when I get to tell you about our new season and all the exciting things we have planned, but tonight...," he paused, holding back tears, "...I think we should just have a moment of silence for those who've died and for their suffering families."
He lowered his eyes and the huge theater became very quiet. Then he simply said, "Ladies and gentlemen, Jim Prideaux's The Last of Mrs. Lincoln." The play begins with a gunshot in the dark followed by Michele Mais's beautiful rich voice singing, "Amazing grace, How sweet the sound... Through many dangers, toils and snares..." as the cast slowly walks onto the stage and takes their places.
It was an unforgettable night as Marcia Rodd, in a gut-wrenching and soul-stirring performance brought all the craziness and sadness, loneliness and tragedy inherent in the post-assassination years of Mary Todd Lincoln to life.
This photo shows the giant flag stretched across the back the stage area. When the creators designed this show, they had no idea how relevant this set would become. Shot shows Jim Brochu handing an "El Portal Spirit" award to Ted Heyck who helped us through some tangled legal problems this past week. Behind are members of the crew and staff.
Finally, Wednesday morning, I heard from Jeff Kingsbury in Olympia that we would go on with the Sunday night benefit at the Capitol Playhouse, a benefit for Stonewall Youth, PFLAG-Olympia, Safe Schools of Washington and United Community AIDS Network. He's bringing together singers from all over the city to join me in this concert against hate and violence. Somehow it just seems fitting.
I have to confess, though, that for the past two days I have felt utterly speechless. At times I've felt myself just staring into space, forgetting things, losing my focus and unable to articulate the horror and the sadness and the helplessness I've been feeling over all this. I cannot help but think we've entered a new era where the safety and security -- and the privilege of fighting and debating silly political topics -- has come to an end.
But it's never been a safe world. Everywhere on this globe there are babies dying, families fighting for food and liberty and for their lives. Fighting for land or water or the right to worship as they believe. Do we really think freedom comes easy? Have we enjoyed our little bubble of prosperity so long that we've forgotten that our own country was born in revolution against tyranny and that in order to keep our way of life we must be prepared to fight again and again?
It's hard for me to even think like this because I'm a peacemaker. I've focused my whole adult life on bringing together "enemies" and waging conversation instead of war. But anyone who thinks we can simply lay down our arms and that everyone else will do the same just "cuz we're the good guys" -- or we see ourselves as the good guys is living in a dreamworld.
What can I do? What can anyone do? Follow our consciences, get involved in what's going on in the world, dedicate ourselves to something other than just ourselves and realize that freedom from want isn't a right, it's privilege that's earned.
The casts of "The Last Of Mrs. Lincoln," "Musical Chairs,"
plus the staff of El Portal and members of Actors Alley
hold candles in memory of those who died September 11.
Olympia: A Sacred Space.
When I got to Olympia Washington on Saturday it was after a serious moment in the airport when I didn't think I had the guts to get on the plane. I had already checked my bag and gone through security and what I saw surprised me. I had expected that with the delays and cancellations it would be a mob scene with people overloading the flight.
Instead, the waiting area felt empty and cold. Oh, there were people waiting to get on the flight but they were quiet and I could tell the plane was going to be barely half full. Suddenly I remembered that Seattle has this space needle and my mind flashed to an image of our plane careening into it, some wild-eyed bin Laden look-alike holding a Gillette to someone's throat.
And for a moment -- just a moment -- but a moment nonetheless I felt my feet starting to twitch. I felt myself seriously just getting up off the bench and going home. Then I remembered my bag was checked and decided it would be too much of a hassle trying to get it back. I also thought maybe they'd think I planted a bomb or something and got cold feet.
God I'm weird.
So I got on the plane. It was an hour late but I got on the plane. I knew there were people in Olympia I wanted to be near and who donated good money to the charities involved just to see me. I got on the plane.
And I hadn't even made it to the SEATAC baggage claim before I saw two of my favorite faces on earth (although I'm careful never to tell THEM that): Gabi Clayton and her son Noel.
Gabi and Noel in the parking garage.
They drove me to Olympia to their big ol' house, which I usually describe as a hippie house and there was Alec waiting.
Alec and Noel in their big grassy front yard.
(Alec, it's called a "lawn mower." Try it.)
I had planned, originally, to arrive the Wednesday because Jeff Kingsbury of the Capitol Playhouse had assembled a little vocal back-up and we were going to rehearse. But this being Saturday, we only had Sunday morning for rehearsing before the concert that night. I was so happy to see Jeff, bright and early, at 10am out in front of his immaculately cared-for storefront theatre.
I told him I didn't really have vocal arrangements but he said, "Rich and I have been riding around in our cars singing your songs for weeks. Don't worry." And Shawn (who would join us later after going to church), "also knows the songs," he said. Shawn had been slated to direct the Babes With Big Hair benefit that had been canceled which was to feature When You Care.
Shawn Riley, Jeff Kingbury, Rich Garrett
So we plunged right in at the piano and started trying to figure out what we would do. It's very ego-massaging to have someone of Jeff's caliber (both as a performer and as a theatrical producer/director) know my music better than I do. He had indeed been singing along in the car because he had all his own harmony worked out, plus he knew all lyrics and melodies to all the songs. We were able to pass verses and harmony back and forth and by the time Shawn and Rich joined in, we were sounding like a Gospel quartet.
Steve and the Stevettes in concert.
We rehearsed for four straight hours without taking a break but I hadn't realized how late it was getting cuz we were having so much fun! Back to Gabi's for some homemade pizza (thanks baby!), a short nap and then back to the theatre for a short warm-up-refresher and it was showtime.
The turn-out, unfortunately, was weak. Oh, we had sold a lot of tickets but as Alec reported to the TLS list, "...Many people probably thought the concert had been canceled. Almost everything else in the area had been canceled, and the only indication Steve's concert was still on was a tiny blurb buried in the local paper. Many ticket holders were unable to attend for various reasons. But for those who did show up, Steve's concert was a healing experience and a spiritual reawakening. His performance was stronger by far than anything I have seen before."
In concert making a big ol' point of some kind.
I was so unsure how to approach this concert. The best way to describe the way I felt -- and the way I detected everyone else feeling -- was this little unshakable core of sadness just lying there in my gut. It's not that I didn't laugh or enjoy my friends or the music. But I felt so inarticulate, so unworthy to be maybe the first "show" most of these people had been to since the cataclysm.
So I decided to divide the show into two parts. Part one would be songs from TLS, plus Gabi's Song, William's Song and The Closet. After intermission we'd come back for a memorial service.
During act one, it was difficult to know what to say between songs. I pounded the piano and preached like a Baptist about the lack of wisdom on our culture and how astonishing it has been to go a full week without a single "celebrity" popping up on TV. 24 hour news. "You start to realize how tabloidized our country has become, obsessing over who's having sex, when they're having it and who they're having it with. It's all we've gotten for a decade it feels like. Suddenly all of it is irrelevant. I imagine the three people left in the Big Brother 2 house wandering outside in the yard going, "Hello? Where is everybody? Aren't we supposed to be the center of the world or somethin'?"
But when I sang Gabi's Song with Gabi, Alec and Noel right there at the front table, that's when the real magic began to happen and we all connected as one. For one thing, the harmony these guys worked out was BEAUTIFUL. No, I mean REALLY beautiful. It freed the song up and gave me a chance to do some back phrasing and free form stuff on the chorus.
After the song, the audience literally leaped to their feet as one and just drowned the Claytons in applause, love and appreciation. I cannot begin to describe it. Amazing.
"Steve went through nearly all the songs from TLS, then took a break and came back for a quiet session with the backup group. This was a moment for meditation, for spiritual healing. He asked the audience to hold their applause then went song-to-song without pause through songs from God the Musical. He said he would tell the audience when to applaud, but it was not necessary. When he sang Where is God everyone knew, and it brought the house down.He was right. I was nearly hoarse after the singing of the day. The only song I cut from what I intended to sing was "James Robison." But boy! did we have fun on "Where Is God". Jeff is a terrific singer and performer taking the lead with me on harmony. I almost didn't make it through the song. Then we repeated Gabi's Song and finished When You Care a cappella with the audience singing along. They sounded like angels and indeed, in our mutuality and togetherness, we created a sacred space even if it was for only one difficult, but joyfully melancholy night.
"There was another short break. Jeff K. asked Mike Walsh to say a few words. Mike is president of the local PFLAG. The original idea was to have spokespersons from each of the sponsoring organizations say a few words about their organizations. But Mike was sensitive enough to realize that we were experiencing something different. He gave no spiel for PFLAG. He simply thanked Steve for turning the theater into a "Sacred Space."
"Steve then did Gabi's Song one more time, even though he had lost his voice by then (he wanted to hear the Stevettes sing harmony on it again. They should record that version) and he finished with --- naturally, When You Care, with an audience sing-a-long at the end.
"The tiny crowd then swelled to gargantuan proportions with a standing ovation that Steve had to stop.
"Steve, we're so glad you came back to Olympia."
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