Volume 3 Book 1 Part 4 of
Living in the Bonus Round

Steve with TLS-Dallas at opening night party.
Jeff Kinman, Denise Lee, director Doug Miller, Steve,
Scott A. Eckert, Sara Shelby-Martin, Jeff Wold.

[ Book 2-10 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ]
[ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ] [ Pt 9 ] [ Pt 10 ]

September 2, 2002.
And now I go home. Today I fly to Dallas, the city where I "came out." There's something really "right" about the fact that TLS is finally playing my adopted home town right at the same time that our new show is being born.

I discovered the world of theatre in Dallas.

I never knew how much of a rube from the woods I was until I found myself at the (now defunct) Gran' Crystal Palace in Dallas. Some of the happiest days of my life were lived in the dressing room upstairs after the shows.

There was this performer there named Jerry. Jerry was a singer/dancer/actor who would sit for hours after each show, facing the mirror putting on a show for us. He had this baritone voice that would rattle the walls. And in preparation for going out to the bars, he was sit and entertain the rest of us with songs and stories, while he put on make-up and powdered himself down with baby powder.

Then there was Tom the tall black opera queen who once almost got us into trouble by switching labels on a bottle of Chateau Lafitte Rothchild. (We served dinners there and Tom was the wine steward).

Here was this kid from the sticks who thought "Broadway" meant old movies, singing and "dancing" -- if you can call what I did dancing -- every single night while serving prime rib and rack of lamb between acts. But it was the first of my musical educations, singing and learning those revues. (The second was moving in with Jim Brochu where I was treated to a live recreation of every moment of every show ever written -- every hour on the hour; with costumes!).

And today I'll be flying home as "the composer." No. The AWARD-winning composer. And the "kids" will be singing my songs. Jeff Rane, the musical director said they'd be nervous because "the composer's in the house." I'm sure they'll be just fine.

September 3-5, 2002.
The First Day in Dallas.
My brother, "Piglet," picked me up at the airport and brought me to a hotel about a mile from the theatre. I took a brief rest and then spoke with Craig Lynch the producer and Jeff Rane, the musical director.

Jeff Rane & Craig Lynch

Tonight we be the first dry run-through for a very small invited audience. There were about 20 of us in the modern, comfortable 150 seat theatre which consists of a wide thrust stage with audience on three sides (in very comfortable chairs, I might add).

Jeff Rane in front of the theatre.

The colorfully designed set/stage by Andy & Amy Redmon.

Denise Lee saw TLS-Laguna and
promised to one day play Tryshia.

I was happy to meet Denise Lee who's playing Tryshia. She reminded me that she had seen TLS out in L.A. and walked to me that after the show, saying she would someday play Tryshia in Dallas. And I do remember her!

Scott Eckert is a very cute Gideon and
Sara Shelby-Martin is a fiery "Thermos Vicki."

At about 8pm, I got to watch them run a dress rehearsal for about 20 "friends and family." And this was the moment I was most nervous about. The production team had graciously allowed me some input via email in preparation for the production but this was their baby, their production.

All I can say is that within 30 seconds of Scott's "Save Me A Seat," I relaxed. Not only does he have a beautiful voice, but he's a superb musician who was making good, instinctive choices on the music, making little arrangement modifications that were appropriate and even exciting.

Then Ted Wold, as Jim made his entrance. More nervous time for me because this would tell the story of how they were pacing the dialogue. Would they keep it moving or would it be bogged down? YAY! It was razor sharp! They found every laugh and now I could relax that the dirctor understood the material cuz this sucker was movin'! (whew)

WHAT A RELIEF! (But the best and biggest surprises were about come -- and this was their first dress rehearsal!).

Director Doug Miller; Denise Lee with Jeff Wold.

Denise and Sara made their entrances and totally had possession of Tryshia and Vicki. Denise's Tryshia has a very mature presence in contrast with Sara's Vicki, who held nothing back. If you put Amy's Vicki and Sara's Vicki into a nuclear reactor, you could light up the country. Jeff Kinman's Buddy was endearing and subtle, by the way. Very believable. Very innocent face.

Jeff Kinman is Buddy.

Now, it was time for the music. And what I can tell you is that the vocal power of this ensemble is as good as any cast that's ever sung TLS. They are strong, professional and emotional. In fact, I was really struck by the sheer level of professionalism in this production. You'd never guess that this wasn't a veteran Equity cast. (When I spoke with them later, I found out that all of them have had extensive stage experience. It shows.)

I'll speak more about individual songs after tonight's prevue and Friday's opening. But let me say this: These kids are good. Steve is very, very happy.

September 3-11, 2002.
Dallas TLS & The Countdown.
This being Sept. 11, it means we have one more day until Jimmy and I open TBV, so I am spending it, naturally, at the doctor's office, picking up a keyboard and running errands when I should be memorizing the rewrites. But, who's got time for little things like that??

The reviews of TLS-Dallas were almost uniformly excellent, with a particularly insightful one by Mark Lowry in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram who is one of the only critics to figure out and name the politics behind the piece -- that we "aren't out to change anyone's mind, but to promote understanding." Even the critics who were less enthused by parts of the show itself were thrilld with the cast and the production values.

Photo by George Wada.

Denise Lee, Scott A. Eckert, Jeff Kinman, Jeff Wold, Sara Shelby-Martin.
Photo by George Wada.

For me, being in Dallas was a very healing time. I got to meet and pal around with old pals from Jacksonville College, my brothers Corky & Scott; Pastor Bob and Johnnie & Trisha Helm. Some faces I hadn't seen in 20 years. I took more photos but I left my camera in Dallas. George Wada, the theatre's photog sent me these.

On opening night, they brought out a huge cake (from "It's A Cake Thing") and we celebrated a sensational opening performance which ended with a stunningly extended standing ovation. (I was told that in Dallas you have to EARN those).

Photo by George Wada.

I made a short speech praising the cast.
Didn't someone notice my tie was too short??

Thanks to Uptown Players for making my dream of a Dallas production come true -- not just because they did it. But because they did it right. It's a superb production. When I got home I showed Jimmy some of the little bits of video that I made and he agreed with me that "they got it." And the great news is that they plan to record a cast album at Scott's house, promising me we can have some of the cuts for a free download.

If anyone reading this is close to Dallas, go see this. I can't say enough.

Meanwhile, it was so nice to see Jimmy again. He finished our new act two and already we're tweaking THAT! So, I must go back to memorizing the script. We open tomorrow night. TOMORROW??? YIKES!!!

September 12, 2002.
Before the Show.
Well, it's opening night and I am so excited. Jimmy delivered new pages yesterday and I almost made it through our run-through last night without needing prompting. So, I'm nervous but I think we have a good show. I especially feel like we have a strong workshop script. Many fully produced plays have opened with less "substance" (in my opinion) than ours. Now we put it in front of people and cross our fingers.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2002.
Opening Night.
Our opening night last night was a GREAT success. The new act two, which has totally been rewritten from the Laguna reading worked liked gangbusters. All the laughs we were looking for were there. And the new songs (which went in place of the songs from THE LAST SESSION) effectively delivered the drama. So now we continue in front of audiences looking for as much feedback as possible in preparation for a move to a larger venue.
September 14, 2002.
Second Night.
Last night was the second performance and it was a real test because the audience was NOT populated with our friends. So, when we came out and opened the show, they were quieter. At first Jimmy and I felt a bit panicky. Up until now, they've practically come out of their seats when we appeared but this was the first real test to see how it would play with people who are strangers to us.

Afterwards, Jimmy and I talked about it. He and I both did the same thing. We felt, "Uh oh, these folks are quiet. What should do?" At first we kinda pushed hard as if getting louder or something might get them, but that's not how you get an audience. Instead -- and this is what both of us did instinctively -- we laid back and just trusted the material hoping they'd catch up to us.

Well, not only did they catch up to us, but after about 10 minutes, the laughs started coming LOUDER than when our friends were in the audience. They were FREAKING. And during "Beyond The Light," you could hear sobs coming from the audience. When the song finished, people literally went "ohhhh." It was beautiful. Just beautiful.

I'm trying to not say too much about the show yet, its structure or what songs are included because I want people to see it on its own terms. This diary being a public document, I just don't want to give anything away. I can tell you that we have 14 musical numbers and that most people who have been following my career for the past few years will know the music -- but many of the lyrics have been changed to fit the show. But no songs from TLS are included. It's all original with this show.

Since last night was our third public performance, there were still a couple of rough spots. I am still stumbling just a bit over some of my lines and at one point, I jumped ahead but then backtracked and caught up. So nobody missed anything. It's so scary to be out there and suddenly realize you just missed a chunk of dialogue. But I didn't panic. People know this is a workshop.

Oh, and on opening night -- again not trying to give anything away -- at the end of act one, I have this one line that I TOTALLY blew. And it's something that HAS to be done right or the story doesn't make any sense. So I turned bright red, looked at Jimmy and then at the audience and just changed the line on the spot. It was SO embarrassing. Oh well. That's showbiz!

At the end of last night's show the audience didn't just give us a standing ovation. They ROARED to their feet. I mean in this little theatre where an audience would normally be shy to each other, we literally heard a ROAR come from them as they showered us with applause and whistles and stomping.

This is thrilling. One woman, a member of GLAAD, came up to us afterwards and said this show was better, way better, than The Last Session and that she was going to be telling everyone about it.

Wow, this is fun.

September 14-15, 2002.
First Weekend.
Well, if second night was a roar, the third night was a nuclear -- or, as George Bush would say, "Nu-cu-lar" -- bomb. First of all, the room was packed. They had to bring in folding chairs to get everyone seated. Then during act one, the audience laughter was so raucous and rowdy, the show just stopped dead in its tracks about four times while we stood there waiting for the laughter to subside.

Sunday afternoon's performance was quieter at first, like Friday's. It was an older audience, for one thing, and once again they consisted mostly of strangers. Jimmy said it scared him because all of a sudden, since they weren't jumping on every punchline like the night before, he went into a little panic. By the end of the play, they were totally there with us. So, it really is a matter of calming down and letting the audience catch up.

I will have pictures soon, by the way. Bev took a few on Sunday and I will have my camera back from Dallas by Wednesday. I want you to meet the other people who are working on the show voluntarily and take you on a little tour of the theatre and the block.

Again, I'm refraining from mentioning the songs or the moments in the play. In this workshop process, the point is to get feedback without prejudice or pre-conceived notions of what people are going to see.

I did get this email from Bryon in Baltimore:

I emailed a friend in Hollywood and he brought a bunch (2-3? I don't know he said a group) to see it. And loved it, and is spreading the word. Here is a capsule review from my friend who is a playwright, and works on soaps.  "They talk about each (one a Catholic from Brooklyn, the other a Baptist from Arkansas) seeking in their youth the find the big voice, aka God, but actually discovering the big voice to be Ethel Merman.  It was both funny, touching and moving with some very clever lines and songs."

Mazel Tov!

Last night after the show I was standing outside the theatre greeting people as they were leaving. So many strangers were hugging me and asking me about my eyepatch ("Yes, I wear it for real because of my Grave's Disease -- the prism blinds me under the bright lights and I see double without them") and whether the story was actually real ("Yes, I do have AIDS and yes, I'm surviving as well as can be expected, thank you").

I like the fact that they wondered if the story was real or if we were just two characters in a fictional story. Either way, they thought it was amazing and they promised to tell everyone. One elderly couple said, "We never do this, but we are making a donation to the theatre because this is the best show we've seen all season."

And that's what so great. The show seems to reach all age groups. Old folks love it. There were young couples there who also hugged me and said how much they loved it. Gay, straight. Everyone! So, like TLS it seems to have cross-over appeal. We don't have advertising money or promotional money our audience is totally word of mouth.

[Book 2-10 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ]

[ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ] [ Pt 9 ] [ Pt 10 ]
© 1996-2002 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.