Volume 3 Book 10 Part 9 of
Living in the Bonus Round
Greeting the UU audience after our show in Long Beach.
June 25-30, 2004.
[ Book 3-9 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ]
[ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ] [ Pt 9 ] [ Pt 10 ] -- [ Book 4-1 ]
The Unitarian General Assembly.
Did ya ever feel so humbled that you could barely describe it?
I have to confess something: Jimmy and I had a bad attitude going into this event. Not because we didn't want to perform for attendees of the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association. (To the contrary, we were honored to have been accepted). No. This was about something else. Convention facilities, by and large, suck. There's nothing the event organizers can really do about it so it's not their fault; it's just a fact of life.
The circumstances we would face this weekend would be the ultimate test for any piece of theatre. We would be shorn of adornments... like lights, sound, a stage, and a familiar keyboard.
And the room was hot.
The other aspect of convention singing is that you cannot be guaranteed an audience. While you're doing your show, there are many other events, classes, lectures and meetings going on at the same time that you are. People fly in from all over the country (the world?) to attend these lectures and classes. Larry, Jimmy and I discussed whether we could find a few friends in the area to "seed" the audience. (We were to do two shows: 11am and 8:30pm).
The scene is the Long Beach Convention Center, a beautiful sprawling complex of meeting rooms, surrounded by the oceanfront, theatres, restaurants and hotels. (Photos below are screen caps from video).
Another wing facing east.
Ocean-view apartments crowd the center.
Inside. Facing north.
That's our door on the right.
Our room was one-third of a ballroom, removable walls on either side shielding us from other lecturers doing their programs. (We would probably be able to hear each other).
We got our first lucky break when we tested the room. It had a nice echo. We could do the show in here without lavaliers. The room was tall and boxy. Standing in the front of the room, we could hear our voices off the back wall. However, we would still have harsh, overhead ceiling lights. Larry Dusich, our beloved stage manager, would stand in the back with a tiny boombox playing our sound cues. Then he'd flicker the light switch during the "mirror ball moment."
So, we got there really early and set everything up...
hen I took some fliers (which I had hastily thrown together earlier that morning) and got copied off at Kinko's and started walking around the big convention lobby/hallway, coaxing people to come in for the show. "It's a musical comedy! Two shows only!"
The thing is we had no idea if anyone was gonna come to see us. We've never done anything like this before together. I've only done several others singing solo. What a disaster it would be if no one came and we played to an empty room!
So it was to our great relief that the first ones began arriving a half hour before "curtain." (Not that we had a curtain). They were taking seats. 15 minutes to curtain the place is filled. All the seats are taken. More people arrive.
Now Larry is running around trying to find chairs to help seat people. Lillian Anderson, who is part of the events committee was there also finding places for people and trying to get them all in. She turned to me, "What size room did you submit for?" I shrugged. I couldn't remember. This room had a capacity of 170.
Soon, people were sitting in the aisles and on the sides... I blatantly went out, grabbed the camera and took a picture of them.
Look over to the right, you'll see the ones sitting on the floor.
Something else was going on here, too. I was suffering from laryngitis. My throat wasn't particularly sore, but there was a lot of phlegm and when I gargled with Listerine, I got little pain pricks. So I knew I was nursing a minor infection of some kind. And I had to get through two shows!
Right when I started playing I was horrified to discover that I or something had hit a button or something, because the sound coming out of the keyboard was not a piano. It was something like an organ but it had a spooky vibrato thing, like someone was playing with the bend wheel. I had no idea how to fix it except to reboot the whole sound module (which I knew nothing about and couldn't see anyway because I wasn't wearing my glasses.)
So rather than fret about it, I just kept playing and we did the show using a Vincent Price organ sound.
Didn't matter. The laughter was long and loud. The tears flowed. Because of time limitations we couldn't do the whole show, so we cut a bunch out of act two, (INCLUDING JIMMY'S COSTUME CHANGE), skipping the whole award show/protest scene and cutting through to "How Do You Fall Back In Love?" The response was terrific, explosive, reminding me of the reactions we got in Omaha.
Vocally, I made it through. Wasn't my best singing, but hey, it didn't seem to make a difference. The show stood up on its own. We took our usual place at the door as they went out and that's when the humbling started.
What do you say to someone with tears in their eyes who tell you they just had one of the most profound spiritual experiences of their lives? All you can do, really, is just say, "Thank you." The crowd was a great mix of younger, older, straight, gay, conservative looking, "wild-lookin'" (as my mom would say).
I really was stunned by it. But this was probably the first time we played this show specifically for a group of church people. Jimmy reminded me later that they applauded on a line that's never received applause. It was when he said, "He'd just had a transfusion of hope; and hope was the most effective drug of all."
We were exhausted after that show. Larry lives in Long Beach, so we went over to his apartment (decorated in tiki, bamboo and island themes) and slept all afternoon (after eating some deliriously good chicken curry for my throat).
When we got back to the convention hall for our evening show, it was absolutely deserted.
Jimmy said, "No one is going to come to this tonight. They're in Los Angeles. It's a Saturday night. They've been going to lectures and meetings all day. If it was me, I'd be out on the town!"
We got to our little room about an hour early to find three or four people sitting in there. One was a mom, dad and kids. A boy who looked -- god, who can figure out kids' ages these days? -- anywhere from 8 to 11, maybe. Probably more like 9.
And this kid was sitting there crocheting.
I pointed and said, "Hey! I know how to crochet! When Jimmy and I drove from New York to LA, I crocheted an afghan the whole way -- tied it off and handed it to our friends when we arrived."
His mom said, "I saw the show this morning and I wanted to make sure our children saw it."
Now, when she told me this, I didn't really think that much about it. Until about 10 minutes later, we looked back in the room and saw about six more kids about the age of 10 sitting with a couple of adults. Jimmy said, "Do they know this show has adult themes? We've never had kids this young at the show. Do you think we should tell the adults?"
Naturally, I was volunteered to do this duty. I approached the man sitting with the kids, "Um, I just wanted to make sure you knew this show has a couple of adult themes. There's homosexuality and AIDS. Plus it has a lot of older cultural references..."
He said, "I know. I saw it this morning. I wanted my kids to see it."
I must have looked dumb-founded.
I responded, "Well, okay." Then I looked at the kids, "There's a lot of stuff in this show that only adults might 'get,' but if you watch Jimmy, you can laugh at all the goofy things he does. He's really funny."
"Okay!!!" they said, laughing.
Half hour before the show. The room is completely packed. They had brought in more chairs but even those weren't enough so now Larry was once again running around looking for chairs. Just as they got all the chairs filled, a few people sitting up on the floor on stage right, I looked up and noticed that there were more people at the door.
In fact, there were a LOT more people.
Jimmy came running after me to bring the camera. We go down and come out a side door only to see this line out the door:
Just as we get near them, we suddenly hear chanting, "LAR-GER ROOM! LAR-GER ROOM!" A riot? We were provoking a riot??
I guess I should have submitted us for a larger room. But who knew?
Just before the show started, I gave the camera to Larry and asked him to video a little bit after he's played his last sound cue. These are the shots of us doing the show:
Notice that we're not playing on a stage. No sound equipment. No lights.
I love the above picture. It's Jimmy walking down the aisle toward the door. In the video, he looks like a politician running for office. He got to the back of the room and NOBODY MOVED! They did NOT want this to end. Neither did we, but by then my voice was shot. We hugged everyone and laughed together.
I hope they'll invite us back again next year!
So now Jimmy is off to Chicago to direct "Africa & Plumbridge." And I'm home with the cats taking care of my throat.
© 1996-2004 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.