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Volume 3 Book 10 Part 1 of
Living in the Bonus Round
Snap Productions theatre
Snap! Productions/Sherlterbelt Theatre.
Omaha, Nebraska.

[ 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 ]

June 1-5, 2004.
Opening night in Omaha.
Hello there! You got here just in time. You're reading the first words of a brand new book. I haven't even thought of a name for it yet. Let me catch you up. We are in Omaha Nebraska trying out some new material for The Big Voice: God or Merman?, (aka TBV), a musical starring the two of us. Jim & Steve. I'm Steve.

Thanks to James Tobey who saw us in Chicago, we are this year's selection for a theatre festival called SNAP!Fest which showcases new theatre pieces each year and provides audience/author feedback sessions. For us, it's a safe place to test out new material and experiment a bit before New York.

And, this being Omaha, it also gives us another opportunity to test how well TBV plays in "middle America." The longterm success of our "baby" directly related to how producers in various theatres perceive it.

I was here in Omaha in 1999 when they featured The Last Session. Jimmy wasn't able to come. (Volume 2 Book 2 Part 2.
 It was a huge success for them. So much so that it swept the city's Theatre Arts Guild Awards that year. I was there to see their production and to do educational school concerts as a part of the HIV education outreach.
This year, Thursday June 3rd was a special benefit performance for the Nebraska AIDS Project. It was probably the most explosive night of any performance of Big Voice so far. Not only was the room packed to the rafters with extra seats set up that extended almost onto the stage, but the crowd literally rattled the walls with its laughter and applause. Every song stopped the show. We got laughter on lines we didn't even know were funny!

James Tobey (stage manager), Daena Schweiger (lighting) & Jennifer Gilg (producer).

Liz Kendall (Lighting).

(I've missed a few last names and will insert them later.)

(One laugh moment in particular: Jimmy says -- about The Last Session -- that it "brought us to places we never dreamed about" started a snicker in the audience which turned into a roar. We looked at each other in total puzzlement until we realized they were laughing at themselves, the fact that TLS played Omaha. And of course, once we "got it," that only broke us up and generated new laughs from the audience. I don't remember ever feeling so in sync with an audience -- and how lovely that they have such a great sense of humor about themselves.)

The program (designed by Mark Cramer).
The talkback session afterwards was lively and interesting. Having done a few of these, we always get the inevitable, "How much of it is true?" Is our story so fantastic that people think we made it all up? And of course, they always love hearing Jimmy tell stories about Lucille Ball.

Downtown Omaha.

Mark Cramer & Rhonda Hall.

But for me personally, it confirmed once again something I've tried to impress upon theatres in smaller cities, that our shows, both TLS and TBV -- despite the fear expressed by timid theatre producers that they can't "sell" a show about AIDS or gays to their patrons -- do INDEED play well in mid-America.

Driving to the theatre.
Omaha has gentle rolling hills.
I have to laugh at the people afterwards all asking, "Why would you come to Omaha??" Even one of the reporters who interviewed us earlier asked the same question. To which I responded -- with reference to the musical "Working" -- don't YOU deserve to have US in your town?

Jim Brochu.
Saturday morning, the review came out:
Review: 'Big Voice' proclaims theatrical salvation



Jim Brochu writes rip-roaringly funny dialogue. And the gifted comedian knows how to use a look, body language and comic inflection to work an audience from a chuckle to a rolling laugh to a roar.

And why not laugh? It isn't every boy who believes his destiny is to be the first pope from Brooklyn, only to switch his hero worship from Pius XII to Ethel Merman.

Steve Schalchlin writes melodic, engaging tunes. His autobiographical lyrics are so seeringly honest about his journey from evangelical Southern Baptist boy to closeted gay to near-death from HIV to success on the musical stage, that his audiences share the emotional roller coaster in indelibly personal ways.

How the two of them met, fell in love and created musicals together is an improbable tale. How they tell that tale onstage is, it turns out, theatrical dynamite - all the more powerful because the writers perform the two-man show themselves, in fine tenor harmony.

"The Big Voice: God or Merman," heads to off-Broadway later this year, having won critics' awards in Los Angeles. Schalchlin and Brochu are still tweaking songs and dialogue, though it's hard to imagine the show getting that much better.

SNAP!Fest has already sold out three of the show's 12 nights in the Shelterbelt's tiny 55-seat venue. One reason, of course, is "The Last Session," another musical written by Schalchlin and Brochu that swept Omaha's 1999 Theater Arts Guild awards and won accolades on both coasts.

In an audience forum after Thursday's preview, Brochu said he wrote "The Big Voice" in about 10 days when a Laguna Beach, Calif., theater asked the pair to do an evening on how they created "The Last Session." Petrified of impromptu speaking, Brochu wrote a script. Schalchlin added songs. What was intended to be a one-night stand grew from there.

Schalchlin's tunes range from a Billy Joel-like sound on "The Closet" to the angry "One New Hell" to the plaintive and poignant "How Do You Fall Back in Love."

Enthusiasm for Thursday's preview was clear, marked by long, loud applause after songs, sustained periods of laughter and hushed moments that brought out the hankies. At final curtain, the crowd was on its feet before the duo hit center stage.

"The Big Voice" weaves threads of the partners' faith lives, their love lives and their stage lives into a moving and entertaining evening that swallows two hours in a heartbeat, then lingers in your head long after.

Schalchlin said he wanted not just to entertain but to take audiences to the depths of living with HIV, then serve up the healing power of hope. More than once the pair have been told their show has quashed suicidal urges.

"We started out wanting to save people in church," Schalchlin said. "We ended up saving them in the theater. And the theater saved us."

Welcome to Book 10!

[ 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 ]

© 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.