I Married Ethel Merman
Volume 3 Book 2 Part 2 of
Living in the Bonus Round

A new cast album of THE LAST SESSION
from the superb Dallas production!

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

November 27-30, 2002.
Thanksgiving with Bette.
We had two of our closest and dearest friends over for Thanksgiving dinner. With our free turkey from Ralph's and Jimmy's magical hand in the kitchen, it was a feast. Then we watched -- what else? -- "All About Eve."

Lots of good news: We have now booked The Big Voice into the Downstairs Cabaret Theatre in Rochester NY for four weeks beginning Jan. 16. Jimmy and I plan to load up the cats and possibly drive across the country while a good friend house sits for us. In Rochester, we are planning a big TLS reunion but it's all in the planning stages yet. More info as it becomes available.

Other great news: a note from Jeff Rane at Uptown Players in Dallas that they have completed their cast album of TLS and will be releasing it on Dec. 5th. We also plan to go to Dallas sometime in the Spring or Summer to perform a short run of The Big Voice and possibly sponsor a big TLS-Dallas cast reunion there, too. As soon as we have dates set, I'll inform readers.

Otherwise, life goes on. The reviews continue to trickle in and each one has given us raves and also things to think about as we continue to tweak and think about the piece. Next week, I'm flying to Lancaster Pennsylvania to sing at Franklin & Marshall, then I turn around and go to Columbus Ohio for an AIDS retreat.

My camera is acting up so I'm not posting many pictures. Sorry about that. Hopefully, that situation will be fixed soon.

December 1-14, 2003.
Awards, CDs & 2 Concerts.
There are so many things to tell I hardly know where to begin. First of all, on Thursday of this past week, we received two great pieces of news in one day. First, that PFLAG-LA has awarded THE BIG VOICE their Oscar Wilde Award for Excellence in Writing that accurately portrays the lives of "our children." Parents, Friends, and Families of Lesbians And Gays is, in my opinion, one of the most vital organizations around because they are a grass roots group and they extend needed support to the extended families of GLBT persons.

Secondly, we have been nominated by the national group GLAAD for their 14th Annual Outstanding Los Angeles Theatre Award. GLAAD is a national organization that promotes and recognizes images of gay and lesbian people in the media. It was thrilling for us to learn this news on the same day.

Of course, when the LA Times did the story on the GLAAD nominations (which include movies and TV) they failed to mention the theatre nominations, so that was disappointing. As a self-produced show, we need all the free publicity we can get. They did this last year too, so we're kinda used to it. But please, people, I know theatre might not have the showy names that TV and movies bring to the table, but at least acknowledge that we exist, for heaven's sake. Sometimes this town just makes me crazy.


Denise Lee, Sara Shelby-Martin & Jeff Kinman

I was also excited to get pictures from the TLS-Dallas CD release party. Producer Jeff Rane wrote, "The CD is a hit!  They are selling well and the CD release party was a huge success." Jimmy and I haven't gotten our copies yet but they should arrive any day now. I'm so excited. This is the first new cast recording of TLS since the NY production 5 years ago. I'm so happy they decided to do it.

Handsome Jeff Kinman singing "Going It Alone"

My recent trip to Pennsylvania and Ohio was a great success and deeply emotional. And what a difference in the two concerts. In Pennsylvania at Franklin & Marshall College, I sang my "Living In The Bonus Round" concert in a GORGEOUS concert hall. And, despite the fact that we're nearing finals and it was COLD, we had a really healthy turn-out of students.

Unfortunately, my camera finally gave up the ghost at that event, so I don't have pictures. What I can tell you is that they had a beautiful 9' grand piano and the concert hall was a completely refurbished room with tall windows and emmaculate wooden surfaces. Plus, the "kids" were attentive and enthusiastic.

But what a trip! I left LA on Monday, arrived at the Chicago airport just in time for it to close down due to snow. So I slept for an hour in the airport (first on an air conditioning unit and then finally on a cot), stood in line for endless hours and thought I'd never make it out. The next morning, my friend Maggie picked me up in Philly where we drove out to her house where I slept for a couple of hours. Then we drove into Pennsylvania, did the concert, spent the night together, drove back to Philly where I flew back home, spent one night and then flew back out to Columbus Ohio on Thursday.

The event in Columbus was a weekend health retreat sponsored by the United Methodist Church for people with HIV and their families. It was quite touching to see a hundred people all gathered -- and such a mixture! Moms, dads, kids, men, women, teenagers. My concert was Friday night in a hotel ballroom on a little upright piano which we moved to a space in the middle of the room against a wall with all the chairs in rows, arced around the piano.

I sat on a tall stool and peered over the top of the piano as I sang. What I wasn't prepared for was how emotional this evening would be. I mean, how many times have I sung (or heard) these songs? Hundreds? Thousands? I started with "Save Me A Seat" and before I could get five words out, my throat clenched, a knot came into my stomach and I started to lose it.

The difference between playing for students who are receiving the information as an educational event, where I'm giving them new information about HIV that they don't know -- and singing to people who've been there, lived it and know what it feels like before I ever open my mouth -- it's like night and day.

Against the back wall, facing me, were sections of AIDS quilts built by these people celebrating and mourning the lives of friends of theirs who had passed on. Back in the corner was a memorial where they had displayed pictures of previous attendees of these weekends who had since died. I looked into the eyes and faces of family members for whom the pain of disease and death was a fresh wound -- and I just lost it. It was as if, in beginning with "Save Me A Seat" I was inviting all those souls back into the room to join us. I could read their names from where I was sitting. I could see their faces.

I think I vamped on the chords for about 30 seconds before I could go to the second line. I didn't want to just sit there and bawl. I needed to sing, to accomplish the goal of the weekend which was to bring healing to these beautiful wounded, suffering people. So I held the moment and just waited for my throat to unclench.

After the concert, I took questions. One woman said that her 13 year old daughter had HIV and was refusing to take medication. Her tear-stained face stays with me as I remember her asking me if I had words or anything that could help her convince her girl to take the  meds. But what could I say?

I answered, "If you're asking me if I have magic words, the answer is no. What I do know is that the person with the disease is in the captain's chair and they are the ones steering the course. You just have to give her all the love and support that you can."

How I wished at that moment that I had had a magic wand. How I dream of the day AIDS is a memory so we can move on with our lives. But even on the day AIDS is cured, as one person put it, "I want a cure and I want all my friends back." No one can bring back our lost friends, but what we can do is reach out to each other and find comfort in knowing we are not alone.

[ Book 3-1 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ]
[ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ] [ Pt 9 ] -- [ Book 3-3 ]
© 1996-2002 by Steve Schalchlin.
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