A Chicago Story
Volume 3 Book 8 Part 3 of
Living in the Bonus Round

Walking around Chicago!
[ Book 3-7 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ]
[ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ] [ Pt 9 ] [ Pt 10 ]

March 13-15, 2004.
Opening Weekend in the Windy City.
Going into the opening weekend, of course, the thing that was most on our minds was whether Chicago audiences (and critics) would accept us. Or would they just see us as two flaky guys from L.A.?? There are no guarantees in this business. All you can do is put your work out there and hope they get it.

Plus, it's important to remember that we don't know that many people here. For the opening weekend in which the critics would begin to trickle in -- assuming they even would -- we couldn't "stack" the audiences with friends and family. Except for a few fans who drove a several hours (thank you Danny and Karl and Casey and Tasha) or a few locals (Rentheads Peter and Jessie), plus a few folks we met on our cruises, the entire audience would be filled with strangers.

And if you thought the L.A. productions were bare-boned, this "studio production" here, redefines the MEANING of the word "bare-bones." Even in Houston and Rochester we at least had a background drop with colored lights that could be changed.

Here, it's black curtains, a spare lighting plot that we are sharing with another production, a piano, two stools and a mirror ball. No sets, no scenery, no costumes, no other cast members. It's Jim and Steve standing or sitting on a stage with nothing but words and music. I have friends who told me they'd die if they thought they had to be so completely and utterly "naked" in front of 200 strangers. This is a high-wire act with no net.

Jimmy rehearsing the "Ethel" moment.

But John Sparks, the artistic director here put it into words, "This musical is essential about the two characters -- and you have created genuine characters. You call them Jim and Steve -- and they do come from your own life and experience -- but these are truly characters in a musical. And you cannot help but totally fall in love with them."

There's also been something else going on that I cannot put my finger on. It's a feeling. It's a feeling I've had ever since the production of TLS in Indianapolis. It's like being in a groove. On the stage I have never felt more confident.

This past weekend, we are standing on a platform of the subway (which is really an elevated train) waiting. It's cold. The wind is blowing. (I see now why they call this the Windy City. The wind is always blowing).

And we are propped up on a metal bench. We have pushed the big metal button and have activated the overhead heating lamps which Jimmy says makes him feel like a hamburger at McDonald's. (See how civilized that is? It's like the city knows how cold it gets there so it provides public heating lamps.) What I like about them is that light they produce is really bright. So I have my traveling book in my hand. This week it's "Good Omens" by Gaiman and Pratchett, a hysterically funny book about the end of the world where this angel and this demon travel the English countryside together in a big car because they've lost the anti-Christ in a baby switch that went bad.)

This attractive guy walks over. Just a casual meeting between strangers talking about the cold. We're not from here. Oh, where are you from? Los Angeles. Why are you here? We're doing a show. "Oh," he says.
"I am the director of the Windy City Men's Chorus."

I told him I had just come from Los Angeles where I had breakfast with Bruce Mayhall, the director of the LA Gay Men's Chorus because they are singing one of my songs, "When You Care."

He said, "Oh, well then I'll have to commission something from you. Why don't you come to rehearsal Wednesday night. I would let you have five minutes at the top to tell them about it."

Is this what it feels like when all the forces of the universe align? It's
not magic but the coincidence factor is very high. How many millions of people are there in Chicago? What are the odds that we'd run into, and speak to, and meet the one person on an isolated platform out in the cold under a heating lamp who was next on my list of "people to contact."

Anyway, our opening weekend in Chicago resembled the opening weekend of TLS in Indy where we were also coming into town under the radar. We had packed opening night. Full Saturday. Then only about 30 on Sunday matinee. And that was a weird performance.

On stage, we thought everyone was bored and hating us. They were so quiet. And when they didn't applaud after a few of the songs, we thought it because they were too listless to disturb the air. But we were wrong. We were so, so wrong.

One East Indian couple. Young. Very attractive. The husband says, "My wife has taken me to the theatre for ten years. We see everything that goes on stage. This is the most profound theatrical experience I have had in Chicago."

And she was beaming! The look of gratitude from this woman -- that we had entertained her husband -- was worth its weight in gold.

I wonder if she told him what they were going to see. "Honey, today we're going to see a musical about two gay guys and Ethel Merman."

Can that be marketed? "The Show Even Your Husband Will Love." Some people did drive long distances. One couple drove two and a half hours there, saw the show and drove two and a half hours home, then reported they planned to do it again.

On our second night, we received word just before we went onstage that our first print review, which I can't talk about until Wednesday, is not going to disappoint. I felt such relief!

Well, we'll see. Critics are important in the process but they don't sell tickets. They create interest and attract attention and, hopefully, discussion. But for a production like this, except for those who go to see everything, we are strictly, wholly and completely word of mouth.

But nothing prepared me for the incredible letter I received Sunday morning from a complete stranger, a single mom with two kids:

Sunday, March 14, 2004
Hello Steve-

I attended your performance last night at the Theater Building in Chicago.  It was just on a whim that 3 friends and I attended.  While searching the theater pages in the Reader and trying to understand the explanations written in there, we all wanted an uplifting evening, something funny to possibly escape real life for an hour or two.

There was your play-THE BIG VOICE-listed under musical and comedy.  Well, that sounded great!

It feels as if "Thank you for sharing" is not enough.  I am a single Mom of two teenage boys, sometimes feeling as if life is a struggle.  It is not fair.  I cannot do this anymore.  Please understand these are just fleeting thoughts and feelings-NOT FACTS.  Today I know the difference.

Not only did I attend the performance, watch the play, and listen to the songs.  What I did was BECOME part of the entire experience.  I am grateful I allowed myself to FEEL everything.  I am proud that I was able to abandon myself totally to become part of you for the evening.  You not only touched my heart, you possibly healed it from all the wounds.  Your songs sent quivers through my body.  I took in every single feeling and will keep those ALIVE within me.  Thank you.

THE BIG VOICE has had an impact on me that I am not yet able to explain.  I am an avid theater "goer".  I subscribe to at least two theaters per year, every year. I have seen moving plays.  I have cried until my eyes were puffy.  I have seen comedies- I have laughed until my stomach hurt. I have felt all types of emotions at my Oh So MANY live theater experiences.  I think I must say that YOUR performances in THE BIG VOICE and your songs will have changed my life forever.  What a positive impact it will have on me for the rest of my life. I simply cannot stop thinking about all I took in last night.  I am NEVER up at 6 am, but I am today.  Smiling!

I thought-WOW-life is a miracle.  It is all about the way I perceive EVERYTHING as well as my attitude.  The next time I am down, sad, hurting, angry, depressed or feeling unloved and taken for granted, I will think of you.  This will bring me back to where I want to be.  Life.  Living.  LOVE.

Tears were shed and your messages got through.  Life IS a bonus round.  I need to TRY to remember that daily as I awaken to embrace the moments.  Thank you for the overwhelmingly wonderful reminder.  This is one evening I will never, ever forget.  What a gift you have given to me....as well as everyone else who has and will see this production.

I spoke with you. I hugged you.  I talked a little about my best friend and wanting to take her to see something really funny-due to a lot of stress and loss in her life today as well as life threatening illnesses in her past.  She and I talked on the telephone for nearly two hours after we got home last night.  Our conversation was about the evening and how we each experienced a life-altering performance. It was about LIVING life and GIVING love.

We may meet again and we may never meet again.  But I know that you will stay with me forever-always reminding me it is neither God nor Merman-it is all of us.  It is ME.

Thank you again from the bottom of my heart.  Keep living in the bonus round.  I wish you all you wish for and everything you dream of being and having.  I think you already know that you have it all!  You will NOW be part of my evening prayers--- "To make sure that everyone I know and love and everyone they know and love are loved, watched over and kept healthy and safe."

As I casually mentioned earlier in my letter-we were looking for some FUN to escaping REAL life for an hour or two...I now view it as an hour or two of enhancing my life and my "LIVING"....What a difference!!!!

Thank you again.  Best wishes and be well.  PLEASE-Continue to share your gifts-as I know you MAY never realize how many gifts you are GIVE-ing when you do so.

I will follow MY passion---and hum and smile along the way since my voice is not always on key.  YOU ARE WONDERFUL!  BOTH OF YOU! Sharing and sent with much love and gratitude-


Random friends and people close to the production.

Opera director Michael Ehrman.
Director of Chicago Actor's Equity Luther Hodges.
Set designer Michael Lasswell.
Jim. Steve.
Hanging out in the dressing room on opening night.

Africa hugs Steve. Steve hugs Africa.
Africa is Sue's daughter. She's very beautiful.

Sue Carey, John Sparks, Jim Brochu, Kelly (Sue's assistant) .

This is Jim Brochu as a secret agent in an international spy thriller.

Michael Alden and Jim Brochu.

Jim and Steve in front of the Picasso sculpture.

Now THAT'S a parking garage!

Green water for St. Patrick's Day!

The world famous Goodman Theatre.

I have to make a correction. Amy and Maggie both wrote me reminding me that the bonus round diary did not start on March 9th seven years ago. It was started on March 24th -- EIGHT years ago. March 24 is the date that we're doing the staged reading of The Last Session here. So, I stand corrected. I just got so excited about so much happening, I got confused.

Eight years. Good grief.

So, the weekend was wonderfully successful. Reviews come out on Wednesday. Keep yer fingers crossed!

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

© 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.