Volume 4 Book 2 of
Living in the Bonus Round
Handing out postcards at Time Square.
September 13-23, 2004.
[ Book 4-1 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ] [ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ]
[ Pt 9 ] [ Pt 10 ] [ Pt 11 ] [ Pt 12 ] [ Pt 13 ] [ Pt 14 ] -- [ Book 4-3 ]
Nomads in New York.
Break time is over! After two weeks of convalescence at home (a well-deserved rest, I might add), we are now in New York City sitting at a Starbucks around the corner from the hotel rooms that we booked at the last minute.September 24-25, 2004.
One of the shortcomings of producing a show yourself in a festival in New York in the fall is that you don't realize that there are no hotel rooms to be found at anything approaching an affordable rate, so Jimmy, at the last minute, found a hotel on the East Side near Gramercy Park for three days. (We had been counting on a friend whose apartment was supposed to be vacant, but at the last minute, that apartment became unavailable so now we are scrambling around New York like migrants).
Anyway, we flew in on Wednesday and we have this room until Saturday. I started calling around and found a gay bed and breakfast that has ONE empty room beginning Saturday which will last through Thursday, at which time we will be homeless again. (And during our time there, we'll have to change rooms once).
So, that's the glamor of show business, folks!
Our show is beginning to sell tickets, thankfully. The NYMF began last week so there is a lot of buzz in the air. Most of the shows are getting excellent reviews and some have been trumpeting the fact that they have been picked up for full runs after the festival closes. So this is great news for us, that we're a part of something that is getting great word of mouth and great reviews.
But it also feels like we're coming in late to the party! Everyone is already here and they're out in Times Square selling their shows and being a part of all the festivities. I have already informed the office that I will be happy to volunteer at the NYMF booth. We have bags and bags of postcards that I need to give out.
I've contacted the technical director and it looks like our table and keyboard are ready for us. So, soon it will be show time!
Of course, we'll be sleeping on the streets in a box if we don't find a place to stay soon. But, hey, what a great story it'll make when we're superstars, eh?
Opening Night in New York.Opening night in New York was, as Jimmy called it, a white knuckle flight. The audience (which was above us in this venue as I mentioned previously meaning their feet were on the same level as our eyes) was sitting there, for the most part, with their arms folded and the body language was basically saying, "Show me. Prove yourselves."September 26-27, 2004.
So, we started the show and sure enough, they were much quieter in their responses than to any other audience we've ever played to. In fact, it started to scare us. Did they hate us? Have we been fooling ourselves for the past two years getting this thing together?
It was hard to say. All I know is there is nothing more terrifying than having a group of people staring at you like some bug under a microscope. And, of course, given the fact that they were above us and we were playing on a stage below them, that's exactly the effect. We were on the operating table and the gallery was watching dispassionately waiting for us to do something that would impress them. (Remember, this theatre has no floor seating. Everyone is in a balcony looking down at us).
What we found ourselves doing, of course, was the exact wrong thing to do in that kind of situation. We pushed. In other words, singing harder, playing the comedy harder, trying to get the show OUT -- or rather UP -- into their laps so they'd "get it."
Things that normally got huge laughs elsewhere was getting chuckles and titters. The places that got warm chuckles and titters elsewhere were met with what felt like stone cold silence. To say we were freaked out would be putting it mildly. I could feel Jimmy pushing. I could feel myself pushing. It just felt like it couldn't have been going worse.
So we got to the dressing room exhausted. Nervous. Scared. My throat was already starting to go because I had been pushing it so hard. I looked at Jimmy and just sighed, "Tough crowd."
You have to realize that a performer, though he or she might be in the same room with you, never quite experiences the same show that a audience experiences. We might TRY to figure out what's going on in their minds but it's not really possible. It's a moments like this that I understand what some of the old actors mean when I would hear them say that the stage is the loneliest place on earth.
Anyway, we're sitting there gloomy, wondering how we were going to survive this careful scrutiny the rest of the night when our stage manager, Jana, poked her head into the tiny, flea-sized room.
She said, "You guys. I just came from the lobby. They are out there loving this show. The venue director said it's one of the best responses she's heard."
We looked at each other. What?
She continued, "Look, I know you guys are out there pushing it and I know you're used to a louder response but these people are festivaled out. There has been three major theatre festivals this year so far, two of them new. The midtown theatre festival, the Fringe and now this. People attending these things have seen hundreds of shows this year. What I want you to do is relax and just let them come to you. Stop trying to push yourselves. Just lie back and do the show you know how to do."
(She could tell we were freaking out).
So we did exactly as she said. We took a deep breath, made the decision to trust the material and just go out and do it.
Another thing she said, "The people loved it most when you two look like you're having fun. When you're connecting to each other. I could feel them warm up toward the end of the act when you finally 'meet'. So just go out there and have fun."
And that's exactly what we did. We relaxed. We stopped trying to push. And suddenly it was like a completely different show. All the warmth and laughter that we got elsewhere started to rain down on us from this balcony.
We began getting into the dramatic parts and, sure enough, I could feel them breathing with us. When we broke back into a punchline, the audience caught it, broke loudly and gave it right back. Could Jana be right? Were we just being unnecessarily paranoid?
Louder and louder the audience got. I could feel the energy in the room literally changing as they let down their guard and, instead of inspecting us, were finally joining us. At the black-out, the room literally EXPLODED. I mean they didn't just applaud. It was as if someone set off a bomb. They SCREAMED. The curtain call was magnificent. Our hearts were beating. I was so relieved and happy and a billion other things.
We met them in the lobby as usual and the audience was all over us. They were hugging us, some were still laughing. Some were still crying. And the kicker came when the venue director, who basically sees every show in the Festival, came up to us and said, "I had to be out here taking care of business during this performance but now I have to come inside and see what's going on."
"Really?" I asked.
Then she said, "This is the best audience response of any show I've witnessed so far in the Festival. By far. You guys killed 'em."
There were some very heavyweight industry people in the audience, too. One of them associated with the festival, who was one of the founders, went up to Jimmy and said he was absolutely knocked out of his socks. That he didn't know what to expect but that it was one of, if not the best, show he'd seen in the Festival.
Outside on the sidewalk, we took pictures with people, met up with some old friends. There is one friend that I made seven years ago when TLS was in NY who I had thought of a lot over the years but hadn't heard from and wondered what had happened to him. He was there. Turns out he'd been lurking, reading this diary all this time. We hugged and kissed each other.
We also made friends with some of the young people who are fans of the musical 'bare' witten by our friend Damon Intrabartolo, which played to great reception here earlier this year and which will reopen off-Broadway soon. They fans remind me of the RENT fans that used to congregate there and then leak over to TLS.
The next morning when I checked the fan boards, sure enough, there they were telling everyone how great Big Voice is and that it had the same kind of "emotions" that 'bare' deals with. It would be a great coup for us if we were able to get that young crowd following us along with the older theatre fans that love all of Jimmy's stories of growing up in Brooklyn and seeing Ethel Merman.
Part of our mission in this festival is to show prospective producers that we can attract all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds. Everything is pointed towards getting a legitimate off-Broadway or Broadway run. And to do that, they want to know that you appeal to more than a single core constituency. (It's like running for office).
Afterwards, a small group of us gathered at Sam's and celebrated. Sam's is the restaurant where, in the days of TLS, they had our posters up in the back booth (where big Broadway shows normally get displayed).
Exhausted, my Sustiva kicking in, we made our way back to our hotel and then got up the next morning, packed and moved to the Chelsea Pines, a gay bed and breakfast on 14th Street. The room we got is tiny, but it's very clean and very nice.
Saturday night we got back together with Mark Janas and John Fischer, hitting a piano bar called "Rose's Turn" where we were invited to the mic to sing and hand out cards.
Who knows what will happen next. Our ticket sales are somewhat healthy but now is the time to fill the house. More and more bigshots are making reservations. At some point, the future of Big Voice will leave our hands and will be in the hands of some unknown someone out there who feels they can make a lot of money off of us.
But until then, we will continue our nomadic ways -- we have to change rooms again on Monday -- saving our pennies and crossing our fingers that in the vast theatrical landscape known as Manhattan, this tiny two-man show running in the weirdest, most untheatrical venue in New York on a side street in the garment district will somehow get the eyes and ears of the people who need to see it.
The odds are stacked against us in so many ways. Russell, the publicist for NYMF, has been trying to get critics out to see us, but so far, I think only two reviewers from two tiny publications came. We couldn't even get Playbill.com to announce our opening. It's like starting from scratch. Two nobodies from nowhere standing at the bottom of a laboratory dish waving our arms trying to get attention.
Will we get it? Will the people come? Will anyone notice?
Stay tuned, reader. We will all find out together.
The Responses Continue.At our second show on Sunday night, we decided that we could not stand having all the people up above us. They hate it. We hated it.
When we came in, the show before us, "Frankenstein, Do You Dream" had placed a bunch of mismatched chairs and pews up around the stage area and in a single row along the wall beneath the balcony.
I said, "Let's just seat as many people down here as possible. And if they're a little off to the side I think it'll still be better than up in that balcony." (And besides, it's just weird to play to a wall). The folks in the balcony were able to get into the front row. Much better.
The response to the show was very similar to last night's. In the first act, they seemed to be studying us very closely, as if wondering what it was they were about to see. The punchlines got their laughs but have you ever felt like you were being examined?
Then it hit me. Of course we are being examined. Our audiences right now, for the most part, are theatre professionals -- or veteran theatre fans. We are not advertised. We are not famous. Our show does not have a budget. We have crept into the tail end of a festival which features over a hundred events. So the only people who have found us so far are theatre fanatics who try to see everything.
Ever tell a joke to a writer? If he thinks it's funny, he doesn't laugh. He says, "That's funny."
When Jimmy and I go to see something new, we find it almost impossible to not sit there and analyze it while it's happening rather than immediately responding.
So, tonight, rather than trying to make people come to us, we laid back and just played the show without pushing. If the huge laughs we usually get at the top of the show aren't there, so be it. Just let it play. Let the audience come to us at their own speed.
It paid off. By the second act, the laughs were coming loudly, I could see people wiping away tears and, once again, "How Do You Fall Back In Love?" stopped the show completely. At the end of the show we got -- yes, it came again -- the ROAR from them when the lights finally went out. Feeling better and trusting the fates, we got home and logged onto Talkin' Broadway to find this unexpected review. I'm reprinting here in its entirety because the one who wrote it, "Danny," is known for being a tough, tough critic. I hope he won't mind:"OK, this is sort of a shill-y review. Cause I had a good time at this show and I want more people to see it.
"It's a musical auto - bi - ography of the lives of and relationship between Steve Schalchlin (of THE LAST SESSION fame) and his S.O., actor/writer Jim Brochu. From the ground up. "Different" Kids to High Schoolers to Broadway Baby to Cruise Ship Musician to the Catholic Church effect to catching "it", to rocky marriages, to reconciliation and stable health. And all to a rock beat. And the ghost of La Merm hovering over it all.
"Schalchlin has written solid songs just begging for a back up group (that'll come in the bigger houses). Brochu provides the acting chops. He's hysterical, sentimental, touching and campy all at once (WAYYYY campy). Nominated for a LA Ovation award for this performance.
"OK, I can't say enough good things about this show. And especially cause there's so much good will involved. Even when it's brutally honest, the show is just plain human, theatrical and real.
"And that's why I liked it."
We also took the opportunity to do some self-promoting and marketing (of course). One Sunday night we went with Mark Janas and John Fischer to a piano bar in the Village called Marie's Crisis where we sang "How Do You Fall" to a packed room. Then the next night we went over to Birdland to a late night "open mic" called Jim Caruso's Cast Party where famed pianist Billy Stritch plays piano for people who get up and sing. It was a packed house!
And here's something completely unexpected: I contacted Jim Caruso via email to ask to be put on the list of singers. He responded that he had sung my song (the first song I ever wrote) "I Want To Make Music" back at the Gran' Crystal Palace in Dallas -- the first place I ever sang a show tune. Back then I had brought the song to them and they made an arrangement I don't even remember and must have incorporated it into their show after I left.
Afterwards, a woman came up to me, told me it was the best song all night and wanted to include it in her weekly radio show. Of course, we haven't recorded it yet but we do have a rather homemade recording that we got off the cameras in Omaha when they taped Big Voice for their archives.
THE NOMADS CONTINUE:
Our housing situation is still ridiculous. The bed and breakfast we checked into moved us to a new room with a much smaller bed. I got upset and raised a little hell at the front desk about it but it turned out that one of their rooms had suffered some damage.
So, Monday night we were at the top of a five flight walk-up on a "full size" bed. Um, we are big guys. For us "Full size" is cufflink size. They apologized and are going to move us again tomorrow night to give us a room with a private bath -- we are sharing toilets -- for two days. Then we move back up to the little room for one night, over to another for one night. Then we move back down to the second floor for our last night there. Then we have to find a new hotel for Sunday and Monday.
I told Jimmy, "Someday we're gonna look back at this and laugh."
Actually, I already think it's funny. Besides, nothing wrong with a smaller bed. You can really snuggle.
Volunteer at the NYMF Booth holding up our card.
Time Square Visitors Center.
Handing out cards is not easy.
People stare at you suspiciously.
"PLEASE TAKE MY CARD!! I'm gonna be famous some day!"
"I swear I'm not a terrorist. It's only a postcard."
Ken McPherson took us to Sardi's.
NYMF poster in the window.
"They dared to create new life in musical theatre!"
Stage manager Jenna Lynn. Jeramy Peay our house manager.
Remember Jeramy from Los Angeles?
Michael, our lighting designer.
"BARE" fans "MadeOfGold:" and "Trisky."
TLS listers Mark Maltzman & Amy Shapiro join us at Sam's.
Bev Sykes, Ruth Bobeczko, Steve, Amy Shapiro.
Sept. 28 - 29, 2004.
The Temperature Rises.Tuesday night's audience was the one I was dreaming of. The house was full. The people started laughing at applauding at our opening lines and stayed with us through the whole piece. It had the same intensity as our explosive audiences in Omaha and Connecticut. And believe me, I was starting to sweat this one out. But all fears were allayed. The Big Voice is a hit in New York.
The Tuesday afternoon show at 1pm had a smaller audience but they still responded in the same way. It also has helped that the first two online NY reviews have come out and are dazzling. (Apparently, the print world still doesn't know we exist -- only the shows featuring big casts or "names" have gotten any press traction in the larger media -- which is pretty typical for a Festival where there are so many choices).
Don Bacalzo, writing at Theatermania.com, said about Jimmy, "Brochu knows how to tell a story; he keeps the audience in stitches as he regales them with tales of his past." About me he said, "While not as strong an actor as his partner, Schalchlin bares his heart and soul through his songs; his music is intensely personal yet sure to strike chords of recognition for many audience members."
He also recognized our new song. "One of the strongest numbers is "How Do You Fall Back in Love," an incredibly moving duet that distills the heartache, longing, and depression that resulted from the couple's split in the late 1990s and the cautious optimism and deep-rooted love that led to their reconciliation 80 days later."
Finally he says, "Directed by Anthony Barnao, this show is an absolute delight. It's a great follow-up to the award-winning musical The Last Session, which featured book and direction by Brochu, music and lyrics by Schalchlin. The two men form a partnership that is obviously fulfilling on a personal level but is also a perfect artistic match."
Over at Talkin' Broadway, Warren Hoffman felt the show was more a "play with songs" rather than a traditional musical but said, "Brochu's well-written narrative and flair for storytelling (under Anthony Barnao's direction) really bring the show's themes of religion and show biz together in meaningful and inventive ways." He was not quite as enthusiastic about my songs (feeling they weren't as "theatrical" as he would have liked) but still felt the show was inspirational and moving.
Meanwhile, on the fan chat boards (which can be vicious), there hasn't been a single negative note. In particular, one contributor (who posts under the name "MargoChanning") who I've noticed has an extensive knowledge of musical theatre and has an articulate point of view said, "What a fun, well-paced, well-written, smart, hilarious, heartfelt show the two of you have -- definitely one of the highlights of the season! The show takes you on quite an emotional journey that's ultimately very satisfying, even uplifting. You're quite a pair (I can only imagine the two of you at a dinner party)."
Another named Chipparoo said, "This show was a real sleeper! I didn't know anything about it, but it sounded kind of interesting, so I stopped by The Belt to check it out. Man...what a terrific show! One of these guys is a polished actor, the other isn't, but it didn't matter. This was hilariously funny, but also moving in spots, and just heartwarming. This show deserves a long life. I hope it gets a great response!"
Several big producers have also attended and have given us great feedback. So, I do hope someone will come along and pick us up for a longer New York run. It would great fun, but it would also be good for the show, giving it more exposure than ever (which is what we need to get more work). And believe me, in this business, it's all about getting more work.
The people who run the Chelsea Pines have taken pity of us and found a way to put us in a room for three days straight. Can you believe it? We can actually unpack. However, for Sunday and Monday we'll be moving to a different hotel Jimmy snagged through Priceline.
Over the weekend we have two more shows. I do hope we get good audiences. It all has happened so quickly. I don't want it to end. Oh, look, in my inbox, another producer has asked for tickets. Yay! Or as Sondheim wrote in the song "Broadway Baby":
"Hey, Mr. Producer.
I'm talking to you, sir.
I don't need a lot.
Only what I got.
Plus a tube of grease paint.
And a follow spot!"
(And we don't need the grease paint or the follow spot for our show. Come and get us!)
© 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.