The Better Than Expected Tour
Volume 4 Book 5 of
Living in the Bonus Round
(Part 6)
Steve Schalchlin holds up his best actor award
Me holding my nomination certificate for Best Lead Actor in a Musical.

[ Book 4-4 ] --  [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ] [ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ]
[ Pt 8 ] [ Pt 9 ] [ Pt 10 ] [ Pt 11 ] - [ Book 4-6 ]

October 17-21, 2005.
Ovation Luncheon.
Today I received an email from my brother. He and his wife are down in the Gulf of Mexico taking a little vacation at Playa Del Carmen. Right where Hurricane Wilma is sitting as I type this. Only the strongest hurricane in recorded history. He has been assured by the hotel that they will be transported to something dry should the storm actually hit them, but it's still scary. He said to watch CNN, that they'll be the ones hanging from the palm trees.

Monday's adventure with Alexandra had to do with computers. Hers had suffered a fatal error so, since she's out here and Chrisanne is back in Chicago, I offered to take her to a computer store and pick out something reasonably priced but contained all the "stuff" she needs to feed her Internet addiction, not that I know anything about that.

But, more practically, she needed her email so she could conduct vital business. After all, she does have a show running! (I keep forgetting I'm the musical director. Not that I'm not proud of our work together, but that for me it was more like playtime -- and, oh yes, these songs are in a fully produced play running right now in Los Angeles. See what I mean? It's just a charming little corner of Steveville, my disconnect from reality.)

Over at her place, I helped set up the laptop, uploaded Avast! free virus killer, de-installed Norton (which I loathe), turned on Windows Firewall, downloaded FireFox, told her never to use IE and to never open any attachments from anyone, especially attachments they've received from other people, etc., and then set her home page to her email. (We think a trojan or some other virus is what killed her other computer).

I felt so geeky. But it gave us a great excuse to hang out, chat, watch "All My Children," talk about tacky celebrities, famous people we know, etc. She's singing on a TV show on the Q Network this Friday and one of the choices is her version of "You Are A Stranger," for which I've now made backing tracks.

The day before this computer fantasia with Alex occurred we were at the big Ovation Award nominees luncheon, which was a very classy breakfast buffet in the beautiful new lobby of the La Mirada Performing Arts Center. The last time we were there was for the actual Ovation Awards ceremony where Carol Channing stopped the show and insisted on giving "Jim Brochu and Steve Schalchlin" (say it in Channing's voice) "my special Diamond Award for The Last Session." (She thought we had lost. We actually hadn't yet. She had only announced the award for the big theatres. However, after we got our Diamond Award, which consisted of two Montgomery Ward plastic rings off her fingers, we did lose to "Reefer Madness," now a movie on Showtime.)

I was excited because it was, as I previously mentioned, a total shock to have been nominated for Best Lead Actor in a Musical. I know there's not a chance in hell I'm going to win the award itself, but at least here at the dinner I can have my three seconds of fame as I go to the front to get my certificate of nomination. Then it would all seem real.

Jim Brochu
Jim in front of the La Mirada Center for the Performing Arts.

The welcoming table with Ovation Awards.

Here is a close-up of the Ovation Award.

Jim with Travis Terry, Amy Huntington & Barry Kramer from the Brecht/Weill show, "Happy End" at the Pacific Resident Theater.  They were nominated for "Best Ensemble."
"Happy End" and "Big Voice" are both nomimated for Best Musical, Smaller Theatre.

The buffet table had a nice breakfast spread.

Here are the nominees all sitting at tables ready for the certificate presentation.

Another shot of the nominees.

Terrence McFarland, Executive Director of LA Stage Alliance.

Barry Kramer & Travis Terry.

Everything was going great as they got to the Best Lead Actor in a Musical category.  Jim's name was called and he got up to get his certificate.

Jim gets his certificate.

Then suddenly they announced the next category! What? What about me?? Jim said, "Hey, you left out Steve!" So, as they moved onto the next category, someone over by all the leftover certificates -- the ones that belonged to nominees who couldn't make it to the banquet -- went through the stacks and found mine. Then they announced me! I got an extra round of applause cuz every actor in the place knows exactly how bad it feels to be left out. These awards are important to anyone wanting to have a career. Every little chance for recognition counts!

But then they did it again! They got to the Best Musical in a Smaller Theatre category and totally left out The Big Voice! Hey!

Kevin Bailey from the NoHo Arts Center and uber-publicist Ken Werther.

Ultimately, though, it doesn't matter. We're still nominated and on November 14th at the big awards ceremony we'll find out if we've won anything! I hope so. I like winning.

October 22, 2005.
What Chuck Says.
I've made friends with a guy who pushes a modestly tricked-out supermarket basket up and down in front of our apartment. His name is Chuck. Chuck's cool. When I first saw him, I wanted to acknowledge him, but unlike back home where you can pretty much smile and say hello to everybody, I wasn't sure what street etiquette would call for in this kind of situation. Would he see me as hostile? Is he schizophrenic? Not wishing to alarm him, I would just smile and run on. Trying to look normal. Soon, I would smile, say "Hey," and run on. At first he didn't respond. Then he did, a little.

I noticed Chuck had a route. Each morning he would start early, picking up cans and bottles from the night before, whether they are in trash cans or just lying in the street or propped up against lilac trees or up against fences. What if I gave him our soda cans? It occurred to me. That would be something unthreatening.

I left a bag of cans out on our stoop but trying not to make it look too obvious. I didn't leave it there as trash, though. I ran up and down the block. No Chuck. Damn. I was just about to give up. And it's so funny how this happened. A car pulls up. A woman gets out with bag of groceries, obviously heading to her apartment. She sees the bag of cans. I'm standing right there approaching the stoop. She looks around, takes the cans, gives me a little "someone's looking at me picking up trash off the street" giggle and proceeds up to her apartment.

What was I supposed to do? Yell Hey those are Chuck's cans!?

I hadn't realized how much a bag of recyclable aluminum cans was worth here in the Valley. It was like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

I was beginning to learn his route now by now. He made it past our place around 8. Sometimes a little earlier. Sometimes a little later. I began my next run without the cans. I would look for him first.

I hit the porch and I see him at the end of the block. I run back up to the apartment, grab a bag of cans, race back down to the street and run after him, though his shopping cart has suddenly disappeared.

I get to the corner. I look left. Right. Nowhere. I start running down the next block. I'm holding the bag of cans. Next block. Left. Right. No. Next block. No. How could he have disappeared? So, in despair, I decided to just settle down into some gentle running. I put on a podcast of Leo Laporte.

I run back in the direction of our house. And suddenly there he is. I walked over to him, pulled my earbuds out and said, "Hey, man. I've saving these for you. Do you want them?"

"YEAH! Are you kidding? You don't want these??"

"I had some others, but some lady took them."

"That's all right! Thanks, man." I told him my name. He told me his. We started chatting about nothing in particular. I was about to go when suddenly I realized I'd forgotten his name and I didn't want to have forgotten it. So I asked his name and he said, "Chuck!" with a proud smile. "Chuck. I'm Steve. Nice to meet you."

And I ran on. We greeted each other the next time but didn't chat. Same thing the next time. Either I was not in a "power down" phase. Or I'd be on the sidewalk and he'd be behind the local religious center going through their bins out of reach.

A few days later, I opened the door and there he was down on the sidewalk. "Hey wait!" I yelled.

Then I ran upstairs, got the bag of cans, raced back downstairs and presented them to him.

He looked at me dead serious and said, "You're the best person in the world!"

I guess it's now official.

This time, owing to his good taste in humanity, we had a longer chat. We both love George Carlin. He made reference to all the hurricanes and said people were just screwing up the planet and that the planet didn't need them.

He talked about how proud he was during the last rains. He constructed a tent with lots of plastic, hooked it up to a dumpster behind a store where the owner treats him friendly, or used to. He said, "There I was livin' in Taz Mahal and none of the rain ever hit me." He laughed in triumph. It echoed down the thoroughfare, clashing up against the roaring of the big trucks that whoosh past us on their way with the white noise to the area grocery stores and shops. He delighted in describing in minute detail the way he funneled the rain past his sleeping area.

I looked down at his cart. "You've got a good haul this morning."

"Naw. It's okay."

I told him how there used to be a man living behind the El Portal Center for the Arts, making elaborate living quarters using the thrown out sets from plays and musicals that had just run. They had to make his stop, though. Fire hazard. Chuck loved that.

"I got a roof now," he assured me, indicating it was a place where he pays rent. "I'm a packrat. I just can't throw anything away," he said.

He looked down at his shopping cart and pulled out a work lamp. "This'll work. they just lost the battery recharger. That's what people do, so I have all the battery chargers. He pawed through some old clothing, a blanket, laughed at some child's trinket that was dirty but still shows traces of bright yellow. Laughed at himself for picking it up.

I suddenly had this vision of us out in on some prairie, a countryside. Chuck's like the lead character in one of the western novels my dad loves to read. Living off the land.

"Well," I said. "My blood sugar and cholesterol levels are not going to heal themselves," I reached for my earplugs.

"Hey!" Chuck said, "Do you know what's in the middle of the earth?"

"Molten lava?"

"It's a sun," he declared. "There's a sun in the middle of the earth."


October 23-25, 2005.
Hurricanes, Test Results, Chuck & Acting.
First, about my brother and his wife in Playa Del Carmen. This came to me via email:
I spoke with them both at length yesterday and they are fine.  They are allowed to leave the room now so, of course, he has been wandering around the hotel making new friends and getting into everyone's business.  She prefers to just stay in the room and have some quiet time.  Nothing I wouldn't have anticipated.  The electricty and water are on and off but they do get food and they are safe as can be.  They don't know when they are going ot be getting back and they dont have access to any news at all.
So, they're safe. It's peculiar, though. Both these hurricanes have hit people close to me right on the nose. I never thought I'd wake up and read "Buna, Texas" in the New York Times like I did the morning Rita hit. Centered over Buna, Texas, my high school hometown. Then this. My brother and his wife  vacationing where I used to work when I was a cruise ship pianist. It's just weird.

The latest test results are in from my doctor and he is so happy with me. Not only were all my liver/kidney functions testing normally, my blood cholesterol was within acceptable range and, best of all, my CD4 count (t-cells) is up over 200 points to 640. That's fantastic as it was hanging down about the high 300s / lower 400s, if I recall correctly. Viral load is undetectable. We can only attribute all this to good doctoring, diet, compliance with taking my meds, and the running I do every morning. And I have been very faithful to that exercise regimen.

Had another bag of cans for Chuck this morning. Stopped him outside our apartment and had a great talk. This morning we talked about TV shows. That answered my question about whether he had shelter. He likes "Boston Legal" the best and he ordered me to watch it.

We talked about the $2 movie theatre on the corner near us. I told him it's Jimmy's and my favorite theatre. And it has $1 hot dogs! "Yeah!" he said. "And did you know that if you buy two tickets for $4 you can stay all day and watch all the movies. And dollar hot dogs!" He continued, "I like it when it gets a little cold like today. I can put on a coat, go to the dollar store, get some dollar jelly beans and sneak them in!"

He also told me about the Hometown Buffet. How he and a friend had a job over in Burbank, so they'd show up for lunch late, then hang around until the dinner buffet was set out. He got a huge grin on his face and said, "We could get two meals from one sitting!"

Chuck is cool. But we got to laughing and chatting so loudly out there on the sidewalk, we woke Jim up. Oops.

I wanted to say a word about acting. It's in connection with a visit I made to an acting class.

Recently, friends of mine sent me notes that they are rooting for me to win. These are really sweet sentiments and I appreciated it a lot. But let's get real -- and I am saying this totally and completely honestly. Not only am I NOT going to win the "Best Actor" award, but if I do, it only means there's something really wrong with the voting system here, not to disparage their choice to nominate me in the first place.

This is not false modesty. I'm proud of the progress I've made over the last three years performing "Big Voice." I feel I do a good job. But, frankly, I don't do much more than just say my lines and sing the songs. I let Jim do all the hard work and I just try to not forget where I am at any given moment.

And it's not that I don't think I have "talent" as an actor, but neither do I disagree with those audience members or critics who've noticed, let us say, shortages in my thespianic arsenal.

Alexandra, though, says I underrate myself. That's probably why I love her so much. She's my Harriet Miers. This past week, because of Alex, I met some "real" actors. She invited me to visit one of the acting classes she leads as part of Beowulf West, the legendary theatre company out of Chicago.

As she picked me up, almost got lost and then drove us over on the freeway, I realized I had never actually attended an acting class. I didn't know what to expect. I've seen the ones on TV which scare the living daylights out of me, but I've never actually attended one.  We drove down near Sunset. to a rather dark corner of Theatre Row. They looked like old warehouses converted into theatre spaces.

I didn't bring my camera. It felt somehow inappropriatelike I was invading sacred territory. I just wanted to be a fly on the wall. First they were put through an exercise called "Viewpoints." I won't describe it in detail because I don't understand it well enough to describe it. All I know is the whole class of actors began moving throughout the room and saying and doing things randomly. Alexandra watched them intently, making notes. At one point I was watching her more than I was watching the actors. What the hell were these people up to?

Soon, though, as the exercise continued, I began to think of them less as actors and more like children at play, losing all their inhibitions. Learning to be a part of the fabric of the room. Letting the mood and a random word or someone banging on the wall erupt across them all like waves crashing against each other, then rolling out smoothly and quietly. And all the while Alex is coaching them on, writing, watching, coaching, as the students all took themselves through all kinds of emotions but only within the worldview of a character they are currently exploring.

As a participatory exercise, it must be fascinating. As an entertainment, well, it's not meant to be entertaining. They're discovering some private place within themselves. I told Alex later that, as interesting as it was to see and learn about, it was also a bit like watching someone else play a video game. It's not an exercise meant for an audience.

Soon, though, they stopped the exercise and began doing some "scenework." Some of it I could hear. Some of it was done almost privately with Alex. She is a very intense and connected teacher, giving everyone superhuman personal attention. Soon, sitting there in the rather warmish room, I found myself nodding off. Nothing was really being directed at me and it was long past my bedtime. I decided to talk a walk out on the street. It was about 10pm by now.

The brisk evening air felt good on my face as I walked around the corner to Santa Monica and Vine. I thought about eating something, but wasn't enthused about the choices. A Japanese fast food place that sells everything in bowls, a Thai place that looked scary, another Japanese place, a diner that served sandwiches and Chinese. I wasn't really hungry, anyway, so I called Jim and told him I missed him -- isn't that absurd? We're together 24 hours a day and I miss him after only a couple of hours doing something on my own.

Finally, I decided that I was awake enough to revisit the class. I was hoping they'd do their scenework more out front so that I could hear them. And they did. It was impressive stuff, though I know they're still in the process of creating it. There was another instructor, Shannon Cochran, who had the best southern accent I ever heard. Of course, it was real. The telling moment came, though, when they were to read something new and they invited me to read one of the roles for a student not present.

I was astonished as these talented actors began reading this new material and were already managing to sound like full blooded characters. And here I was sitting there, Mr. Best Actor Nominee, stumbling over words and sounding like a rank amateur just learning how to read. I was totally embarrassed and felt completely out of my element.

I'm still not giving away my best actor certificate. That's MINE!

[ Book 4-3 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ] [ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ]
[ Pt 8 ] [ Pt 9 ] [ Pt 10 ] [ Pt 11 ] - [ Book 4-6 ]
© 1996-2005 by Steve Schalchlin.
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