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Sunday-Monday, February 1-2, 1998
Records & Samaritans.Well, it's been a flurry of activity and phone calls getting ready for the tour which begins on Sunday. Someone asked me how I intend to update the diary and answer email. Answer: I haven't the faintest idea. I don't have a laptop or anything, so I guess I'll do what I've always done: Borrow computers from other people!
Also, it's going to be cold, so I need to pack my warmies and get everything nice and clean. I went to see Dr. Peter for a last minute check-up on Monday. They drew blood to check all my levels. Even though I've had wonderful results for the past year, it's always scary because if the tests show the drugs beginning to fail, it will throw my entire life back into turmoil -- mostly because I've failed on many of the drugs already and looking for newer ones will be a real trial. Most of them have terrible side effects. Oh, well. No big deal. Just saying it out loud to make it go away. *sigh*
Plans are coming together for the new Bonus Round record I'll be recording in March. This is going to be the dream album I've been wanting to make for three years, if not my whole life. Longtime readers know that I patched together the first "Bonus Round" album out of demos I had lying around and from one recording session where I recorded six songs in one hour because back then I didn't have two cents to rub together. (Still don't, but now I've got an indie record label helping out and Jeff Casey producing.)
My plan, now that we've done mostly acoustic versions of the songs from TLS on my first CD and on the cast album, is to bring in a band and make a record for college radio (and other radio) with more instrumentation and arrangement. Bob Stillman had been planning on coming out here at that time, so I invited him to join me on the recording, too! (A little something for Bob fans!)
I just got this note from a young woman:I totally agree with your diary entry on Friday. My mom is this way and she doesn't even realize it. This is one of the reasons I don't like going to my church. The pastor makes fun of gay men during his sermons. Everyone laughs, but I don't see anything funny in it. From their interpretation of the bible, gay people are "evil". I would just like to say to him that the bible also teaches Love Thy Neighbor, and they don't seem to be doing much of that.No. And they'll never quite understand that in the parable of the Good Samaritan, the point of that story is that its the people you deem "unclean" who are your neighbors. And remember, Jesus made this illustration in answer to the question of how one achieves salvation. He said to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. So they asked him, "Well, who is our neighbor?" This was his answer. Remember, the main thing He preached against was legalism and dogma. Real Christianity -- if Christianity is your goal -- is about how you treat others who are not like you.
I've been watching Jerry Falwell fight for this pick ax murderer lady in Texas who wants a stay of execution based upon her conversion to Christianity. Now, since Bro. Jerry is usually on the front lines trying to get all these people executed, I'd be interested in knowing if he'd fight for her with the same fervor if she had become a good Moslem... or Buddhist.
SUGGESTED READING: "STEALING JESUS" by Bruce Bawer.
Tuesday-Wednesday, February 3-4, 1998
Rain, Libraries & Guilt Trips.Whoa... this morning. The rain. Unbelievable. I woke up to a pounding on the roof that sounded like the storm troups were taking over the block. Then, just as I was powering up the ol Mac, all the lights snapped off. Then on again. Then off. So, I raced into the shower to get whatever hot water might be left, dried myself off and then bundled up in the dark waiting for power.
But power did not return. And it was too dark to read. And I couldn't cook anything. So, Thurber and I sat on the couch in the shadows eating dry cereal waiting for electricity. It finally came on after three hours.
I got to the computer to read some amazing news. The Lincoln Center Library is going to tape TLS for their archive library on Feb. 11. "No Surprises Nancy," General Manager and producer of TLS says it usually takes a lobbying effort to get this kind of honor for a "off-Broadway" show, but they came to us. And Binky is going to fly in from DC where he'll be rehearsing THE FIX to be with us.
I wish I could put into words how astonishing it feels to know my music and Jim's dialogue and Bob, Binky, Grace, Dean and Amy's performances will be forever enshrined in theatre history. It's really overwhelming. And if anyone reading this is an aspiring writer and you want to know how it feels, all I can say is that it feels exactly as fantastic as you think it does.
This tape will not be available for sale, unfortunately. It's an archive for theatre professionals and historians, I guess. But what an honor.
SHAME ON STEVE:
My friend, Andrew wrote (in response to my saying, "...That kinda means it's up to you. Remember, the show won't open unless people WANT us to reopen."ANDREW: "What kind of guilt trip crap is that to lay on the fans of TLS? Sorry to sound unkind but...these kinds of statements have a familiar ring. Remember, the fans of "Side Show" certainly wanted the show to reopen but it was the producers who ultimately decided not to reopen."So, to the fans of TLS, I offer a sincere apology. I did not mean to lay a guilt trip on anyone, and I certainly do not want to criticize the people who have embraced our show with their hearts. I think I meant to say that public demand that can move mountains. We are still almost invisible to the public at large and since we are in a tiny theater, there isn't much advertising money that can be drawn, so word of mouth is our best promotion. Again, I apologize if I offended anyone. Now for some odds and ends:
My friends at Common Bond, a support group for parents of gay kids have posted their own review of THE LAST SESSION at http://members.tripod.com/~Lyonsden/TLS.html. It's really a wonderful tribute.
I also just proofed the final version of "Connected" that will come out soon by Cherry Lane Publishing. This one will be for the public and I'll let you know as soon as it is in stores.
It looks like Albany has not worked out for the Bonus Round Tour, so I'm instead going to Philly where I'll be the guest of Dr. Bruce Dorsey, the man who synthesized Crixivan (the drug that saved my life). He's going to give me a tour of his lab! (I'm picturing the Rocky Horror Picture Show).
Also, I've added Monmouth University to the schedule on Feb. 24th. After I get back, I'm taking a quick trip up to San Francisco on March 6th where I'll be singing for the clients and staff at Continuum, an AIDS Service Center.
Sunday, February 8, 1998
School Days. School Nights.[I have a half hour to write this, so I'm rushing.]
I arrived at Lewisburg airport after routing through Newark and felt very strong because, since there was occupant in the middle seat, I was able to stretch out my legs and relax and read -- I'm still in the middle of "Stealing Jesus" by Bruce Bawer, which I think maybe one of the most important books I've ever read.
Dr. Stechschulte met me and drove me for about an hour through the dark, wooded countryside along the Susquehanna River. We got to his home in Lewisburg and went downstairs to his basement to check out a keyboard I might use at the hospital the next day. But it was not really usable, so he got his daughter's boyfriend (after disturbed them huddled down in the basement) to find one. We called a teacher at the Middle School to see if we could borrow theirs and when they found out what we wanted it for, the deal was that I could use it if I'd do a presentation for her 8th graders. (Of course, I said yes.)
Monday, February 9, 1998
Picking Noses & Crying Nurses....on Monday morning at 9am (5am my time since my body is still on west coast time), there I am in front of a roomful of 8th graders who have no clue why I'm there. I gaze around the room as the teacher explains to me that they are studying musical theatre. On the wall I see posters for Show Boat and Side Show.
The teacher calls the class to attention and announces that "we have a very special guest... a once in a lifetime opportunity." And I can see that she is really excited. Of course, I never think of myself as a "once in a lifetime opportunity," but what the heck.
I sit in front of the 20 boys and girls, some of whom are picking their noses and some of whom are bored and some who are entranced. I start telling them what the show is about and who the characters are and then play some of the songs. Well, the kids were enjoying the presentation for the most part. But what was funny was that the teacher was over there crying her eyes out. She finally went to the back of the room. As soon as the class was over, new kids came in and I started again.
We hurried over to the "Evangelical Community Hospital" with the electronic keyboard for a "Learning Lunch." We were in a little room just off the cafeteria where the tables were lined up in a U shape with me at the top of the U. They had sandwiches in the other room and then filed in and sat. The room was filled mostly with women nurses, with a few male and female doctors sprinkled throughout.
Once again, for the third time that day, I told the my story and sang songs from the show. I emphasized to them how much it meant to me as a patient when a nurse or doctor would show an extra amount of care or concern for me -- how it was like a life raft I'd reach for in my darkest hours. Many of them cried, but mostly there were huge smiles all the way around and afterward, they came up and thanked me for the songs.
I only briefly mentioned the character of Buddy in the play and the religious conflict -- and I did it respectfully -- but one nurse came up to me afterward (she was wearing a little gold cross on her sweater) and told me that God still loved me. I told her I didn't know he had stopped.
Then we rushed back to the Advanced Music Theory class where I, once again, told the story of the play and performed a few of the songs. This time, though, Professor Hannigan asked, "Do you also write in minor keys? I notice that the songs you've played so far are in major keys, but they're really intense." I told him "Friendly Fire" is minor but it's a happy melody and a tap dance to boot. I explained that I liked writing in "opposites." Normally, one uses the minor keys for intense songs, but I enjoy turning the whole method inside out because it brings irony to the messages in the songs.
Now, I have to say that this was really starting to get fun for me. There are a lot of things in the music that no one has asked me about nor observed. A music theory teacher, though, would jump on these subtleties without giving them a second thought. I explained how I wrote most of the songs in an A-A-B-A format to avoid repetition -- repetition being one of the worst things you can do in theatre music -- and that if I wrote "choruses," both Marie and John and I were careful to change each chorus from verse to verse.
Before we had even gotten started, though, the bell rang and class was over. How I long for someone who really has a music education to delve more deeply with me into the music. Oh, well, some other day.
I took the afternoon to rest. After all, even before noon, I had already done four presentations, most of it singing. About 5pm, I had dinner with Dr. Stechschulte and the school chaplain. We talked about the specific issue of gay people and Christianity and how the fundamentalists have managed to convince the media that their brand of theology was the only "authentic" Christianity even though it's full of bigotry, separatism, fear and hateful behavior. He also mentioned that the Methodist Church had managed to lose a great many of their clergy when they sidestepped the "gay" issue by saying it wasn't being gay that was a sin, it was sex outside marriage. Of course, if you're gay you're not allowed to marry, so either way it's about proscribing behavior of people who are not "you."
Very convenient the way that works out, huh?
Later that evening, I had a "hall talk," which consisted of six students and myself sitting in a dormitory where I once again told them the story of my life and the net and the music, etc. By then, my voice was shot and I was ready for sleep.
Tuesday, February 10, 1998
Chalk Full.This morning had me up and in front of an auditorium full of high school juniors and seniors at 8am. (And again, my body was telling me it was 5am, but there I was wailing away for a full hour). They were extremely attentive and even laughed when, at one point, the microphone went out and some guy in suspenders ("braces" for you're a reader from England) came down to fix it. I said, "Mmmm, I always trust a guy in suspenders." That got a big laugh.
Afterward, some of the students -- including some young jock-ruffian types -- vigorously shook my hand and told me my songs had a powerful impact on them.
From there I went to breakfast with a net reader friend who is a freelance writer from Philadelphia. He interviewed me and, since he was a songwriter, we sat and I gave him some feedback on material he was writing. I don't really do this very often but we had a lovely time sitting in the room the school had provided me in the guest house. There was a large bay window and the sun was brightly shining through the sheer curtains as we sat in two ancient velvet chairs and talked about music.
At 1pm, I went to Vedder House (named after Eddie Vedder???) to meet with the Health and Healing Class. This is a class run by a wonderful woman named Prof. Page. The room was in a dorm in the basement. Once again, I gave them the ten cent tour of my life, but we focused on the alternative therapies I had experienced such as acupuncture. I told them how Dr. Frank would tell me, for instance, my kidneys needed reinforcement and he would put the tiny hair-thin needle in, but it would feel like a sledge hammer. I told them there had to be some causal reason for this reaction.
Then we went upstairs where there was a big grand piano and I played them "Friendly Fire," "Somebody's Friend," and "Connected." Not a dry eye in the house.
I then was able to answer a bit of email, but hurried off to the Vaughan Literature Auditorium where they were setting up my PA system and piano. I had to use an upright piano because all the grand pianos were being used for a big event this weekend. When I stood in back and looked it over, I really liked it because it looked like the kind of piano you see in those old photographs of composers in the Brill Building hunched over writing their songs.
The stage was a "thrust stage" with a curtain behind it. When I peaked behind the curtain, instead of a backstage, there was a huge blackboard and chalk. That's when I got an idea...
We did our soundcheck and then I took a few moments to relax back in my room. Then headed over to the Presidents Dining Room where we had a nice, elegant meal and chatted about such things as alternative medications and the class system on cruise ships. (don't ask.)
Then, it was time for my concert.
THE BIG SHOW:
Well by now, I had performed these songs six times in two days for a variety of audiences and I didn't know if anyone was going to come to the concert. Students usually would rather be studying or playing than listening to some jerk singing about AIDS. The lights were way too bright in the room, so I had the tech student lower the lights and set a mood. Then I had him tape off the side seats so everyone would be forced to sit in the center section (you have to think about these things, y'know...). I wanted a nice close, audience.
I had on my new suit and my new shirt that Kathleen Capper had given me and when it came time for me to go on, the center section was full. I was really excited, but I also was thinking, "They've heard all this stuff for two days. How am I going to make it fresh?" Then I remembered what the old disc jockey had told me: People don't know what they like. They only like what they know. So, their familiarity with the songs would work to my advantage. And where I had taken a more scholarly approach to the songs before, this time I was going to perform them as a legitimate concert, spotlights and all.
Dr. Don introduced me and I went to the piano and, by instinct, simply began the spacey opening chords to "Save Me A Seat." And from that moment I truly felt I had the audience in the palm of my hand. The applause was vigorous and tremendous. The silences were thick. And since I could not see their faces, I felt completely liberated to do as I pleased on that stage.
Instead of doing a lot of talking, I tried to simply introduce the songs with brief stories or illustrations and let the songs do the work. It was magnificent. Oh, I have to tell you about "The Sad Lady."
Right after I did "Going It Alone," I suddenly felt the need to sing "The Sad Lady." This is the song about my netfriend who cuts herself and who suffers from acute depression. I told the audience a little bit about it and then went into the song. I love the music on this song because it's not really like any of my other songs in that regard. It's moody and swings slightly (and is in a minor key). And the lyrics are the darkest lyrics of anything I've written.
The bridge says, "...she slices her flesh and keeps the wound fresh." Really, it's a very tough song but very honest. When I finished the very last chord, I lifted my hands off the keyboard and no one moved.
No one breathed. I haven't really played this song for an audience before, so I didn't know how they would react, but this was something else. I'm not sure they knew what to do. Finally they applauded and the applause grew into a cacophony. Then I said, "Let Marilyn Manson match THAT!" I'll put that song up against any gothic rock song on the planet.
By the time the show ended, the standing ovation went on and on and I had a smile on my face that lit up the entire room. Inside I felt cleansed and happy and joyous and all the great things I'd hoped I would feel.
OH!!! As they were giving me the applause I ran to the back of the stage, found the rope, and pulled the curtains open. That afternoon I had drawn in huge filled-in letters "THE LAST SESSION" and surrounded it with big fireworks of chalk.
This got a huge laugh and another huge round of applause. Then I told them to buy my CDs and afterward we had a reception in the library. It was one of the happiest moments of my life and perfect kick-off to my whirlwind tour.
Wednesday, February 11, 1998
First Night at Penn State.My friend, Barefoot Ron, responding to yesterday's diary page said:I was talking to an opera singer one night after a performance, and he said he detested when an audience started applauding the moment a song was over. All it shows is that they know the music, and, thus, when to applaud. But when there is a pause followed by a roar, that's when you know you really done good.Mmmm. I'm suddenly remembering those nights back when nobody knew TLS. How many times the audience would just be stunned after hearing "Going It Alone" and were motionless. It is a fantastic feeling. And it reminds you that what we are doing with these songs is far more than just entertaining people.
Wednesday morning, I met and had lunch with the Student Health Services staff at Bucknell. Dr. Stechschulte stood and told me that he felt "honored" that he was able to meet and hear me sing. Then they gave me a beautiful plaque of appreciation. It was truly wonderful and heartfelt. When Susan from Penn State arrived to take me to PSU, I felt as if I were leaving home.
The drive to Penn State across the gorgeous, rolling Pennsylvania farm country would have been really scenic had I stayed awake to see it, but alas, I slept through the whole ride. We arrived and I found my hotel room and collapsed on the bed. By the time we were ready for dinner together, I was back on track and full of energy. As Susan and I were making our way to her car, she said, "They delivered the PA system. It's in the trunk of my car."
That stopped me. "Susan," I said as nicely as I could though panic ripped through my heart, "We're 45 minutes from curtain time and the PA is not set up? There's no crew to do this? And, even more than that, what kind of PA fits in the trunk of a car?" I knew what kind. A bad kind.
We got to the auditorium and it was in a very interesting building. Imagine a round building with rooms carved out like a pie chart, and with the seating raked on a very high incline so that the stage area is down at the bottom toward the center of the circle. Susan was really starting to panic. She works for the Health Department and isn't really familiar with the needs of a musician. So, I didn't hold any ill will. I was more concerned that the sound would be unprofessional. Here's the deal: Audiences usually don't know why something might sound bad. So, if something DOES sound bad, they usually will blame the material or the performer. As a performer, it's up to me to make sure that the sound and lights and staging are optimal. After all, it's my butt up there on that stage and I hold the ultimate responsibility.
But we knew we REALLY were in trouble when we looked at the stage: No piano.
She said she had ordered one and had told them what we needed, but someone hadn't been paying attention, obviously. Okay, now it's half hour and we don't have a PA and we don't have a piano. As much as I enjoy my songs, I didn't think singing them a cappella would really work. And more: They had taken out a 1/4 page ad in the paper announcing Steve Schalchlin presenting songs from THE LAST SESSION. I was trying not to panic, but this was bad.
We went down to the stage and there was a door leading to the auditorium next door (another pie) and to our great relief there was a piano. It was a small upright that looked like a hundred monkeys had been pounding on it with hammers -- and some of the keys were broken -- but it was kinda, sorta in tune in the middle part and it would do. There was also a troup of young student actors engaged in some kind of rehearsal, so we asked them about the piano and they happily moved it for us and rolled it up onto our stage. (thanks, guys and gals).
Next, I needed a stool or bench which was nowhere to be found. But there was a big table on the stage, so I pulled it up to the piano and decided I would sit on the edge of it while playing. We had one other lucky break, I should mention. The room had perfect acoustics. We didn't need a PA system. And voila! all was set. *whew*
And just in time, because the crowd began to file in. And a good crowd it was, too. A mix of townfolk and students. Having looked at the ad which put TLS front and center, I decided to take a little different tack on this show. Instead of it being All About Steve, I started off by describing the action of the play.
In my own mind, I red the little battered upright as a prop instead of just as my instrument. I pictured myself as a character from an old movie from the 40s "pitching" his story idea to some producers out in the audience.
There was one fellow on the side with a beard and long hair who had the greatest smile and who seemed to just "get" everything I said about the songs in the play. And finally, when I had finished, the crowd once again gave me a huge ovation and rushed the stage where I had some cast albums and stuff to sell. I took it as a good sign that Penn State was going to be just as much fun as Bucknell. This letter came in:Hi, I am a senior at the Lewisburg Area High School. I would just like to tell you that your performance last Tuesday was a great break from the endless monotony of life in central PA. It is not very often that I actually enjoy school assemblies, but I loved listening to you as you told your story in a way few people can. I have never experienced an assembly during which my fellow classmates sat so still and attentively. I honestly believe that every single person was touched by your presentation. I think that everyone took something with them when they left that auditorium.
Thursday, February 12, 1998
Still Going Strong.Got another letter from a student at Bucknell:Steve, I just visited your web page and read about your impression [the] show which was held here at Bucknell Univeristy. I am glad you enjoyed the show as much as we did. I don't know if you remember me, but I am the student who was studying in Vedder Hall when you came in to play the piano. After hearing you play, I ran upstairs to my room to call my professor and told her to email the class about coming to see you later that night. I am glad I did because I can't even express to you how much myself and my peers loved watching you for the hour and a half that we did.This morning Susan came to get me at 8am we were in the Paul Robeson Center for a presentation to the Student Health Services Staff. I felt very strong, although we had to call in a crew of set the piano up on the stage. They consisted of nurses and doctors and others in the offices and I could tell that they were visibly moved, especially when I reminded them how much it meant to me when a nurse of a doctor would go out of their way to make me feel like special patient. I told them I knew how easy it is, when one sees patient after patient that inside each one of those bodies is a person who is scared and needing affection and care.
To tell you the truth, that performance was one of the greatest performances I have ever seen before in my life. I enjoyed your show more than I enjoyed the numerous Broadyway productions, and even off-Broadway shows that I have been to. The truth of the matter is that your show was so original, emotional, jovial, and happy all at the same time. You didn't preach about AIDS or HIV and tell us to be careful. You didn't bring us down either, or worry us about the disease as some guest speakers might have. Instead you took us through an unforgettable journey of your life, your hardships, and most importantly your successes (which were more assumed than spoken about). You truly brought your audience alive, and you made each and every one of us love and respect you not only as a person but as a role-model. When I hear the name Steve Schalchlin I think brilliant, talented, funny, sensitive, strong and just plain AMAZING! You really made an impact on all of us as well that will never, ever be forgotten.
In fact we loved you and your music so much that a friend of mine bought the CD (since I only had a credit card), and we played it today and sang along to your songs as we sat in her dorm room. We also took down a few of the signs around campus that announced your performance and hung them in our dorm rooms. We are trying to get tickets for your show too. We really want to see it! Well, I just thought I would let you know what the audience thought of your performance last night and let you know that we all wish you luck on your tour!
Then came the class I was most excited about, but also scared to appear before. It was a Theatre Workshop class consisting mostly of actors. The professor told me they pride themselves on finding new works and performing them. He mentioned they had done one of the first productions of the AIDS musical, The Quilt. I wasn't sure what they wanted from me, so he said to just tell the story of TLS and sing the songs.
WOW. Okay. Kinda like last night, I suppose. The room was a big rehearsal hall with black drapes and mirrors on the walls. The students were gathered on chairs and boxes in a semi-circle around the edges and I was in the middle at another little upright piano (but this one was in tune!).
This time I left out much of the "story behind the story" of the songs and opened by describing how the play opens. "In the dark we hear Gideon thank Jack for the 'best 13 years of my life' and how he hates memorial services..." Then I began "Save Me A Seat." And for the next 60 minutes I literally did the entire play scene by scene recalling bits of dialogue and describing action of the play. It was SO FUN!
When I got to "Going It Alone" -- remembering that I was speaking to actors, I paused and described the particular challenge to the actor in that scene, how he has to start from not wanting to sing it, to slowly getting involved in the emotions of the song, to being torn between his heart and his "loyalty" to "God" and then finally, at the break, looking over at Gideon and maybe seeing him for the very first time that night with eyes of compassion.
All through this I'm trying to remember some of Jimmy's best dialogue, trying not leave any pertinent plot points out, etc. What a task it was! Finally, I described the denouement and sang "When You Care," ending with Jim saying, "That's a wrap."
They all burst into applause and the professor told me it was a great presentation. Another professor, Ed Linderman, who had actually worked with Jimmy many years before, said he really appreciated the presentation because he was assigning the kids to work up a one man show. He said, "..and that was a one man show."
THE GLBT GROUP:
Later that night, I met with a small group of lesbian and gay students in the commons area. Once again, I played my songs, but I also talked about my fundamentalist background and how difficult it was to grow up gay with evangelists and others screaming about the pits of hell in your ears. I explained to them that even though I know it's all a load of crap now, it's difficult to throw off the evil of that kind of picturesque language, especially when it comes from people you trust and respect. I also mentioned how important it is to embrace the heterosexuals who stand up for gay people and remember that not all straight people are bigots. And that only through a common effort of love and concern can we change the world from a landscape of prejudice and fear into one of love and support.
Friday, February 13, 1998
From The Heart.This morning, Susan and I had a big breakfast together at the Waffle House and then I came back to the college to do some computer work. The big news is that through the generosity of a TLS fan named Noel, the MIDNIGHT CONCERT in Manhattan has been booked:MIDNIGHT CONCERT with STEVE S.!The only real thing on the agenda today was a private meeting with two composition students, Ken McCarthy and Zachary Spencer. I told them I'd put their names in here to make them famous. :) Zach mainly wanted to observe and ask questions, but Ken played me some songs from a big ALW type musical he's writing and I told him (and I'm telling you) that he is a very impressive lyricist. For someone so young, he not only was very careful in his wordcraft, but he seemed to understand how important it is to write from the heart and find the emotional centers of the characters he was writing about. I wish them both good luck.
Club Twirl, 23rd Street between 7th and 8th Avenue. The evening begins at 11pm after the Saturday night TLS performance on February 28th. The concert will be at midnight featuring Steve and the cast of "The Last Session," as well as Ruth Warrick from "All My Children" in a special guest appearance. I'm also going to "make" Jimmy Brochu get up and do a number. What a night this is going to be.
Dancing and party to follow.
Admission is FREE - donation for FACTA (The Foundation For Awareness and Communications Through The Arts) will be gratefully accepted. (Tax deduction for non-profit.)
Finally, I met with two student AIDS counsellors here and by the time I got back to the computer, I have to admit -- actually, I'm here right now writing this, I'm tired. Officially and unequivocally.
But, let me just state here and now, of all the things I've done since we began the Odyssey that is The Last Session, these five days with the students of Bucknell University and Penn State have been the most rewarding days of my life. Not only are the students at these schools bright and open-minded, but the professors and the faculty have treated me with the kind of respect reserved for the great talents of our time. (how did they know?)
Lots of people criticize "the youth of today" but they do so with no understanding or memory of what it means to be young. I told Ken, the composition student, that even though one cannot substitute experience and age for learning or knowing certain things, only young minds can truly have the perspective it takes to question things us "elders" take for granted.
On Charlie Rose the other night, they were talking about a book called "Gay Metropolis" and the point was made that homophobia is dying out among the youth because people are not born with prejudice and hate, they acquire it from their elders. But if we continue on the path to creating a world without hate and prejudice, young people will never even know that hate.
Someone sent me a message about a Baptist church in Texas that was being censured by the Southern Baptist Convention for being an "open and affirming" congregation, refusing to exile their gay members. The pastor laughed in the face of this, responding that this same church was censured back in the 40s because they "dared" allow the races to mix in their congregation back then when the same frozen leadership used the Bible to enforce racism.
I leave Penn State and Bucknell knowing that we can trust the world will be fine in the hands of these kids. They were just like us when we were young. Full of energy and life and love. I hope I will be able to travel and speak and sing at schools for the rest of my life. I cannot imagine anything more fulfilling or vital. (Or fun.) One last letter from one of the gay students at the meeting Thursday night:"...I now have realized, What is life if we can't live it?...every day we come closer and closer to death, so why not live each moment as if it were our last (hopefully not though) and then I remember what my theatre professor said to us in class one day. It was a quote by Martin Luther King, "If you have nothing to die for, then what are you living for?" And then it hit me, my God, that is so right. Seeing you at Penn Sate finally set my gears in motion. What was *I* living and willing to die for? My rights as a human being regardless of my sexuality. That's what I want...My life depends on me and what I can set into motion..."Amen, brother. Amen.
Saturday, February 14, 1998
On The Road Again.After a delicious meal at a friend's house Friday night (Daniel Bontempo who made the most exquisite meal I have ever tasted EVER) I was picked up this morning by a "Ted," a 60+ man who had volunteered to drive me to Rochester, New York since he was apparently heading that way anyway. I was tired after the week with Bucknell and Penn State and I was able to stretch out the front seat and lower it with a nice pillow.
Total heaven as the beautiful Pennsylvania countryside rolled by looking like an exquisite quilt stretched to the horizon. On the roadway, the places where the rock had been cut away to make way for the highway had brilliant sheets of ice where water normally leaks out from between the layers of rock. The icicles gleamed in sharp white points.
The five hour trip felt like five minutes as Ted and I talked and laughed. The comfortable car and the friendly conversation were way better than any lonely bus ride I might have taken.
In town, we pulled up to the lovely wooden two story house where "Carol" lives. Her son, "Brett," had undergone the same kind of near death experience I had with AIDS. She led me upstairs to her son's old room and I plopped onto the down comforter, admiring the old fashioned "home-iness" of the room. On the desk near the front window there was an ancient picturebook called, "Shirley Temple Goes Through Her Day." It was filled with studio publicity shots of a tiny Shirley Temple brushing her teeth and posing for pictures. Hilarious.
I then went downtown to a place called "The Down Stairs Cabaret" to meet with the producer/director whose name has just evaporated from my memory. Chris! His name was Chris. He invited me to watch "Always... Patsy Cline" and then he showed me around their new theatre-in-progress. Chris has actually been negotiating to bring TLS to his theatre sometime soon, so he was really excited when he heard I'd be in town this weekend.
Finally went back home to "Carol's" house and pretty much collapsed in bed.
Sunday, February 15, 1998
Steve Goes Back To Church.I gotta tell ya, I wasn't really sure about this. Singing and actually speaking in a church service. But Bro. Jerry Alan Smith has been a longtime reader of mine and when he invited me, I couldn't turn him down. He picked me up at the crack of dawn and we drove over to his church.
Well, what a beautiful building they have. Tall columns and discretely colored stained glass. A tall ceiling with fans and lots of space. We tried out the piano (which was in tune) and he adjusted the sound system for me, and then we huddled in his office to talk about the service. (Also, about that time, Carol brought me breakfast in a basket since my eating schedule wouldn't allow me to have eaten any earlier.)
He took me through the order of the service and then told me he wanted me to sit up on the podium with him and, when he started his sermon, to be at the piano and have some exchanges during the sermon itself.
Somehow, even though I have been avoiding churches for 20 years, it all felt very natural and "right." I wouldn't do or say anything I didn't believe in and I would be able to talk about the meaning of "love your neighbor."
Jerry has been an active pro-gay minister for a very long time. He feels the church is doing nothing more than cutting itself off from a community of people who have a lot to contribute. In fact, in his sermon he said made the point that the church has traditionally (and wrongly) allowed its teachings to conform to the prejudices and bigotry of the day.
He used slavery as an example and said many (most?) churches used the Bible to defend slavery, not because slavery should be defended, but because their prejudices and racist atttudes led them to interpret the scripture according to their own bigoted beliefs. He said the same thing is happening now with gay people. That it's easier to simply use the Bible against gay people because this bigotry is so inherent in the people themselves, they refuse to open their minds to the possibility that their interpretation is wrong.
During the service, he asked me to speak about the example my parents set. I told the congregation that though their beliefs legalistic and fundamentalist, it never caused them to adjust their behavior when, for instance, they met Jimmy. We laughed and played cards and ate together. This is in direct contrast to some who would have shunned us both out of some righteous belief that by acting human toward us they were somehow offending God or not doing their duty to let us know how wrong they think we are.
Then I said, "See? Even some fundamentalists are saved!" (This got a big laugh).
So, I sang a few songs and shook the hands of the folks coming out. Bro. Jerry did tell me that there is some resistance in the congregation to this whole subject. But he feels that it's his job to challenge peoples' prejudices, not play to them.
Afterwards, the Adult Education class met downstairs and plaed a video called "Straight From the Heart" -- again about prejudice against gay people, especially as it relates to the Civil Rights issues. This week Maine overturned their provisions to treat gay people equally. So, once again the forces of darkness as embodied by the Christian Wrong is doing its best to destroy the hearts and minds of people in the name of Jesus.
Later that night, my big "concert" was scheduled. I had asked Jerry to direct any money collected at the door to the local AIDS Service Organization. We had no idea how many people to expect. Once again, this whole issue of inviting a "gay" to sing in the church in front of a crowd that might contain other "gay" people (horrors) leaves everyone wondering what might happen. We arrived back the church where Carol and some of the other ladies and men were setting up some tables with AIDS literature and brownies and cookies for afterward.
Well, we shouldn't have worried. A very healthy turn-out gave us all a feeling of relief and, once again, I sat at the piano and slowly began talking about my life, about music, about surviving, about how I've learned to just embrace life in whatever form it comes, and I also praised members of the congregation for at least allowing me to have my say.
I tried not to be "religious" in any sense, but I couldn't help reminding people that shunning and cutting out people because of some perception that they are somehow "unclean" is just wrong. And that if they truly desired to have a Church of Love, then love is what should be practiced.
There was a guy who came in rather late. He was walking with a crutch and sat over near the front on the side. He seemed to really be affected by the music and when I finished playing and speaking, I was about to dismiss everyone when he said, "Hey! Don't forget the brownies!"
I said, "Oh, yeah, everyone there's free brownies and cookies."
He said, "You gonna come back with us, too?"
I looked right at that drawn face and said to him, "I wouldn't miss it for the world." So, I went to the little reception room where I sold CDs and signed them, and sure enough, the fellow with the cane came up to me, saying he was one of the Hemophiliac patients. Then he pointed to his head really proudly and said, "Yeah! And I got dementia too!"
Then a guy from AIDS Rochester came up to me, thanked us for directing the "door" to them and said we had raised $770! And that was the best news of all.
Monday, February 16, 1998
An American Life.This morning I got up a bit early and helped Carol, who was still arranging and packing her things for the long car trip she, Ted and I were about to take together -- Rochester to Philadelphia. Carol's son, "Chip," who lives in Brooklyn had been just as sick, if not way sicker then I was -- also with AIDS. In fact, after his lover died, he asked her to move in with him because shingles had effectively blinded him for a time. He also suffered with rampant molluscums on his face and terrible diarrhea.
In her clean, bright early American kitchen as I made eggs and bacon, and as she cut fruit and stuff, she told me about the pain and the laughter the two of them had endured together. She said she actually, when he was at his lowest, would sleep in the bed with him so she could help him if he awoke during the night.
He used to joke about it saying his best boyfriend was his mother.
As we talked and laughed about adult diapers and changing bedpans and IV tpn, I suddenly was overcome with a very strange feeling. This conversation we were having; this is the kind of talk one has about a son who is dead. This is description of a death bed and I could almost feel the loss, when it suddenly dawned on me -- and I said this to her out loud.
I said, "Oh my God! This sounds like the kind of talks people have while mourning the loss of someone who died over a long period of time. But Chip's not dead! He's alive and well in Brooklyn right now as we talk about this." Suddenly my chest just heaved and I could feel my eyes burning. He's not dead. Just like me. We're not dead.
She showed me a picture of him Christmas 1995. It was the most shocking thing I had ever seen. A skeleton with huge sores and mountains of bumps on his face, eyes set back in his skull, hair thinned and falling out. Then she turned it over and said, "Here he is now."
And there in here hands was a picture of a stunningly beautiful 35 year old man. Thick hair, muscular frame, bright intelligent eyes. The catch in my throat just let go as I realized that this was me -- not literally, but this was my life. From dead man to live wire.
Tuesday, February 17, 1998
Where Life Begins.The building housing the chemical labs at Merck where Dr. Bruce Dorsey works looks like something you'd see in an old 1940's black and white documentary. The rooms are small and cramped. There are wooden cases (like built-in bookcases with glass and wood doors) on either side, one with a beaker and a solution of some kind swirling around in the bottom of it. [They're building a new lab just outside.]
Dr. Bruce is a 35-ish curly haired man with an infectious smile and a great attitude. As soon as I told him I was intensely interested in HIV and how it works, he hauled out the visual aids and gave me a crash course in virology, chemistry and microbiology. I learned that there are three enzymes the virus uses to replicate itself and part of their work is to find ways to interfere with these enzymes.
Amazingly, since my friend Dickie had been also giving me virology lessons in California, I found myself actually able to follow along with the explanation. We tangled with peptides, viral RNA, DNA, reverse transcriptase, protease, integrase, etc.; how the virus binds to the CD4 cell, injecting itself into the cell, turning its own RNA into DNA, then combining with the cell's own DNA and finally turning the host's own immune system into a HIV factory.
I met four of the five main team members who are credited with discovering Crixivan, Merck's protease inhibitor. Joe Vacca, Joel Huff, Kate Halloway and Jim Guare. (Randy Hungate was the other member). I also met Steve Young who has created Sustiva (DMP-266), a new non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NNRTI).
Dr. Bruce was also quick to credit a man named Dr. Ed Scolnick, who early on was the man who insisted Merck get into AIDS research back when there was real doubt being raised that it would pay off financially. He believed there was a moral obligation for the biomedical research community to fight this disease whether it would make money or not.
I also listened to the way in which new discoveries are brought from the lab to the market. How they find something effective in the test tube which is then sent to the live cell division which then sends it to be tested on animals which then sends it for testing on people, etc.
Dr. Bruce said from his perspective, it's like designing a new automobile, clean and white. But as it goes through testing, it gets dings and hits, and if it fails certain tests -- mostly designed to make sure the new compound works without terrible side effects (if it works at all), then it crashes and he has to start all over again.
The one thing I didn't know was how the drugs are designed. What is it about them that makes them work. I was surprised to find out that the main thing is the actual shape of the molecule they've put together.
For instance, in order to stop the protease enzyme from working effectively, they construct a molecule made of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen atoms that fits the exact shape of the place in the enzyme where a certain activity has to take place for the enzyme to work.
In other words, they are making molecular tinker toys that do nothing more than plug elaborately shaped holding places. The enzyme thinks it's the real thing that has planted itself into the slot, but when it tries to perform its work, nothing happens. It's been fooled.
SPECIAL HOME PAGE! TLS fan Ricky has created his own "Going To See The Last Session Page which has photos of some of the cast members!
Wednesday-Thursday, February 18-19, 1998
Back In New York.[I've been unable to upload to my diary in New York because of a problem with the software on the computer I'm borrowing. So, I'm in Cincinnati writing this.]Dr. Dorsey drove me to train station in Philadelphia where we saw a car trying to jump the concrete pilons to get ahead of us in line. But there was no line, so that seemed a bit daft. The train to New York City was comfortable and plush. I stretched out my legs and picked up my book, Stealing Jesus, which I found so interesting I'm actually reading it again right the very beginning. I think Bruce Bawer is a genius and that his book is a gift from God.
I pulled into Penn Station and called Dean Bradshaw who plays "Jim" in THE LAST SESSION. Dean is a very guy for a hetero (just kidding). He always kisses me on the lips and I always tell him he has the softest lips for a straight man. Anyway, he had invited me to stay with him in New York, so I boarded the nearest taxi in the soft, cold misty gray day and headed to the lower east side to his new digs.
By New York standards, he has a nice big apartment and he gave me the bedroom. I quickly unloaded my bags and fell on the bed. It felt so good.
Today I was to meet Jimmy and everyone down at the theatre for the Wednesday matinee. What was really cool was that John Randall, the understudy for the role of Gideon would be playing along with Will Gartshore, the new "Buddy." John has a gorgeous voice and handles the piano like a pro. And Will has this wonderful clean, fresh face perfect for Buddy.
I loved them, but have to admit that it took some adjusting to get Bob and Binky out of my head. This always happens when someone steps into a role mid-run. You can "see" the other performers so strongly in your mind's eye, it takes a bit of time to actually "see" the new people. But afterwards, the audience was just as overcome with emotion and telling us how great John and Will were. I agreed completely.
[Afterward, I had a chance to answer email and try to update the diary, but as I stated earlier, there was a huge problem uploading the files. And I see I've screwed up January 1998, so I'll try to get to another computer when I get back.]
I also got to spend time with Jimmy and Noel Garrett, the man who is producing my Midnight Concert on Feb. 28th. Noel is easily one of the most beautiful men, inside and out, I think I've ever met. We had a great dinner on Wednesday, and then the three of us joined Noel's friend, Jancy for dinner on Thursday. Jancy produces documentaries and said she wanted to contribute some video and special effects for the Midnight Concert.
She's also planning to shoot the event professionally, recording it for posterity! When I told her I wanted to do the whole show in the black, she looked a bit shocked. Good thing I was kidding. :)
Friday, February 20, 1998
Off To Sin-cinnati!Jimmy picked me up early using Noel's car and we promptly landed in a traffic jam on the east side highway. We were both scared to death that we would be late in getting to Laguardia, but soon the blockade ended and we were okay. I gave him a great big hug and took off for Cincinnati.
I knew I was meeting Martha and Gary, who was responsible for getting me invited to the benefit in the first place, so I was pleased when they recognized me. We joined up with Barb, who had flown in from the state of Washington. They said there were a lot of reservations from people coming from places they had never heard of and attributed most of them to my presence at the dinner.
In the car, Martha kept referring to "Gary" waiting at the restaurant where we were meeting for dinner. So, I said, "Gary who?" She answered, "My husband!" I said, well who's that in the front seat? (Meaning the man who met me at the airport with her). It was my netpal "Barefoot Ron" all this time. I mean I knew Martha had gay kids, but I was surprised to see her husband was gay! (He isn't.)
Cincinnati is a large, beautiful city but they tell me that it is extremely homophobic. When the large corporations here find out someone is gay, they mysteriously find themselves fired for being a minute late to work. There is almost no gay night life here, according to my friends. A very difficult place to be anything but what others want you to be. hat's why I was so anxious to lend my support to the PFLAG organization here. And why I was so thrilled to find out the dinner was sold out.
Tonight all my netfriends, who I mostly knew by name but not face gathered together at Martha and Gary's. We all hugged and kissed and chatted like crazy. Then they asked me to sing a few songs. Well, you know how difficult it is to get me to sing. I hit the piano before they said, "...please."
Also in attendance were many of the members of the local PFLAG group; parents who help each other and their kids get through the minefields of hate. After I finished singing, they all began telling their own stories. One had their whole family pushed out of a church because a single son had become gay.
One kid, Bruce Murray, was there with his mom, Rhea Murray and his dad. They have become almost a symbol for the way in which a school system can allow a kid to get beat up and abused for simply being gay. He finally had to leave school or be murdered, so his mom schooled him at home.
It always amazes me when school officials deal with this kind of violence by simply telling the kid to "stop" being gay. How cruel. How stupid. How evil.
Saturday, February 21, 1998
On The Auction Block.All our netfriends came back to Martha and Gary's today. We watched some videos of the early days of TLS, particularly the one where I debuted the songs at a small meeting of LA Women In Music. We all kinda gasped at how skinny and pale I looked two years ago. It was scary.
Tonight, though, we all piled into the cars and made our way to downtown Cincinnati to The Phoenix, which used to be a old Men's Club -- "Back when that meant 'heterosexual'," I cracked. Inside it was rather stately and faded. The ballroom where we were holding the event was large and rectangular, with the podium in the center of the room against one wall. The piano was on the floor next to it, completely out of the line of sight of any human. So, we had them rearrange the piano to the center of the room in front of the podium and I sat on a stool.
The house sound was atrocious, but Gary had a little portable PA which was hooked up to an additional speaker and it sounded just fine. The piano was more or less in tune but there was one string that vibrated because the damper was broken. When I looked inside, the string had a piece of felt wrapped around it which was held in place by a trash bag "twisty."
About 7pm, we went out to the lobby where all the guests were arriving. It was fun to "meet and greet." I knew it kinda meant a lot to them for me to be there, so I happily shook all the hands, flirted with the aged city councilwoman who showed up in a huge mink, and tried to get more details about the social climate for gays in Cincinnati. I was told they had just erected a gaycincinnati.com online site to help gay kids find some support resources. But that the overall atmosphere was very stifling.
We were herded into the big ballroom and had a nice meal of pasta. Then Michael Adee, a local activist with a program called The Experience spoke about gay teens and how much even a single article in the Cincinnati paper supporting their lives and stories was counted as a major breakthrough.
During his talk, though, something in the introduction had moved him very much and he was sniffling back a runny nose while trying to deliver his remarks.
So I borrowed some Kleenexes from Martha and, as surreptitiously as possible, put them on his podium (we were sitting very close by) to help him get some relief. He smiled a bit and seemed to appreciate the gesture. In his remarks, he thanked the members of PFLAG and told them how important it was to have parents and friends standing up for their kids. After he finished, he stated how happy he was to introduce me. Then he gave me a rousing intro and I lept to the piano.
And once again, just like at Bucknell and Penn State, the audience of mostly parents and some brave "out" gay people were completely transfixed by the music and the message of the songs from THE LAST SESSION. I hooked up my message with Michael's and also thanked them for letting their kids know how much they loved them.
And as I gazed into the almost motionless eyes of these eager folks, I thought about Rhea Murray fighting for her kid's very life; of Gabi Clayton whose son committed suicide because of the hatred thrown at him at school; of the parents who came into PFLAG almost hating gays but not wanting to -- and how the patient moms and dads helped them with their struggle without judgment. And I thought to myself, every single church in this country should be sponsoring a PFLAG group. Every community should be reaching out to these kidsoviding them with a safe school environment. And I thought how tragic that some who would call themselves Christians actually block efforts to make this happen. What could they possibly be thinking?
After I finished, a totally crazed woman named Marian, who looks kinda like a little, feisty Debbie Reynolds got up and began the auction and raffle to raise money for the college scholarship fund. One of the items was a cast album signed by the cast members and Jimmy & me. It fetched $110!! So Marian asked if I would donate one more signed by only me. I said, "Sure." And that one went for $80!! So, I told the cast in the TLS Chatroom that their names were worth only $30.
Sometimes I'm just too hilarious for words.
Sunday, February 22, 1998
The Group.Sunday night, I was escorted to a local Presbyterian Church which sponsored a meeting of gay teens. We arrived slightly late -- as did some others -- and were promptly scolded by a young, really beautiful African American "girl." I say "girl" because she had the intellect of a woman far passing her age.
The group consisted of about 40 high school kids -- about 40% black. When we arrived they were going around the group telling what had happened to them the past week. "Went dancing... did homework... came out to my mother... afraid of my father and his homophobic brothers... braided someone's hair... etc." It was all pretty normal stuff, I guess, unless you're not afraid of your relatives beating you up.
One girl mentioned a racial bashing (using baseball bats) that occurred in Miami, Ohio. She stated that the news didn't report it as a gay bashing, but that she knew the bashers were major gay haters because they had constantly bashed her back when they were going to the same school. She said they used to throw bricks at her.
After the discussion, they took a break and then I got up to play for them. The little piano was WILDLY out of tune -- and we looked around for another one, but couldn't find one. But, I moved on ahead and began singing to them.
I began with "Connected" and what made this group different from any other group I've played for was how much the laughed at the "funny lines" in the song. Even the most subtle humor -- like, "We should all be connected to a meter" got a huge laugh. That's when I knew I was going to LOVE this group.
I went on making fun of homophobes and sang, "At Least I Know What's Killing Me" followed by "The Group" and then "Friendly Fire." They were a great group and listened intently to the soft songs and practically danced around during the fast ones. I was amazed at how emotional they seemed, even though a group of outcasts will normally mask their more emotional moments from each other.
After I sang, I asked them if they had questions. Barefoot Ron, who came with me noted that they were not afraid to ask very personal questions. I told them life with AIDS, even though I was feeling strong is not fun. The pill schedule, the food limitations, the timing is all very complicated and total pain in the ass. One student said he had never been tested, but was kind of afraid to. One of the others stated that the testing is completely anonymous and offered to go with him.
But I could tell that to be gay in this town is to invite violence and family rejection. The fear really pervaded the room as this group huddled to support each other while still joking and laughing and doing all the stuff that kids to when they're together and at ease. How I wish I had such a group when I was growing up. And how wonderful that the church provided this sanctuary from the potential violence outside.
One girl asked me, "Why do you like going to kid's groups?" I was taken my surprise on that one because I could not imagine NOT wanting to reach out to kids who are trying so desperately to lead normal lives. I finally just said, "Why wouldn't I?" And I told them of the many young people that write me after reading my diary. How lonely many of them are and scared or isolated.
After we left, I found myself barely able to talk to my friends at the little restaurant we went to. I just couldn't get those beautiful, young faces out of my mind.
Tuesday, February 24, 1998
Standing on the Corner...[I'm writing this on March 3, 1998 after having gotten back from the first leg of the 1998 Bonus Round Tour. I spent yesterday reducing the piles of paper that have accumulated and I also paid a ton of bills that were waiting for me. I also slept a lot. Now, I'm going to try to reconstruct the final days of the first leg. Thanks for your patience.]TUESDAY, MARCH 24:
Picture this: I'm standing on a train track in a tiny little town -- Locust Valley out on Long Island near Oyster Bay -- nestled in trees. It's cold and it's raining -- a heavy mist-rain, but a rain nonetheless. I'm waiting on a car to pick me up. I don't have a hat. After about 20 minutes I realize this car is not arriving, so I go to the little shack filled with cranky workers wearing orange workvests and I call the Locust Valley High School, asking for Ms. Funk. I'm especially distressed because Ms. Funk told me we'd only have, like, 15 minutes to get from the station to the school for the assembly program I'm supposed to be playing for.
The woman on the phone says she cannot find Ms. Funk but if I'd call back in five minutes, she'd try to track her down.
I call back. She informs me I've come on the wrong day. The Locust Valley assembly is TOMORROW. However, Ms. Funk is now in her car and she's coming to get me anyway.
I feel like a total idiot.
Ms. Funk, who can only be described a Jewish mother of epic proportions with a perfectly formed Long Island accent, radiates the kind of warmth few people on this planet are capable of achieving. She is so lovely and so happy to see me (even if it's the wrong day), I begin to realize that coming a day early -- after the 45 minute train ride from Manhattan -- is one of the luckiest breaks I've ever gotten.
We drive to the modest high school through the small but very sweet-looking town and immediately she wants to know if I've eaten. "You need to eat," she informs me. I tell her I've just taken my Crixivan and can't eat for an hour. She looks skeptical, but happily takes me to the auditorium where I'll be performing the following day.
She tells me about their AIDS peer education program and shows me a display case the kids decorated. It's filled with huge representations of boxes of candy they sell to raise money for people living with AIDS. I'm really knocked out by how large the display is and how much love has gone into the set-up. I'm also thinking Ms. Funk might be a extra special human being. (I was right, by the way).
In the auditorium is a huge Steinway grand piano -- a nine footer. (YAY!!!). For the uninitiated, to play on a great grand piano is one of life's most spectacular pleasures. It's not describable. You'll just have to take my word on it.
After we tour the school a bit, she forces me into the cafeteria where I munch on some sandwiches. Then, since the train back to NYC doesn't leave for a few hours, they take me to the school library where I am able to access the internet and answer some mail.
Finally, I get back on the train in the freezing cold and make my way back to Manhattan where Jimmy and our new friend, Noel, are anxious to take me to a staged anniversary reading of the musical IRENE. Our friend, actress Ruthie Warrick is a special guest and so I wear my new suit and new shirt just for the occasion.
Jimmy notices that we have been given four tickets instead of three, so when he hears someone at the door pleading for an extra ticket, we give it to him. He seems to be a real theatre fan and couldn't afford the price. He seems to know the show backwards and forwards and is impressed that we know Ruth who was in the original cast back in 1961 or 2.
The show begins with Ruthie coming out and reminiscing about the original production. Then it dawns on Jimmy: Ruth is not *IN* this reading. She's just a special guest. The extra ticket is HERS! Then Jimmy starts to panic. We've given Ruth's ticket away to a total stranger! Ruth, however, who is on a cane after an accident with a taxicab, does not try to come down during the act. At intermission, we find her at the back of the auditorium talking to Soupy Sales. SOUPY SALES???
She wants to join us for Act Two. Luckily, there was a vacant seat in our row and it's no problem bringing her down with us. *WHEW*
Wednesday, February 25, 1998
The Kids In The Pick-Up Truck.Well, at least this morning, I knew what train to catch when I got to Penn Station. I'm staying with Dean Bradshaw ("Jim" in THE LAST SESSION) down on 23rd and 1st Avenue. Getting to Penn Station was a simple matter of one bus and one subway transfer. I got to the busy station early enough to sit for a minute and read the papers.
The train is very comfortable and the connection at Jamaica to get to Locust Valley is easy. Also, the weather was a bit nicer today -- no rain and not so cold. Ms. Funk was patiently waiting for me when I arrived and inside I was so excited to be playing again. There's really no thrill like it. I knew I would be playing on a huge grand piano with spotlights and a sound system.
The auditorium was large and wide. The piano was stationed on the floor just in front of the stage and there was a spotlight coming from high up in back. As the kids piled in, I could see they were pretty much a normal group of teenagers, at once excited, bored, talky, silly, and filled with the life of youth and innocence. At the front and in the center, Ms. Funk had her HIV group in white shirts and black pants wearing red ribbons. Most of them were girls but there were two or three guys, too.(Take note, young hetero males at Locust Valley who might be reading this -- at the little reception afterwards, these two guys were sitting in a room packed with very gorgeous women. Volunteering for the HIV program ain't such a bad idea if you get these kinds of bonuses, eh?]ANYHOO, I made my way over to the side of the auditorium when Ms. Funk asked me where I was going (as opposed to sitting in the front row). I said, "Well, I have to make a grand entrance, you know!" She laughed.
The principal introduced her. Then she introduced me using stuff from my home page. You could see she was very excited about it all. Then, she pointed to the wings and I made my big entrance. Went up to the piano, told the story about Potsie in the Emergency Room and launched right into "Connected." The PA system was not very good, though. It kinda distorted, so I was trying to be very careful about not crowding the mic. (You have to think of these things, you know. The audience never knows why something might sound bad, as I've mentioned before.)
But if there was a problem, no one could tell. The kids (pardon me the STUDENTS were great. They seemed to listen to everything. The one song that I had the most fun with was "Preacher and the Nurse." I rock on it using a different rhythm than they use in the show. And this piano had BALLS. By the time I got done, I could tell they were mightily impressed.
I said a few short words about how I don't lecture on sexual practices, but that they should know that for all the strength I might have now, living with AIDS is still not fun. I said that they might have heard that it's more treatable these days, but that I must take expensive pills five times a day, keep a rigorous and complex eating schedule and have blood tests constantly. I assure them they do not want to live the medical life I am living and that I wanted them to know that whatever they do, they should stay safe and healthy. Now more than ever. I emphasize that there is no cure and that I could easily become immune to the drugs and be right back in hell where I was.
I also mentioned a word about how my old friend, the preacher from Texas told me how AIDS was a manifestation of the sin of homosexuality, and how I needed to repent of this sin, etc. (That's just before I launch into "At Least I Know What's Killing Me). I know the message got through because they listened and they gave me a huge ovation after I finished. It was glorious.
Later, the HIV group led me into a room where we all ate food they had prepared and I was able to talk to them and answer questions they had about the show and about Bob, Binky, Grace, Amy and Dean.
TWO COOL THINGS HAPPENED:1. The Superintendent of schools came up to me and said he thought my program was the most effective he'd ever seen. He told me he had two boys ages 12 and 13 -- and that he'd love for them to hear my presentation. He found it absolutely appropriate for young teens as well as older folks.I got back in town just in time to see the matinee of TLS. It was special because it was done mostly by our understudies. Tall, handsome John Randall was Gideon; brassy Brochu/Merman-esque Pegg Winter was Vicki; and Will Gartshore (who has replaced Binky, but whom I've only seen once) performed a kick-ass version of TLS. I was completely blown away by the power of the show even with 3/5 new cast. Amazing.
2. Just as I was leaving the building, a pick-up truck full of young jock types pulled up out of the parking lot. I froze for a second, because young jocks in pick-up trucks are usually not very friendly to someone they perceive or know to be gay. As soon as they recognized me, instead of yelling faggot or anything like that, they suddenly got GREAT BIG SMILES on their faces and they waved at me like I was a long, lost friend. It was so cool. So very cool.
Thursday-Friday, February 26-27, 1998
Chattin' & Plannin'.Thursday and Friday were days for me to mostly just have lunch with everyone. I met with Carl & Nancy & Jamie -- all producers of the NY production of TLS. I got to spend time with Michael Alden in his office, and I had dinner with Jay. Also, on Thursday evening, I went to Amy Coleman's rehearsal studio and played some music for Jimmy and Noel and Amy. Amy declared she wanted to do "One New Hell" from my Bonus Round CD. She loved it.
On Friday, we scoped out Chelsea Market for the big Steve Concert on Saturday night. It's a huge Nabisco Factory that has been transformed into a marketplace. As you wind through the post-industrial hallway, you see shops on either side -- large shops that sell flowers, soups, breads, pot pies, ice cream, etc. The bread shop has the kitchen right there behind glass. You can see stacks and stacks of breads rising and being baked. The smell is magnificent.
The room for the midnight concert is low-ceilinged and has wooden pillars. There was a huge candy castle display in the middle of the room which was being taken apart -- I guess there had been party for Nabisco or something. But the room looked just perfect for us. All I wanted was something intimate, so that we could throw off the trappings of show biz and simply gather in a spirit of warmth and family.
This was perfect.
Saturday, February 28, 1998
The Midnight Concert (A Review).[I'll be posting my impression of the Midnight Concert tomorrow. But here is a note from "Quasimodo" who was there. He posted this at rec.arts.theatre.musicals.]FROM QUASIMODO:
"Last night I was witness to a miracle. In this day and age, people regard a miracle as something that only happened in biblical times, or the word miracle is taken lightly. ("It's a miracle my pants fit after stuffing myself on Thanksgiving?"). Well last night, in the middle of Manhattan, (in Chelsea no less), I witnessed a true miracle. His name is Steve Schalchlin.
I attended Steve Schalchlin's midnight concert at the Chelsea Market. There was a good sized crowd, and everyone was in an upbeat kinda mood. (I wasn't sure what to expect, as the event coincided with the closing of THE LAST SESSION at the 47th Street Theater.) Amy Coleman opened up the show with a couple of numbers, and she was subsequently joined on stage by Bob Stillman and Grace Garland. After a couple of speeches, it was time for the main event.
People sat around the small stage, Steve Schalchlin played from a piano a little off to the side. It was an intimate setting, like sitting in a friend's living room listening to him tell you stories. Everyone's attention was riveted to the man on the piano. I must admit I was a little unsettled as he started his first song, Save Me A Seat, having heard the song done by Bob Stillman in the show twice and on CD numerous times. But after the first couple of lines I eased into his performance, realizing that this was different, something really special. This was the voice of the man himself, telling us in songs and words about his personal thoughts and experiences, telling us about what it is like living with AIDS.
Steve Schalchlin took us on a journey last night. At one point we were sitting in this group listening as each member told his/her story, we watched as he reached out in his illness to help out the lady who couldn't help cutting herself, we were there when he got a phone call and was told he would be cured of AIDS if he renounced his homosexuality... we also stood at his bedside in the hospital, seeing him with lines and tubes, feeling as helpless and confused.
Seeing him up there last night so full of life and energy and caring after all he's been through was nothing short of amazing. It should make us take stock of what we have and realize how lucky we are. And for those who are living with AIDS, his story should serve as an inspiration, enabling us to draw hope and strength from his experiences.
I can't help thinking how near the end of Save Me A Seat, there's a couple of lines that go:"Then I'll get to do something that you cannot doIn a way, Mr. Schalchlin did just that, with his wonderful words and music. I will carry his stories with me wherever I go. And hopefully i can offer someone in the future an ounce of hope by telling of this man I heard some night ago.
I'll follow you home, every one of you..."
To all the people who will be fortunate enough to get a chance to see this show when it tours, be good to yourself and go see it!"
Saturday, February 28, 1998
The First Session.Today, Saturday, I went back down to the Chelsea Market to test out the piano and the sound system. To put it lightly, I was thrilled. A 7' Yamaha grand just like the one at Theta Sound, the original model for the studio of THE LAST SESSION. The sound system was professional and perfect. To the sides of the stage area were two video screens that went from floor to ceiling. There was a full band set-up onstage for Flamin' Amy.
I sat down to rehearse and test out the piano and it was like being home. First I started playing the new jazz arrangement I've cooked up for "Save Me A Seat." It sounded fantastic. Then I played "The Sad Lady." Perfect. You know, after three weeks of either wildly out of tune pianos and/or fuzzy sound systems, the chance to play under optimal circumstances was thrilling. Once again, I thanked my new friend, Noel Garrett for going out of his way to produce this evening in honor of his late, beloved mother, Marie Garrett. (In fact, we put a framed picture of her on the piano! It was like being watched over by an angel.)
I couldn't wait until the evening when I'd truly be in my element. But first, it was time for me to see my last performance of this run of TLS. We rushed down to the theatre and there I saw friends from Penn State, friends from Cincinnati, Washington D.C., Texas, New Hampshire -- all of them there just to see the show and then attend the Midnight Concert.
The cast was all weepy in the dressing room. It's a weird thing about theatre; actors will tell you how in the middle of a run, you can get tired of doing the same thing eight times a week -- and you think about what new shows you could be involved with. But as a run comes to a conclusion, you begin to feel totally adrift. Imagine if you, reader, had to find a new job every few months or so. That's what it's like being an actor. It's a stressful, difficult life.
Down in the dressing rooms, everyone was hugging and signing posters and programs for each other. They each told me how this has been a dream experience for everyone involved. Rarely do they encounter a working situation where the producers are at the theatre every night, caring for each cast member personally. But, that's what Carl, Jamie, Michael and Jay (and Nancy) -- the NY contingent -- have been doing. Rarely do performers get treated with respect and love as they have been with TLS.
They all thanked me for the songs they sang. I, of course, thanked them for taking words and music from a page and turning them into electrifying theatre.
But also, at the end of a run, the actors kinda really get loose. Bob, Grace, Will, Dean and Amy began to really relax. Suddenly, their performances become something almost transcendent.
As the lights went down for the opening number tonight, the audience began applauding immediately. This was a sold-out theatre full of fans who were ready for The Last Session. In fact, throughout the performance, they stopped the show on nearly every number. Tears were audible thoughout the house. And the cast! Lord, they sang their guts out and by the time Grace finished "Singer and the Song," the whole place was up for grabs, as Jimmy puts it.
But tonight, Bob Stillman really was something. He gave an emotional, layered, beautiful, almost possessed performance like I've rarely seen in the theatre. (I was sitting close to the front in a row -- from aisle in: Jimmy, Noel, me & Ruth Warrick). Jealously, I poked Ruth and said, "That lousy Bob. He knows I'm playing tonight and he's just showing me up!!" I was kidding, of course. But, honestly, he had me in tears more than a couple of times. The songs just seemed to flow from his heart. And just for the record, Amy, Will and Grace also sang their hearts out.
During "When You Care," Grace got too emotional to sing. After the show, they invited Jimmy and me up on stage since I wouldn't be there for Sunday's last two performances. For me, though, I don't see how anything could top what I saw tonight.
It's funny being in "show business." You have to pick something to wear when you go onstage. Now, you might think, "Well, no big deal..." But it is. What you wear in front of an audience tells them who you are, so I thought about wearing my new suit, but I think it would have made me look like first day of Sunday School. Too formal. So, I thought to myself, What am I? I'm not Wayne Newton or Elton John or Sting. I'm not a flashy performer who needs bangles and beads. No laser show.
I'm just a songwriter. Plain and simple. So, I thought about John Fogerty my hero and decided to wear the tan plaid shirt my mama gave me for Christmas. And since we were honoring Noel's mom, that made it all the more appropriate.
As the large room began to fill, I looked at their faces and all I saw was joy. These were very happy folks, this crowd. I circulated and shook hands. There was Ms. Funk from Locust Valley High School and Dr. Diana Williamson from the Harlem United Community AIDS Center.In my head: "Ms. Funk's HIV class was looking for more PWAs to give money to. Dr. Diana (as Medical Director) works in a place where many of her clients have never even SEEN a kitchen. Bet they hardly have shoes and clothes, too. And there's a lot of kids that come through there -- families." So, I introduced them and they hit it off like crazy. If I know Ms. Funk, she'll have a football field worth of clothes and things by tomorrow afternoon.
You might remember that it was Dr. Diana who brought, at various times, at least a hundred patients to see THE LAST SESSION. It was she who brought the lady who called off her suicide after seeing TLS. (She just got named as one of the top 100 influential people in New York City.)
Amazingly, I felt very relaxed, although I could feel a cold tingle wrangling away in my chest and my breath was just slightly quicker than normal. I couldn't stand still, so I circled the room, quietly hugging and greeting people. I kept thinking, "Wow. All these people are here to see me. All because of a bunch of songs."
Someone came up and asked me if I was nervous. I said, "Nope." Inwardly, I was thinking that being able to do this is like cheating. The songs are the stars, not me. All I have to do is show up, say as little as possible and then just start doing the songs.
Just before I went on, Ruth Warrick told the story of the suicide lady Dr. Diana had brought. She said, "I don't know anyone on the Pulitzer Committee, but The Last Session deserves a Pulitzer. Give me their names. I'll go talk to them!" That got a huge laugh. Then Noel got up on stage and told everyone to gather closer and sit on the floor, if they could. They did.
He introduced me and I immediately began playing "Save Me A Seat." I've been possessed by this song, lately. I play it all the time. Did I mention the jazz arrangement that's been going through my head? The one I thought of on the train from Philadelphia to Manhattan? Well, on this piano earlier this afternoon, I was going CRAZY playing it. ANYHOO...
Singing these songs is a balancing act for me. I get to some lines and I feel my chest suddenly expand into tear-formation. I have to push it down and keep on singing. Because if I cry, then it spoils the music and gets too melodramatic, in my opinion. Hell, if I let myself cry everytime I felt it, I never get through ANY of the songs!
There was a special energy tonight. People were clustered together below me at my right arm -- the spotlights were bright, but I could see faces shining up at me. Around the edges and in front of me, were silhouetted figures swaying and hugging to the music.
After "Going It Alone," I began the strange, swinging chords of "The Sad Lady." And once again, the audience was in an epic trance. I finished the song and, just like at Bucknell, no one move. No one breathed. I sensed the moment, and before they had a chance to do anything, I immediately launched into the preaching intro to "At Least I Know What's Killing Me." It was like a gun blast. They lept into clapping and singing. Everyone was suddenly so happy!
I cannot truly describe what it feels like to be sitting in front of a crowd of intelligent people who are zoning out into ecstasy when you play and sing for them. I think all my experiences on the tour: Bucknell, Penn State, Rochester, Locust Valley. I must have played three "concerts a day" at Bucknell and Penn State.
And now it was all coming together. It felt so simple to just be there and do. I think I'll let Jimmy tell you what he saw and felt:ORIGINALLY POSTED BY JIMMY -- MY Jimmy -- IN THE TLS FAN CHAT ROOM:
Well guys, it's been a very emotional couple of days and though I've wanted to tell you all about Saturday night from my POV, it's taken me a few days for my hands to stop shaking. The Midnight Concert was one of the most incredible pieces of theatre I ever saw. Steve may call it a one man show or a lecture, but to me it was pure theatre. It made you laugh and it made you cry and he held the audience as any true star would. And then I realized that it was Steve who I thought was going to die two years ago and it was like witnessing a miracle. Noel Garrett provided the sky and the Comet Steve blazed across it as brightly as the Star of Bethlehem.
© 1996 - 2001 by Steve Schalchlin