Volume 1 Book 9 Episode 11
of Living In The Bonus Round
the online diary of Steve Schalchlin
Life's a Beach (and then you open).
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Michele Mais, Joey Traywick & Amy Coleman
An Online Diary of the
1998 Laguna Playhouse Production
of THE LAST SESSION
featuring Jim Brochu, Amy Coleman, P.M. Howard, Michele Mais, Bob Stillman, Joey Traywick, Positoids, NuBiHes and lavish amounts of love.
Part 11: What the audiences saw...
Laguna Beach & Melbourne Australia.
Openings & Reactions...
8 SHOWS -- 8 STANDING OVATIONS
This time I'm going to talk about the audience reactions to the play. But before I get started, you should know that there has been ONE PHONE CALL to the theatre telling them that TLS was "revolting." So, I guess you can say that the response has not been *100%* great. hehe.
But, out of eight shows performed, we have had eight standing ovations. And I'm not talking about casual "I guess we gotta stand because the people in front of us are standing" kind of ovations, either. People are leaping to their feet and shouting. They are also crying like babies and laughing their guts out.
That, along with the two rave reviews in the LA Times and the Orange County Register mean we are really rocking here. I've been hanging out and having a ball, to say the least (even though I am YEARS behind in my emails). Usually I stand over by the concession stand and tell people about the songs and give out great big hugs.
The other thing that has happened and it has now happened FOUR SHOWS IN A ROW. I'll let a fan describe it:You know, no one has mentioned this yet, but at the end of Act One, when the lights went down, there was this loooong space of silence; everyone sitting in the dark, not moving, barely breathing... It was an incredible testament to how affected we were as a whole by what we were seeing and hearing...That's right, at the end of Act One, when Joey sits down at the stool holding his Bible, the lights go down to black and NORMALLY, the audience is supposed to begin applauding the act break. But in the last four performances, NOBODY MOVED A MUSCLE. They just sat in stunned silence finally breaking into applause ONLY after the house lights have come up to full.
I've seen a lot of things in theatre, but I have never seen that.
All weekend long we had packs of RENT fans at each performance, which I love because they are really dedicated lovers of theatre -- and generally hate phony show biz stuff. The cast hung out with them and hugged them and we all took pictures together (some are posted at http://www.bennytour.com/tls.htm).
Here are some of the comments we've received.
STACEY:I just wanted to thank you with all my heart for the most amazing/emotional/fun night I've had in recent memory. I'm still reeling in the emotion of it all. I've seen so many shows, and I can honestly say that no show has touched me like the experience I had Sat. night (not even RENT....are you surprised? =)GAIL:
The cast was absolutely amazing, especially Bob and Joey. You are so right in saying that Joey's "Going It Alone" is absolutely gorgeous and heart- wrenching. They were also so fantastic about talking to us after the show and taking all those pictures with us
The cast was so amazing during and after the show. There were tons of "huggy" pictures. I dropped off my film this morning and I got triples so I will have extras. Can't wait to get them back.bob, you were incredible. as lori put it: "his pain is like a separate presence in the room, you can feel it envelop you when he sings".LORI:
and joey - joey's voice was so pure, it was like listening to a choir.
p.m, maisy and amy, you were all absolutely wonderful. people all around me were chuckling or laughing, sniffling quiety or sobbing out loud. when "connected" started, the four of us grabbed each others hands and just held on for dear life.i can't stress enough how much anyone who loves rent will love this show. you will laugh and cry at the same time, and you leave the theatre just feeling so good. and the cast -- oh, where to begin?ED (on the TLS listserve):
steve is right about joey, not only is he amazing on stage, but a total sweetheart in person. as you watch buddy try to reconcile his deep religious convictions with the truth about the person he as long admired, his "hero", you can see the struggle on his face, hear it in his voice. and you want so badly for him to figure it out. i challenge anyone to remain dry-eyed during "going it alone". and he couldn't have been more genuine or sincere offstage. you can tell that being in this show is a labor of love for him, i just can't say enough good things about him. we loved him.
bob is fantastic, the most beautiful voice, his pain is like a separate presence in the room, you can feel it envelop you when he sings. his "the group" and "connected" are beyond words. loved him.OH MY GOD!!!! The Laguna Cast is INCREDIBLE!!!I saw the show in NYC last November shortly after losing a friend of mine to AIDS and didn't cry near as much as I did tonight.Ê Of the 6 seats that my group filled there wasn't a dry eye in the row.Ê At one point when Joey was reading the letter from Jack to Gideon, I sniffed a little loud, this young child in front of me who couldn't have been more then 6 years old, turned around and said to me "it's ok."ÊJEFFREY (responding to Ed):That little boy who told you it was "Okay," was with me. We were sitting in the front row. Eli is 6 and I was so intrigued watching him watch the show. He belly laughed at Amy and Maisy so many times! He has listened to the Cast album many times and LOVED the DIVA songs. That is so touching that he heard you sniffle and turned to comfort.SABRINA:
Let me tell you, I am buzzing from the Laguna performance. Amy and Maisy were particularly amazing tonight. Great chemistry!Okay so Laguna was everything I heard it would be. Set was bigger. The sound was sterling. Joey KILLS "Going It Alone". Maisy was BEAUTIFUL and I have NEVER heard "The Singer and The Song" done LIKE THAT. Amy's JUST KILLS. Not just in her singing, but the whole evening. She just KILLS! PM's guitar and bass textures really bring BIG dimension to a small production. And Bob is SHINING with all the depth he brings to the vocals. And did I mention the sound?just a note to say that i had an incredible time saturday night. I am still in awe. the production was fabulous and i feel so proud to have you as a friend. of course i bought the groupie package tee hee... so i got to listen to YOU sing your songs. WOW. you rock.CHARMI:Bob - Thanks for being so warm and friendly. Now that I've heard you sing live, the cd can only be a substitute for the purity of your voice... to steal a phrase from Rent. . . You look gooooood!And finally, from AUSTRALIA, producer Mark Fletcher sent this report of the two staged readings in Melbourne, which he produced as a test to see if Aussie audiences would respond to the very American TLS:
Joey - Okay, where to begin with this cutie patootie. You are magic! From your angelic voice to your wide eyed smile...you overwhelm me with your generosity of spirit and devotion you display through the show. Your popularity is spreading quickly through the young female Rent fan base so get ready for the deluge.
Amy - You rock, sister friend! Thank you for your honesty. It's often a rare commodity in today's world. My most stunning memory is hearing your amazing sultry voice accompanied by none other than Brilliant Bob Stillman at the keys to not one but two fabulous tunes. Your rendition of Me and Bobby McGee [in a club after the show] gave me goosebumps.
Maisey - Your talents are endless and your beauty shines not only outwardly but from within. For the true diva who brings Tryshia's tolerance to life and gives Tryshia a voice with her amazing gospel talented pipes, I applaud you.
P.M. - Haven't had much time to spend with you but the time we've had was wonderful! Your comedic timing is the best! I'm glad to know I have the possibility of seeing you in other creative endeavors at Laguna Playhouse.THE LAST SESSION
FIRST AUSTRALIAN READING/WORKSHOPS
FRIDAY 18 SEPTEMBER 1998 8 PM
SATURDAY 18 SEPTEMBER 1998 2 PM
With a limited rehearsal schedule and the usual stack of dramas under our belt we got to Friday just wanting to get the show happening. I'd been at every rehearsal with our Director, Susan Cooper, and had to deal with some ugly tantrums - all for a reading. We had agreed to include movement rather than have just a static reading. However, some wanted to only do what they felt like at the time rather than following blocking that actually showed them in a better light and introduced consistency.
Our mailing list and one advertisement had generated far more interest than we had anticipated. The 94 seat venue was booked with 108 people on Friday night and 94 for Saturday. We had a waiting list of 17 for Friday and had turned away probably another 15 or so. We expected a no show rate of around 20% but had to be careful because of very strict fire regulations for the building we were performing.
The space is amazing. 94 seats - raked. An excellent lighting grid and powerful/professional sound. A very professional and comfortable space. PLUS it has an excellent wood paneled reception room for the audience to mingle PLUS tremendous facilities for the cast and crew.
My purpose in hosting the reading was to see how the show traveled across the pacific. I wanted to listen to the audience reaction to the story, the humor, Mary Kay, Southern Baptist stuff ... so many aspects of the show. I also wanted to know what the audience thought the show was about. So, I created a questionnaire for people to complete after the show. Seven questions. Vital market research. PLUS I arranged for professional catering and bar service after each performance so that people would stay and provide us an opportunity to talk with them.
We had 100 for each of the two performances. Plus, probably, a couple of extras. We actually slid an extra row of seats in front of the first row to save people having to sit in the aisles. What fire regulations?
I introduced the show and explained why we were staging the reading and talked a little about the TLS journey.
WOW! They laughed. They cried. They got angry. THEY LOVED THE SHOW! Friday AND Saturday.
My cell phone ran hot on Saturday with friends of friends calling to see if they could get in. They were told that this was a show they had to see.
Fifteen minutes after we invited the audience to the reception room (the chambers) to join us for champagne and some sensational hot savouries, at least thirty of them were still in the audience talking - some to people they had never met before.
I'm a pretty shy person when it comes to meeting people but I had no choice on Friday and Saturday. I barely walked in to the Chambers after each performance and there was a stream of people wanting to talk. They were saying things like "You have to do this show", "don't let anyone or anything stop you doing this show", "how can I help", "you've changed my view of theatre", "I never used to like musicals", "tel me when it's on and I'll fly all of my family in". Truly, these comments were made and hundreds more.
On Saturday we got to leave at midnight. The last audience members left an hour and a half after the show.
On Sunday we got to leave three hours later with the last audience member leaving two hours after the show.
The cast mixed well. Some of them wanted to sit with the Director and I while we scanned the questionnaires.
The performances were really good. Limited rehearsal time and books in hand didn't stop this being an emotional and professional production of the show.
We did a few things differently. Jim's booth was our lighting box at the back of the theatre. He walked to the stage down the aisle next to the audience. Feedback was that people loved the feeling of really being there, that the theatre was the studio. We used a baby grand piano rather than keyboard. The sound was amazing!
So, to the feedback....
Only two audience members said they would not pay to attend. More than half said YES YES YES or YES AND I'LL BRING MY FAMILY AND FRIENDS.
People loved the music. And I mean loved it! Preacher and the Nurse, Friendly Fire and When You Care were commented on the most. But many also felt that When You Care was too schmaltzy. Australian's don't like we are the world type anthems as a rule. On the survey forms people commented on the power of the lyrics and how well them moved the show along. PEOPLE WANTED TO BUY THE CD!
Only a few said that they didn't enjoy the music.
People loved the book. Vicki's humor was the most commented on aspect that people enjoyed. However, many also commented that they loved the relationship between Vicki and Tryshia - saying that they thought that this was excellent theatre. Some thought that resolution came a little too fast. Others thought it was spot on. They laughed and laughed at things that I thought they wouldn't get.
Several said that they didn't like the book.
We asked people what the worst part of the show - for many it was the interval, they just wanted it to continue; others said that it was the fact that the show is over.
We asked people what they thought the show was about. The answers included: homosexuality; god; life; acceptance; life's journey; farewell; love; caring; quality of life. The most common answer was life. Someone wrote WOW!. Another wrote A FRIEND OF OURS.
We used American accents since that was one of the issues I wanted an answer to. People didn't like them, not because some were bad but more because it made this more overtly American and Australians are tired of that. However, our more General Public audience didn't care as much as the purist theatre people. My feeling is that I don't want to tamper with the setting and would rather employ a sensational accent coach to make it more real than real.
While I specifically did not seek investors, at least two people came up and expressed specific interest in this.
Some of this country's leading actors attended and were as moved as any audience member. Two of them cornering me and assuring me that they'll do anything to help get the show up even though there isn't a role for them.
So, from here we have to step back and digest what happened. Continue collating the survey forms - an amazingly valuable resource, talk more with the people in the audience that several of us planted to give us truly honest views, talk with the cast one on one for their feedback, talk with theatre owners some more and make some decisions and review the pages of questions that we came up with during the rehearsals and in talking with people after the performances.
We spent just under $6,000 on the reading which does not include the advance on the rights. My feeling right now is that it has been money well spent.
As I said in my introductory remarks before each performance, THE LAST SESSION is leaving home. It's learning to find and stand on its own feet. And it will do this. We could not have hoped for a better response.
Episode 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20
The official stills by Still Productions | Pics by Steve | Cast pics by Steve | Fun pics
LA Times Review | TLS fan club page with pictures | L.A. critics quotes page
"From Hate To Humanity" | TLS Fan Chat Room | BennyTour fan pics
All photos and text are © 1998 by Steve Schalchlin.