Volume 1 Book 9 Episode 19
of Living In The Bonus Round
the online diary of Steve Schalchlin
Life's a Beach (and then you open).
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Charles Nelson Reilly unsuccessfully tries to avoid Jim Brochu.
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 19. Maine Event.
The Closing Weekend. October.
Candles in the Mist.
I am standing in the cold mist on the lawn in front of a church at night. Bangor, Maine, home of Stephen King. I'm holding hands with a woman wearing a moon and star tiara. We are all holding candles, but the wet wind keeps blowing them out, so we huddle together, relight each other's candles and raise our voices and our broken hearts together.
I have to confess that I had a little bit of a bad attitude going into the weekend. Ron Hersom, a sweet unassuming man in Bangor suddenly decided the state needed a morale boost after the dismal defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment in Maine earlier this year. So he took it upon himself to organize a Human Rights March and Rally, followed by a big concert featuring several entertainers, including yours truly.
Oh and I was grumbling to Jimmy as I was packing to go: They weren't paying me, it was probably going to be unprofessional, I wanted to be in Laguna to see the last performances, etc. (I mean the Vanity Factor alone would be worth two bonus cards and three rolls of the dice in the Game of Life. How I wanted to bask in the glow of applause and praise, of course, but even more I just knew these would be the best performances of all.)
And I'd be on the other side of country.
Getting out of town was also miserable. Just as we were leaving I opened my wallet and no bank card. And I didn't have much money on me. And Jimmy's bank was offline. Then we get on the freeway and I realize I don't have my watch on, either, so timing my pills and eating schedule was going to be a bitch.
I was not having a good day at all and my attitude was horrible.
I got to my hotel room and couldn't connect to the internet and it was out in the middle of nowhere and it was cold and rainy and all I thought about while lying there was how much I wanted to be in Laguna for the last days. (And I felt horrible for even thinking these thoughts.)
Friday morning I talk to Jimmy and all he can talk about is what a great night Thursday night was. He said how L.A. theatre owners were there scoping us out, how the place was packed to the rafters, how the standing ovations were continuing.
INTERFAITH PRAYER SERVICE
Friday night, I was asked to sing a song for everyone at the Congregationalist Church in downtown Bangor.
Ron told me Bangor is a town of about 10,000. It's north of Portland and pretty much out in the middle of the woods which were seemingly on fire with reds, oranges, and yellows of the fall season. The church building was a old wood frame church that looked like it had been there since the American revolution (but actually dated back to the late 19th century).
The church was about 2/3 full for the service which was led by an attractive woman who was the pastor of the Unitarion Universalist congregation down the block. (Being raised Baptist fundamentalist, this was pushing all the old pre-programmed buttons about how women should be silent in church and how only men can be preachers. And how only Baptist churches are "scriptural" churches.)
One by one, there were ministers from different faiths who stood and said that true Christianity is about making sure all people are treated equally before the eyes of the law just as they are seen equally before the eyes of God. And I realized these people truly did know the Love of God.
A leader from a Jewish congregation -- which several weeks ago had their temple defaced with hate language -- also came forward and said that their temple fully supported the gay and lesbian community in fighting for civil rights -- and against hate crimes.
Finally, the leader of the Maine NAACP spoke. He told us that he had just heard of a young boy in Wyoming named Matthew Shepard who had been beaten into a coma and stretched across a fence like a scarecrow -- in effect, crucified -- because he was gay. I could feel the trembling in his voice as he underscored the need to recognize the hate directed at gay people.
And I looked around and realized with a broken heart that there was not a single Baptist nor conservative Christian representative in the room. I was asked to sing so I sang "When You Care." "...you can only lift the darkness when you care..."
Then we lit candles and slowly made our way out onto that lawn. And everytime my candle blew out, I was filled with rage against the ones that fight against us, the Gary Bauers, the Janet Folgers, the Anthony Falzaranos -- evil people, I was thinking. And then I'd think about that poor boy stretched out on the fence and left to die, head beaten in with a gun, cuts all over his face...
...and it seemed to me that that scene was more grisly than anything Stephen King could ever come up with.
And I began to weep, relighting my candle and directing my emotions away from the hate and disgust I was feeling for those who fight against us in our simple plea for equality.
THE MARCH AND RALLY
I didn't go to the march and rally. They didn't have a car to pick me up and anyway it was raining and cold and I was getting a sore throat. So, I stayed in the warmth of the hotel bed while others marched the 10 miles from the University of Maine into town across the bridge where several years ago a young gay male was beaten and thrown into the river, murdered.
Ron told me, as he picked me up later that evening to head out for the concert, they had at least three times more people in the march than he was expecting and that the rally was triumphant.
I wasn't sure what to expect from the concert. It was in the Arts Center at the University of Maine. WELL! If I was missing Laguna up to this point, it all faded away when I saw this huge 1600 seat auditorium with a 9 foot Steinway, expansive stage, two follow spots -- a performer's dream come true!
I was to be in the first act. First, a comedian named Tim Sample who does regional humor, then me doing about 20 minutes, followed by Ron Hersom singing a song he wrote from a musical about two heterosexuals illicitly trying to find love in a world where everyone is forced to be homosexual (!). The second act featured a rather famous "lezzie" singer named Suede.
Tim was very funny and had the audience roaring with laughter. Backstage, I was pacing like a caged animal. What was I going to sing first?? I don't really "do" entertainment. This felt like Vegas! Imagine Wayne Newton coming out and singing songs about AIDS??? And yet, here were all these people, tired after the march, needing something uplifting. Which song? "Save Me A Seat?" "Connected?" No. Too slow.
Finally, it hit me. Tim's set came to an end. He introduced me and I popped onto the piano bench and looked out into the house. I couldn't see anything. A huge black rectangle and me in the spotlight alone.
I went right into "Friendly Fire." Never opened with that one before but it just felt right. I got everyone chanting along with me on the call and response section and when I finished the applause seemed to go on forever. I kept grinning sheepishly, "Okay. You can stop now..."
Then I sang "Somebody's Friend" which is really wicked on a big piano where you can use all the percussive effects of the strings and wood, followed by "The Group." Again, overwhelming applause coming out of the dark room. When I began introducing "Going It Alone," I started telling about how it was a love song to the caregiver when suddenly, unexpectedly, the image of Matthew Shepard's broken body stretched out like Jesus on the fence came into my mind and I almost lost control.Maybe you have to be gay or have close gay friends, but the horror of thinking "That could be me" is paralyzing. They did this because he is what I am. I remembered an old movie about the KKK which I saw in my youth where the Klansmen had taken a little black girl, pounded nails in her head and dumped her body on her parent's lawn.Anyway, as I'm playing the opening strains of the chords, Matthew come into my mind and I stopped for a moment and said something -- I don't even know what -- about how alone his family and friends must feel watching him in the hospital, head bashed in, fighting for life.
And I remembered how, during the civil rights marches in the 60s, the biggest impediments to allowing equal rights and voting opportunities came from the same religious conservative people who oppose us now. As Ross Perot would say, "It's sad. It's just sad."
And I began to sing "Going It Alone."
The silence in the room was palpable. Even in the dark, I could hear -- I could feel -- the audience's tears. So, after I finished "Going It Alone" I immediately began telling them about my old preacher friend who used to rail at me on the phone about repenting and the "evils of homosexuality" which resulted in the next song "At Least I Know What's Killing Me."
POW! It was like a explosion in the room when I got to "I'd rather be me with AIDS than to have to be you without it..." The place came completely unglued and I had to stop and wait for them to stop applauding. It was glorious.
Then I said that while the Political Religious Right is throwing their money and anger against us, it was important that we do not judge no matter how much we are judged (And no, I'm not good at fighting off my own judgmentalism). I briefly mentioned my work on the internet trying to build bridges between reasonable and loving people on both sides of the divide.
And I began to sing, "There's a light holding us together..."
As the last notes of "When You Care" hit, I said good night and the whole place rose immediately to its feet and gave me a thrilling standing ovation. Now I know how Amy and Bob, Maisey, P.M. and Joey felt at the end of every performance in Laguna.
THE END OF THE EARTH
Sunday morning. The last day at Laguna.
An old cyberpal friend of mine, Dwight, had invited me to sing at his church. It was a two hour drive through the woods to the very farthest point east about 45 miles from the Canadian border.On the way there, we passed a sign that said, "Cherryfield, the Blueberry Capital of the World."The church was one of those "unscriptural" United Churches of Christ, like the one I sang for in Rochester, NY. This church was founded in 1836 or something as a Congregationalist church. I walked inside (still thinking about the big closing sold out performance of TLS which I was missing happening on the other side of the continent).
The building was old, woodframe, could seat maybe a couple hundred. I sat at the little baby grand to check the sound in the room and GLORY of GLORIES I could hear my voice coming back to me from all points of the room. This little place out in the woods had one of the most acoustically perfect rooms I have ever sung in.
Later, Dwight told me this unassuming church building was sought after by choral groups and famous instrumentalists for concerts and recitals. My reward for being loyal to my schedule and not cancelling Maine just to vainly be at the big closing!
As I sang for the small congregation, who received all my words and music with tears, laughter and applause, I couldn't help but think of the contrast. Back in L.A., our musical was experiencing a real Hollywood party -- a sold out glamorous afternoon full of fans and autographs and photos and excitement.
And I was sitting in a tiny church out in the middle of the woods on the eastern tip of the United States. It was perfect. I wouldn't have wanted it any other way. Kinda keeps you grounded.A "GOING IT ALONE" STORY:I guess I do sound sad when I sing. Do you think it means I'm sad?
The first song I was scheduled to sing as part of the service was "Going It Alone." The pastor had just finished doing a little parable ("...except it had a point") for the kids all gathered in the front two pews. My piano was to their right but I was facing them.
I began singing the song and every single kid -- from ages 5-8 or so -- was completely riveted through the entire song. They held onto and seemed to grasp every word. Now, in my mind I had always seen "Going It Alone" as a rather sophisticated song, a thing P.M. affirmed to me when I related this story to him.
But looking into those children's faces, it was like hearing the words for the first time. I hadn't, to this point, realized how utterly simple the lyrics are. Then I remembered an conversation I had with a woman back in NY standing in front of the 47th Street Theatre.
She had told me that she worked with special needs kids using music therapy and that when she played the Bonus Round version of "Going It Alone" for the kids, also in this very young age range -- just my voice and the piano -- that they all stopped whatever they were doing and sat and listened to the whole song without moving. When she asked them what it was they were hearing, one of them responded -- and I'm remembering this without checking, "He sounds so sad."
Who can say? I'm certainly sad when I think of Matthew Shepard or Bill Clayton. I'm sad when I look around at a Human Rights Rally and realize "my" people are not there. I'm sad when I get distressing emails from gay teens who feel isolated and alone and who wonder if they are going to be the next Matthew Shepard, crucified for nothing.
I made it home and on Monday night Ronda threw a little party and I got to see all the cast members again before they were to head out for home. Bob and Amy to New York. P.M back down to Laguna. Maisey was dressed in this fabulous black dress and picture hat, Joey was wearing his goofy glasses.
They told me about the standing ovations and the tears and the gifts that came to them from fans who didn't want this glorious adventure/dream to end. They thanked Jimmy and me for writing THE LAST SESSION and I thanked them for breathing life into the characters and the songs.
To me, a song is nothing until a human being sings it. I'll never forget the stillness Bob created at Laguna with his angelic miraculous voice. The crystal clear chimes of P.M.'s guitar arrangment on "The Group," Maisey's incredible comic delivery of "...Can the traveling saleslady say the same thing? I don't THINK so!!" Amy's heartbreaking look at Bob at the end of "Somebody's Friend," and Joey pouring gallons of tears onto his face and shirt trying to choke out "Going It Alone."
Our time here was joyous and jubilant and bittersweet, which began with the death of a friend, Charles Wisnet and ended with the death of a stranger, Matthew Shepard, but it has changed a lot of people's lives and filled a lot of people's hearts. I know this because my email inbox is filled with testimonials and stories.
And, of course, my head is bigger than it's ever been.
WHAT'S NEXT FOR TLS?
I can't say anything really about what might happen from here. I can tell you that we have offers and that everyone wants to move as quickly as possible into Los Angeles. But even if nothing happens from this point on, nobody can take from us the experience that has transpired. If I were a novelist making this up as I went along, I couldn't have fashioned a more exhilarating and magnificent adventure.
I'll post one more page with pictures and descriptions of the closing performance which I HOPE everyone will start sending me. Meanwhile, I love you all and I barely finished high school. Oh, wait. That's a song.
Joey always says, "God bless TLS." Joey sweetie, He already did.
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.