February 1999. Los Angeles, Cincinnati & Columbus.
[ Vol. 1 Book 10 ] - [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Part 4 ] [ Pt 5 ] [ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] - [ Book 2 ]
Wednesday-Thursday, February 17-18, 1999.
Cincinnati School For the Creative & Performing Arts.I want to start my description of the two days I spent at the Cincinnati School for the Creative & Performing Arts by telling you about the first class I went to on Thursday, the second day.
The counselor, Elissa, told me this would a creative writing class consisting of students grades 4 to 6, mostly African American. We were in the big theatre. I had a grand piano -- a Baldwin -- and they had just given me a t-shirt with Cincinnati School for the Performing Arts inscribed on the front. I was glad because it was hot in there and I was sweating. So before the kids came in I doffed my hot flannel shirt and put on the t-shirt.
Finally the kids came in -- about 15 of them all sitting in the front row. They looked SO YOUNG. (And I was standing there thinking, "What am I going to say to these children?? I've never had an audience this young.")
A slight digression: the day before I had sung for another creative writing class in the little black box theatre. They were high school age. I asked if they had questions, it went dead silent. I got a few, but mostly from the teachers who were very enthusiastic. High school kids aren't big on talking.
Okay, back to the little kids. The counselor introduced me to them as "my friend from Hollwood" and then turned it over to me. I stood in the orchestra pit so my head was only slightly taller than theirs, which I liked. No sure how to start, I just said:
Immediately, six hands shot up!
"Are you a movie star?"
"No. But I was on 'All My Children' once."
More hands flew up. They were STRAINING to be recognized.
"Do you know any movie stars?"
"No, but I met Potsie from 'Happy Days.'"
"REALLY?? Is he the one with the leather jacket?"
I said, "No. He kinda played a nerd."
"Oh..." they said kind of dejectedly.
It thought of Jimmy watching all those old episodes of "What's My Line."
As I sang several other songs, I told them them about The Last Session, describing it as being about a man with AIDS. After they absorbed that, I told them that I myself was also living with AIDS. During the next song, one little girl in the front row started to cry. Then she told me that her uncle had died of AIDS and that it had hurt her whole family.
This was one of the most poignant moments of my whole life in the Bonus Round. And to think I had approached this class with so much trepidation, thinking they would be too young for my story.
The School for the Performing Arts resides in an old building not unlike the one in the movie FAME. Depression-era architecture with huge halls and high ceilings, but faded and old on the inside. FULL of character and, as I understand it, always strained for funds.
The first day consisted of two periods (they call them "bells") in that black box theatre with the creative writing students (on a little out of tune console piano). Then I had a quick lunch at the nearby bookstore/coffeehouse and then back to a dance class.
I sang some songs from the show -- this time on an upright Yamaha, very nice.
WHAT WAS THAT IN MY FACE?
The following day started with the younger kids I described above which perfectly prepared me for the next class, Journalism and Creative Writing -- most of whom had heard me sing the day before. In this one, I had no piano so I did exactly the same thing with them that I had done with the little kids.
I said to them, "Okay. You're journalism students. Who has a question?"
A girl in the front row raised her hand and then asked me if she could tape the interview. Impressed, I said, "Well, yes indeed."
Her next question was amazing. She read from a notepad (and I'm paraphrasing), "I loved hearing you sing and I thought it was amazing that you could be funny and all, but underneath it all, on your face, I can see sadness..." And I can't remember how she phrased her question but it was something like, "How do you explain this to people?"
I was totally stunned. No one had EVER asked me question like this, especially a high school kid who had only seen me once.
I don't remember what I said in response. She has posted in my guestbook. Maybe she'll let me reprint her report of my appearance here onsite.
The other thing that happened in that class was that it was time for me to eat. So Elissa ran and got me a sandwich which I proceeded to eat right in front of the class while answering questions.
Last class was the drama department. The teacher told me they were working on five new works. And what a great looking bunch of students! The piano in that room was an ancient upright that was at least a whole step low.
"Save Me A Seat" sounded terrible in there. So when I sang "Friendly Fire" I put it in C#, where it is in the show.
The last class was a composition class. The teacher, a very handsome guy in his 30s with long hair pulled back in a pony tail told me how the kids there had composed an entire piece which they were taking to Japan.
The first kid played a tape of his piece for me and the second kid came in and played his on the piano. So we sat around talking about chords and scales and "making it" in the biz.
Finally, a very well dressed man came in and listened in as we talked. He was very impressed and came over to shake my hand. It was the principal. He said teachers and students were grabbing him in the hall and raving.
Man, I hated leaving. But Martha, who is keeping me fed here and sheltered here in Cincy, did one of the nicest things anyone has ever done. She had bought a CD, a vocal selections book, a t-shirt and a script for me to present to them as a gift.
In fact, Martha is the whole reason I was invited in the first place. So, thanks Martha. I also gave thanks to all the teachers, the principal and Elissa for giving me this wonderful opportunity. I will never forget it.
Monday, February 22, 1999.
Birthdays Back Home.
This is a "Jimbro" drawing of Michael Alden, TLS hero. Here's the story behind it from Karen:
So I thought Lori was going to post about this, since she's, you know, the Michael expert...but apparently she wants me to do it. And as her staff, I *am* obligated. So here I go. Right now it is 1:00 a.m., we have been here at the TLS office for about an hour, after having left Bob Stillman's house where we had a big cast party in honor of the birthday boys and girls - Michael, Ronda, Katie, and Tyler. What a blast that was!
Jimmy presented Michael with a Hirschfeld (sp?) drawing of him, which was adorable, of course. Tina and Lindsey presented Ronda with a GORGEOUS collage of the TLS family that Tina worked ALL NIGHT on Saturday. And Kirk Stone showed up with big bouquets of flowers for everyone. Even Tyler got presents. =) And of course, Katie was a happy camper because she finally got to play with Bob's imac and she found a browser which will enable him to actually *see* her website.
Jimmy brought old videos of movies he shot with his friends from the 70's, as well as footage of the New York TLS cast closing night party. Lori didn't get that drunk...so there wasn't as much "entertainment" as there was at Amy's Thanksgiving party. heh-heh. (By the way, she was "venting," not ranting. Or so she says....)
But this post isn't about *that* party. It's about the party we had at the theatre for Aunt Michael's birthday Sunday night. First of all, we actually convinced Michael to watch the show from inside the theatre rather than sitting out in the lobby and peeking in through the booth occasionally. So he sat with his mom and his friends and all was good. So many of his friends came to the show, including Mama, in full drag. W O W. She looked FABULOUS!!!
The girls (Lori, Carol, Tina, Katie, and I) spent most of our time in the lobby putting the finishing touches on Michael's present, which is the BEST scrapbook anyone will ever see of TLS. (Sidebar: Lori and I worked on this scrapbook Saturday night - as Tina worked on Ronda's collage - until 6:00 a.m. Sunday morning. Oy....why can't we have ONE night of normal sleep? But anyway....back to the story...) It included photos of every single TLS-event since opening night (and included a few Laguna photos too), and notes from everyone involved with the show, including the cast, Steve and Jimmy, and all the Sessionauts, telling Aunt Michael how much he means to all of us. If you beg him to show it to you, he *might* but don't count on it. =)
When the show was close to the end, we poured champagne and laid out a nice display on the counter. Lori bought a cake that said, "Michael, it is so all about you! Happy Birthday." Cuz you know, it IS all about Michael. Anyway, we had planned on having Michael come out of the theatre and see the display, but during "Connected," Amy actually ran out into the lobby and told Lori to present the cake to Michael at curtain call so we could sing Happy Birthday to him. (Which is soooo what we wanted to do anyway, so we are glad they asked!)
At curtain, after the cast took their bows, we opened the doors and brought the cake in. Bob started playing Happy Birthday on the keyboard as the rest of the cast waved Michael down from his seat to join them onstage. He was actually speechless *and* teary. (yay!) After they finished singing, he was very brief (mark your calendars, history here), and said, "The only thing I can wish for all of you (he gestured to the cast and his friends in the audience), is this." And with that, he waved and went backstage with the cast.
In the lobby afterwards, we all enjoyed cake and champagne. And lavished Michael with hugs and kisses and gifts and praise and everything else he deserves. He went home happy. =)
We love Aunt Michael, and if he ever leaves us, Lori and I are going to take our own lives.
(Who congratulates LINDSEY for officially being promoted to co-merchandise manager for TLS! She has driven all the way from Orange County and Clairemont with barely any notice to cover merchandise for us, and she has saved Lori's and my butts more than a few times at the theatre. YOU ROCK LINDSEY!!!)
Tuesday night-Wednesday morning, February 23-24, 1999.
Hillel. Snow. Morrie. Nik.Sarah drove me last night over to the Hillel Student Center on campus here in Columbus and it was beginning to snow.Tuesday, February 23, 1999.
It's Wednesday morning as I write this. I'm lying in a warm bed after a long day yesterday. I've eaten a big breakfast. Sarah is at work. The snow is falling gently and beautifully outside my big windows; huge, puffy white flakes swirling softly down. It's so beautiful and so NOT Los Angeles.
[And it reminds me of the last time I was in Columbus Ohio. It was also snowing and it was the night John Lennon died.]
When I told my John Lennon story to the students last night (and my new groupie nurses who came over from having seen me at the hospice that morning) I said, "I was in Columbus singing in a lounge band at the airport Rodeway Inn the night John Lennon died -- he was this famous songwriter...?"
That got a laugh which made me very happy.
I'm lying here reading "Tuesdays with Morrie." You might have seen Morrie on Ted Koppel -- Nightline. I did. Morrie was a professor who was dying of ALS. He had a wicked wit, beautiful sparkling eyes and he had decided that as he was slowly dying, he'd hold court in his house and tell people what it felt like to die.
The book by Mitch Albom is the chronicle of a former student of Morrie's who found himself going to Morrie's house to talk to him and learning about life from this pixie-ish spark of life.
It made me remember Nik Venet. He also knew he was dying even though he fought it and fought it. I didn't spend much time with Nik but Morrie's love of life and friends and family put me right back on Fairfax Ave. outside Cherokee Recording Studios where Nik was producing Harriet Schock's Rosebud CD (which has a guest vocal by you-know-who).
Nik would stroll up and down the sidewalk furiously inhaling a cigarette while pontificating about how bad most pop songwriting was. When I think back on those days I keep thinking how I wish I had listened more and talked less. But of course, since I think I know everything -- and have always known everything -- I lectured him as much as he lectured me.
The concert at Hillel was way different from the concert at the hospice. Even though there were some hospice workers there in the front rows, the audience consisted mostly of students. The little room was perfect. It was a board room with a TUNED (YAY!!!) piano and small enough that I was able to sing without a mic.
This time there were no tears -- at least not from me. In fact, I felt a little thrown at first -- wasn't sure where to start or how to focus my thoughts for these fresh faces.
I opened with, "What's a nice Baptist boy like me doing at Hillel, you're asking yourself?" Then I told them my story emphasizing how important it was for writers to just tell the truth.
One of the adults -- a man wearing a yamulka asked me -- at one point after I had discussed my own religious background and how difficult it had been to be gay and Baptist, "So what are you religious beliefs today?"
Gulp. I found myself answering this way: I said I was now capable of respecting anyone's faith journey if that journey consisted of caring about others the way my parents taught me.
I said, "I know lots of people who say they believe in God and have a strong faith but their actions are cold, combative and cruel. And I know people who SAY they don't believe in God but whose actions are kind, loving and caring."
And this is where I became profound. I said, "I think NOBODY really knows what they believe. I think the thing you believe resides in your subconscious and *YOU* only discover it by examining the way you treat other people. If you have a sense of justice, community, compassion and love, that is what will tell you what you believe. If you don't, that will also tell you what you believe."
I then sang "A Simple Faith."
And now as I reflect back on it, I realize that the reason I don't directly answer questions about my faith or non-faith in God is more than just the fact that I consider it personal. It's because I don't feel qualified to answer. It's an answer that can only come from those around me.
And that's just my opinion. I could be wrong. What's right, though, is how beautiful this snow is and what a blessed life I lead in the Bonus Round.
In this book, the author says to Morrie, "The most important thing in life is to give out love and to let it come in."
Morrie responds, "Let it come in. We think we don't deserve love, we think if we let it in we'll become too soft. But a wise man named Levine said it right. He said, 'Love is the only rational act.'"
Hospice.This morning, for the first time is a very long time, I wept openly while singing -- I was completely out of control, transported back in time to the intense emotions I felt when these songs first began pouring forth.Wednesday Night, February 24, 1999.
I've been trying to analyze it all day and I think I know why.
This morning I sang for a hospice here in Columbus Ohio. I sang for about 50 people -- nurses, volunteers, social workers, therapists, staff, administrators. I sang for people who, every single day, devote their lives to helping people die. (Sarah had them all write a note after the show so I'll intersperse some of their comments).
This was a regular staff meeting. The Executive Director began by making some announcements. She then introduced a volunteer who told a "success story" about her assignment to help an old woman who was dying. (Isn't it funny to have "success" stories that end in death?).
As she described it, her job wasn't to be the nurse or the doctor. She didn't handle the case as the social worker would do. Her job was just to, basically, show up and volunteer to do anything that needed doing. In this case, she found herself just sitting and listening.
And what she heard was an entire life. Born in Eastern Europe, the woman had lived in poverty after World War II, working like a dog to feed her family. The volunteer enthralled us with the simple story of being there for the woman, giving her food, keeping her comfortable so that her son could have few hours to himself during the long convalescence. The volunteer told us how this beautiful woman, who has now died, has become such a part of her now.
So, before we even started I was already an emotional wreck.
Then Sarah introduced me and I honestly felt, before going up there, that they didn't need me. What was I going to tell them that they already didn't know??? I mean, really.
I began with the first spooky chords of "Save Me A Seat." Then I looked out at those faces and all I could see was my mom, the nurse. From the very first word they were right there with me. They laughed at "nachos" and at "punish you by making you listen to my songs..."
Then it occurred to me. Normally when I sing these songs for strangers I'm introducing them to new concepts -- laughing at death, living with death, the beauty of bereavement. I've had people come up to me and actually apologize for laughing during "Friendly Fire" because they thought it was rude to laugh at sickness!
But these caregivers. They got it.
You see -- and this is hard to describe -- but death is not an ugly thing. Not if you do it right. It's a part of life. It can be a time of great healing and joy and love. Not that you don't miss the person who dies, but the full meaning of who they are/were descends upon you and they can actually become more vivid and more real in death than in life!
But even more than that, if you listen to people who are dying, if you open your heart and really listen, they will teach you what life really is about.
Imagine that you are privileged to get this information all the time, every single day. But sometimes workers actually feel guilty about this. The emotions can be so intense -- the work so rich, it throws them. It's not normal. Their friends will ask them, "How can you be around that all the time? Isn't it weird? Aren't you depressed all the time?"
But there was a double confirmation happening this morning at that hospice. I myself have been having some doubts about my own work. I've been thinking, "Hey, you've been singing these same damn songs for two years. Isn't it time to sing something else? Aren't you tired of it yet? Isn't the message getting old?" Or someone said to me, "Isn't it time to sing songs about being ALIVE instead of songs about dying??"
"...and I'll get to do something that you cannot do, I'll follow you home everyone of you..."
When I got to this line in "Save Me A Seat," I went flush. I had already been on the edge of tears, but now I couldn't hold back. By the time I got to the last line, I was a total wreck and had to beg for tissues.
I looked out and every face in that room was wet, every eye red and swollen.
As I said, when I sing for most people, I'm introducing concepts they have never considered. But singing for these people, they were ahead of me. They knew these feelings ten levels deeper than even I did. And this brought me back.
You see, words are limiting. You have an experience. Then you have the memory of that experience. Then you have your feeble description of your memory of the experience. My songs aren't the real thing. They are only the best I can do to recreate the real thing.
These people knew the real thing and they were living it with me. But even more than that, I learned that my story gave them confirmation and validation. Here's what Marie wrote me afterward:"Today I am touched at the core by music and spirit that recognizes and affirms my sense of call."And Jennifer wrote:"I am reminded how privileged I am first to be a nurse, and then to be in hospice. The experience of spending this time with those who are dying and those who love them is most difficult to describe in words. Your experience reminded me to take the time to listen to their stories, touch them, care about them..."This one was unsigned:"You reminded me to share everything about myself and take in more of others."And this one particularly got me:"Steve, I am new to hospice and was questioning my decision and I made up my mind on Song 2 that I made the right decision. I am in the right place... You make me realize it's okay to care & care & cry & cry...""Song 2" was Preacher and the Nurse. First time I ever had an audience cry during Preacher and the Nurse!!!
Then in introducing Somebody's Friend, I said, "Now, these next couple of songs are kind of intense..." whereupon the whole room burst into laughter! The first two songs had already opened the floodgates. How could it possibly go any farther?"...Being with you for an hour feels like the experience of a lifetime."After it was over, Sarah told me everyone felt like they had just worked a full day. They kept saying they just wanted to sit down and have a drink! See? I'm driving the nursing profession to drink.
Well, I'm more than proud that I was able to bring inspiration and life to people who bring inspiration and life to others. But frankly, I was the one who was ministered to this morning.
And what was even more beautiful was I felt I found the most perfect place to sing my songs: in the very place I was headed when I wrote them.
The Rabbi & A Hospice Reaction.I've gotten a TON of emails in response to the hospice diary page (above). Thanks so much to all of you who shared stories with me. This is from a hospice nurse, Tammy.Dear Steve,Last night, Wednesday, I sang for Temple Tiffereth Israel here in Columbus. It was a gathering of high school kids and parents. As I entered the spacious circular and beautiful sanctuary I turned to Sarah and said, "I just realized I've never been in a Jewish temple before."
Thank you so much for sharing your diary. It opened up a floodgate of emotions in me. Just last night, a patient that I was very close to passed away. The last months of her life were very difficult emotionally and her pain was very hard to control.
At the end she found peace. This was one of the cases where I was "too involved", but it was an experience I would not have missed for anything. My heart had been aching since I told her my final goodbye, but I had not been able to cry.
Your post set off a flood of tears - but good, healing tears. You put into words the privilege of helping someone die a good death that very few people understand. Thank you!
What struck me visually -- I guess because I had read about them in the Bible -- was the huge ark/tabernacle situated in the front of the sanctuary. It was a tall wooden cabinet -- maybe 12 feet high. On top at the corners golden spiky things pointed toward the sky.
"See the light above it?" Sarah pointed. "That's the eternal light. It symbolizes the presence of God." I looked and saw, hanging down from the ceiling, a round simple chandelier that stood apart from the other bright lighting of the stage area.
In another room I could hear voices, kids and adults -- kids being rowdy, adults trying to get them to pay attention. On the stage -- called the "bima" there was a guy finishing up the tuning of the tall Yamaha upright piano. Behind the piano in a arc, they had hung panels from the AIDS quilt. It was very beautiful.
I sat in one of the front seats and began reading some of the material. "Jewish Values and AIDS" stated:"We Jews have specific religious imperatives which require of us certain actions. One of those is bikur cholim, visiting the sick. Bikur Cholim demonstrates to patients that illness has not cut them off from the world."The mitzvah of Chesed v'Emet requires that we reject even the slightest expression of prejudice or naive judgment regarding AIDS or the person who has died of AIDS.""It seems to me life's mystery is written in the language of the heart..."Tikkun Olam, repairing an imperfect world, implies that AIDS epidemic provides every Jew with a demanding agenda: Financial support for medical research, AIDS eduction, advocating legal, social, economic justice for people with AIDS, etc.To emphasize this, the rabbi opened the program (after the kids had filed in) with a midrash (story) about when the Moshiach (Messiah) would come: when "all Jews" had learned the language of God -- compassion -- for others.Wow, I thought. They don't mince words. In Christianity, we are taught compassion and love, but with Judaism, everything hinges on this. The rabbi, who really "preached" with authority, by the way, said, "We are commanded -- COMMANDED -- by God to reach out to others and to love them and care for them with compassion."Thursday, February 25, 1999.
What an introduction. And it gave me the perfect framework for my songs. I told them "compassion" means "to suffer with" someone and that because my songs were written during a time of great suffering, if they listened they might understand what it feels like to live with AIDS. (Hey, just trying to do my duty to help bring Moshiach).
Also, since I was in the temple, I really wanted to wear a yamulka -- and Sarah brought me one -- but I worried that I'd look phony. Just as I was about to put it down, another man came by and just slapped on on my head. GREAT!
So, I sang my first concert wearing a yamulka. Sarah later told me that I could be an honorary Jew. YAY!!!
Last Night in Columbus.I was tired all day today, Thursday. I had a headache that wouldn't go away and I felt like a zombie. As much as I enjoyed last night at the Tiffereth Israel, it was work. High school kids never look at you much during a concert. They've a little too cool for that and so from the stage, it feels like an effort even though their feedback later was amazing.Friday-Saturday, February 26-27, 1999.
Sarah kept asking me if I wanted to cancel the evening's performance -- and I considered it knowing Martha would kill us both if I went back to Cincinnati all tired out. (The PFLAG banquet is Saturday night).
But something told me it'd be cool.
We arrived early. The event, for Kaleidoscope, a gay youth organization, we being held in a Presbyterian church in a section of town called "Victorian Village."
When we entered the sanctuary I actually gasped. It was small. But the Victorian architecture was breathtaking and someone was playing a piano. All the pews, oak, stained dark brown, were obviously crafted for the building. The five rows wrapped around the pulpit area, embracing it warmly. And just above was a balcony -- also only few rows deep and also curved, matching the pews below both in shape and beautiful woodwork.
You could feel the age and unlike many more formal church houses, it put us all immediately at ease.
On the stage area, instead of a pulput stood a grand piano and there was a woman playing it. Over on the right side was yet another grand piano and next to it was an organ. Behind the stage piano were tall ancient brass organ pipes built into the wall.
The woman at the piano noticed us and left the piano, gretting us warmly. I, of course, had to check out the piano and, lo and behold, it was a Bechstein. I put my fingers into the keys and was mesmorized by the warmth of the tone and the fullness of the sound. What a beautiful reward.
I played quietly and then began singing all the new songs I've been working on. It was glorious hearing the new chord patterns so fully realized. And I suppose this will be no surprise to anyone, but several of the new songs -- okay ALL of them -- are very melancholy and sad, especially the one called "You Are A Stranger."
I was in heaven.
After I finished playing, I sat in the front pew and saw, just behind the piano against the wall there was a felt wall hanging, a banner. Near the bottom was a name. Jeffrey (?) and some dates: 1990-1994.
Then below this was another set of dates: 1953-1994. As I was observing this Theresa came over, sat next to me and handed me a framed portrait. "You kind of look like him," she said. "He died of AIDS. He was so kind and so beautiful."
I told her I was born in 1953.
In the picture stood two people, Theresa and Jeffrey. He was darkly handsome -- like ayoung Jeremy Irons. They were both wearing raimants and standing in front of the church amidst candles.
She continued, "I lived with him the last four years of his life. It was the most beautiful four years of my life. He never really accepted his sexuality and he never experienced true love in his life."
I took the picture in my hands and just touched it. Touched his face and her face. Sarah was sitting near us and the three of us just quietly sat there, saying nothing.
It was a perfect moment.
And as I sat there all I could think of was how wrong she was. He had found perfect love. In her.
We only had a few teens come to the concert but it didn't matter. All the while I sang I thought about Jeffrey and I felt like all I wanted to do was wash the little church house with love and healing peace. (Forgive me is this sounds religious or maudlin -- I neither promote nor discourage religion on my site. I cannot possibly reproduce this moment in words. All I can do is tell you how it honestly felt.)
After the concert, Sarah told me she saw every kid in the place go up to Theresa and hold onto her. And she spent time with them all, loving them and embracing them. Sarah, what is the name of that church? I want everyone to go see it...
[From Sarah: Northminster Presbyterian at 203 King Avenue, close to OSU campus.]
Well, remember how I was worried I didn't have enough energy for the concert? Afterwards I had more energy than when I went in. And it was a such a beautiful way to top off a perfect week.
But I'm really missing Jimmy. Honey!!! I'm coming HOME!!!!
The Faces In The Music: Cincinnati.Sarah and I woke up early to drive to the halfway point between Cincy and Columbus but we got there 20 minutes early so we sat in the car and talked for a little while. Ever meet someone who you vibe with so completely it feels like you can't get enough words into the day? Sarah and I -- cyberpals for over two years -- that's what it felt like to us. She's really something special.
It was great seeing Martha again. We hugged and laughed and tried to tell as many stories as we could over breakfast but there was just no way. Finally, we went out to the car and little Sarah grabbed my huge suitcase and just HAULED it into Martha's car which sent Martha into hysterics. "So you got HER waiting on you, too, and hauling your luggage!"
We picked up Barefoot Ron (pflag-discuss) at the airport and I spent the rest of the day sleeping. They woke me up just in time for one of Ron's gourmet dinners.
Saturday, I got to revisit with several online pals including Jason Hungerford (http://www.youth-guard.org) and his new pal, Jason Seymour (http://www.elight.org) in from DC. I was enjoying myself but hovering in background was my anxiety over the PFLAG (Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays) benefit this evening.
I sang there last year and it was a very emotional and rewarding evening -- and I was thrilled to be asked back but all I could think of was "How am I going to make this different from last year?" Last year, I did my usual thing where I sang the songs from the show and told the stories of how they were written.
As the night approached, my mind was still a blank. We set up the equipment and even got a spotlight. I greeted all the people and saw more old friends. They did their intros, served dinner and before I knew it, Gary was up there introducing me.
SCARED OUT OF MY MIND:
That's all I can tell you. I was a total blank. I didn't have a clue what I was going to do. I sat down at the keyboard and just started playing chords. I said nothing as I recall -- just sat there staring at the keys. Then something inside me just said, "Parents. Family. Friends. Parents. Family. Friends." And I began talking about parents. About the gay teen group last year whose members threw their arms around Martha when they found out she loved her gay kids.
I talked about parents who threw their kids out of the house or who themselves felt isolated by their own gay kids. I talked my friend on PFLAG-talk list who came into the list NOT liking gays and talking about his son who was being very rebellious. And how the other parents quietly accepted the new parent -- prejudices and all -- and even agreed with him about his son being out of control.
Then I told them how loving my own mom and dad are and POW! "Preacher and the Nurse." During that song, a lightbulb went off in my head and I knew exactly where I was going. After the song was over, I got a HUGE round of applause. Glorious!
Then I said (not exact), "Over here at this table is June Delph and her daughter Linda Arnest. I met them here last year. Their son/brother Paul Delph was a singer/songwriter who, just like Gideon in our play, recorded one last album before he died of AIDS.
"Back when I was dying, all I wanted was to not be forgotten. Well, in his memory they are giving college scholarships to gay kids and they are advocating on behalf of all gay kids. He will live on because they are channeling their love for him into life for others."
I sang "Save Me A Seat." And as I sang, I felt Paul there with us and I began thinking of other people in that room. And after the song, I said...
"One of my heroes is here tonight. Rhea Murray is here with her son Bruce. Rhea, a small town mother whose son was being beaten and abused in school because they perceived him to be gay. When she demanded they stop the abuse, they rebuffed her and said it was all his fault.
"So Rhea Murray stormed into the control freak principals office and demanded that he release her son for home schooling -- this from a woman who didn't even have a high school education herself.
"The next thing you know the two of them are teaching each other and going off to museums, to see Broadway plays..."
"Now they both have high school diplomas, she's getting a college degree and earning a 4.0 average and her book about the experience, A Journey to Moriah, has just been published to critical acclaim. But, I can just picture her in that principal's office as he tries to refuse her request to pull Bruce out of school..."
I broke into: "I say I'd rather be sick or even ashes in some pot..." Yep, I sang "At Least I Know What's Killing Me."
Then I picked out the two Jasons and said, "And here's two teens who created safe places for other teens on the net when they couldn't find those places themselves. I salute anyone who takes matters into their own hands." And I don't know what song I sang.
The point is that I picked out people from the audience and told THEIR stories while illustrating their lives with songs from TLS. When I finished, the whole audience came up out of the their seats and would not let me leave until I had sung one more song.
So I went back on the stage. But I didn't know what to sing. Then the pastor of the UCC church I had sung for two weeks ago said, "Sing that connected song."
I could've kissed him.
All told we raised over $2000 for college scholarships that night. And for me, it was one of the most spiritually fulfilling evenings I've ever experienced. You see, reader, I know I've said this before but I must say it again. Though I may be at the center of Bonus Round, it's not about me. It's about you.
It's about the miracles we have done. It's about the people we have become.
[Since writing this, Martha has told me that we raised $6500, more than double last year's take. The bundle of TLS items -- signed programs, script, vocal book, CDs, tshirt and poster brought $250!]
Sunday, February 28, 1999.
Home. Jeff. Bryan. Wilson.I had a great flight home because I knew I was going to see Jimmy, the show and the cats. What I didn't know was who was going to pick me up at the airport. Since all the Steve Posse works at the theatre, I figured Jimmy would be waiting out in the car.
I came out of the gate and nobody was there. Cool, I thought. Then suddenly someone grabbed me from behind! It was Bryan from Arizona!! YAYYY!! (He's only, like, the funniest man on the planet and an EPIC Rent fan -- which was cool because I was wearting my Atlanta RENT AIDSWALK t-shirt which Adam from Atlanta had sent to me in exchange for an autograph.)
Then Bryan announces that he wrote it -- or helped write the copy on the back of the shirt. Coincidence??? I think not!!
I explained to him that picking someone up at LAX is considered a favor on the order of saving someone's life in LA. It's fun to be with Bryan because you basically don't have to say anything. He has more quips, jokes, funniness and hilarity than you'd hear with a backstage pass at Dragalicious (which we are going to on Tuesday).
Of course we drove STRAIGHT to the theatre where I managed to sit in on Act Two. I couldn't help it. No way was I gonna wait for tonight to see Jeff Juday as Buddy. Besides, since I know it's hard to get used to new actors, I thought it would help if I saw him a little bit.
Oh. My. Gawd.
Jeff is magnificent. He's amazing. He's a great, great actor. Rather than trying to match Joey's over-the-top emotionalism, Jeff plays Buddy with an authentic realism that totally blows me away. His Buddy is intelligent. You can see him thinking every moment he's on stage. And because he plays it so real, the punchlines are SLAMMIN'.
Plus, he has this quiet beautiful voice that beautifully maintains the quiet dignity of "Going It Alone." Bravo to Jeff for not trying to copy Joey's performance -- which I loved, as everyone knows, but rather for seeing Buddy in a new way. Reader, I hope you get a chance to see him.
Then this evening, another great surprise. In the audience was Wilson Cruz (from "My So-Called Life" and RENT). Also attending was Winnie Holzman who created "My So-Called Life" -- one of my favorite TV shows of all time. (And naturally I asked Wilson if he thought he'd like to play "Buddy" sometime. He said, "Yes." Hmmmm... Let's see, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Katie Sagall and Wilson Cruz... In a Chicago production?... Just sayin'...).
The celebrity wall down at the theatre is becoming something! Last week, Judith Light, Katie Sagall and Mariette Hartley were there. Here's a pic of Bob with Judith and Mariette:
Tomorrow night I finally get to see this Dragalicious show and the fabulous Mama (whose story you are NOT going to believe -- I hope Mama lets me tell it here). I'll save all that for tomorrow.
Right now I'm happy to be home. Everybody seemed to miss me (LOVE THAT) and I got to see Jimmy play "fetch" with Steinbeck. Cats who fetch. What next...
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