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Tuesday, March 11, 1997
Day One: Off-Off Broadway Bound! (Apologies to Neil Simon).
Jimmy, my other half, told me of a young boy with a fatal disease who overheard his mother describing how he'd have to go to the hospital for some painful treatments. The boy looked at her in a panic and said, "Now, mama?" She responded, "No, honey, next month."
He looked at her and said, with great relief, "Oh, not now."
Since last year, when I could barely function -- when AIDS was tearing my guts apart -- I understood with great clarity the meaning of "now" and "not now." I had just finished writing the music, (and Jimmy, the book), for THE LAST SESSION, and the only thing I wanted was to see it "now." So, defying all odds, we actually mounted a workshop production barely four months after the first draft.
In fact, last week, on March 4th, 1997, we celebrated the one year anniversary of the initial staged reading, and on May 8th, two months from now, we open a showcase production of our show in New York City at the off-off Broadway not-for-profit Currican theatre on 29th Street. When I told this to a new acquaintance in the "biz" out in El Lay, he was absolutely shocked. He said he had friends who would die to get just one play of theirs read just one time in New York.
Perhaps I've been a bit blase at the magnificent opportunity which has been handed to us. But when you're living under what some people consider to be a death sentence, everything in life is speeded up. You want to get everything life has to offer in as short a time as possible.
There is only now and not now.
LIFE IN NEW YORK:
I arrived here last Friday on Tower Air. On our way to the airport, on the radio, a new bulletin came on describing how Tower Air was having to buy tickets for everyone because their planes were breaking down and leaving passengers stranded at the airport. I just laughed. Why not?
Our flight, though, was uneventful, even though we left two hours late. I got to JFK and found someone who asked me if I needed a taxi. I said, Yes. So, he took my bag and led across the road into a dark parking lot. I thought, "Where the hell are we going? Am I being abducted?"
He took me to a stretch limo where a couple other passengers were seated and proceeded to take me into Manhattan for the price of a cab. I was blown away! Felt like a millionaire. Our director, Mike Wills, is allowing us to stay in his apartment on the upper east side. His apartment is small, as most NY apartments are, but he and his partner, Chuck, have beautifully decorated it.
It's also very neat. And since I'm the human tornado, I do wonder how long it will be before they toss me out of here. Jimmy arrives on Friday, too. So, if I haven't gotten this place trashed by then, he'll put on the finishing touches.
The weekend has been spent figuring out how Windows95 works. I've had to download Eudora to do my mail and today is the first day I am fully functional. I think PCs are very strange, being a Mac addict. But, anyway, there is much to do and I'll fill you in as the days go by.
Wednesday, March 12, 1997
Joan Crawford & Fish Guitar.I only now beginning to discover what my physical limitations are in New York. Just getting on the subway and going to visit my friend, Carl, in the Times Square area, took a lot out of me to the point I needed to just sit on the couch and "recover." So much more effort is required here, whereas in El Lay, I could just jump in the car and be sitting the whole time with a bottle of water at my side.
Things I have to keep in mind is that, with Crixivan, if I want to avoid kidney stones, I have to constantly be drinking water all day long. The little bottles I can buy from street vendors are handy, but expensive, and it's impractical to be carrying around large bottles. So, in the mornings, I drink as much as is humanly possible. I also have my little Timex my mom bought me for Christmas. I finally figured out how to set the alarm, so I set it each time I take pills (8, 12, 4, 8pm and midnight).
The first auditions for THE LAST SESSION took place yesterday beginning at 3pm and I just didn't have the strength to go all the way down to the Village and sit through it, so I came home and took a long afternoon nap. It was glorious. Also, the people at the Currican are professionals and I know they'll find the right cast. Plus, Jimmy and I have full and total final say in the decision-making process, so if they do something Gothic, it can be vetoed.
I have also made the decision, which I expressed to Mike the Director last night, that 4pm to 5 or 5:30 everyday would be mine for sleeping or just lying down. I am not able-bodied and, though I love my show, I'm not going to sacrifice myself for it. He completely agreed.
After my nap last night, I took a stroll with friends on 42nd Street to just look at the Broadway theatres at night and to feel inspired. At one point, I looked over at a big poster and thought, "Joan Crawford!" The face on the poster was a classic Joan Crawford pose.
It was Dixie Carter starring in "Master Class."
Particularly impressive was the theatre holding "Chicago." Huge black and white portraits of the actors stretched out on banners that ran the the full length of the theatre on both sides, with a big red CHICAGO in block letters across the bottom of the banner. Naturally I couldn't help but fantasize what TLS (our nickname for THE LAST SESSION) might look like should we ever crawl that far out of Chelsea. But, truly, that's putting the cart before the horse. We have a tiny show to nurture and it's possible that given how wonderful live theatre is in a small place, it may never be better than it will be at its birthplace: The Currican.
I have to say, though, that the whole evening was intoxicating. We had a crystal clear night, the air was sharp to the skin and clean-smelling, the scent of chestnuts wafted from carts, and the lights were dazzling and magnificent all through the theatre district and Times Square -- at one point, I just stopped and drank it in as if it were the last time I'd ever have the chance to do so. I think, before last year, I never would have savored the moment so richly.
There is only now and not now.
I'm on the E train going east. A very bedraggled man about my age gets onboard the train. It's clear that he probably lives on the streets somewhere -- scraggly beard and hair, stretch pants with a crotch stretched down to the knee, etc. He's carrying a guitar shaped like a fish. I pictured him having taken it down from a wall somewhere where it might have been a clock or something. He's strung one bass string and two guitar strings into it.
He sits on a little amp he has with him and proceeds to play a maniacal rhythm that indicates he really knows his way around a guitar. It just filled me with joy. When he finished, I immediately began applauding.
I was the only one applauding.
I guess New Yorkers are used to this sort of thing. When he came by I gave him some change and complimented him on his playing. Suddenly this great smile burst onto his face and, with great pride, he told me which strings he used and how he strung them. You know how I'm always telling you about El Lay moments. Well, this was a quintessential New York moment.
I can't wait for tomorrow. (No, nothing big is happening tomorrow -- I just love the fact that I am still alive for all this. It's an embarrassment of riches and I never want it to end. I'm also glad I have you to share it with.)
Thursday, March 13, 1997
The Know-It-All Strikes Again.You know, now that I'm this big internet superstar and darling of off-off Broadway, it's time for me to act like a total brat, I guess and tonight I made a total jackass of myself. My friend, Jamie, invited me to a preview of a new Broadway show, a musical revue.
This was a show that didn't have out of town try-outs, so, according to all my friends, what they do is hand out free tickets to everyone in the theatrical community so they can have an audience to practice in front of. This was really exciting to me -- to get the chance to see the inner workings of how they do things here.
We all met in front of the theatre ready to go in when suddenly I remembered that I needed to take my 8pm meds. I raced across the street into a restaurant to find some water, but the guy at the bar said they couldn't give me a bottle to walk out with. He offered me a glass of tap water, but I've already been through parasite hell and I wasn't gonna chance that again!
Quickly, I ran to the corner where there was a little gift shop, bought a bottle of water, downed my d4T and 3TC and made it back to the theatre just as Jamie was walking up with the tickets.
As for the show itself. Well, here's what happened. First of all, I thought it was terribly long and misconceived despite having some great talent onboard. At intermission, there I was, Mr. Know-It-All, lecturing everyone on how *I* would have done it (like the man who thinks he knows everything because he finally read a book).
Out front, I shared my views with Jamie (very subtly, of course, with "This is the worst show I have ever seen"). Then I looked over and saw the producer of the show standing RIGHT NEXT TO ME. Oh, well. Another brash brat makes his mark on the big apple.SUBWAY SITING:
I was on my way to meet with our musical arranger, Michael Gaylord. Exiting the 14th St. subway, right at the door of the station, nestled into a little alcove stood a family. Dad on guitar, seven kids ranging from age 15 down to toddler, mom standing there pregnant with the next one, and surrounding them was a crowd like I've never witnessed in the subways. Then I hear why. Those voices! Sophisticated, rich, flowing harmonies that were so startling, I just stopped, leaned against a wall and listened, completely enraptured by them.
After a couple songs, I shouted, "Who are you?" The father got a huge smile on his face, said their name (which I couldn't understand in the noisiness of the station) and then added, with a shy grin, "They're my kids!"
Friday, March 14, 1997
90 Miles An Hour In The Rain.Today it was raining and pouring like mad. The streets of Manhattan were drenched. Luckily, Mike and Chuck have about ten umbrellas hanging at their door. I was just going to stay in but I had an appointment to call a man at GMHC about a show they're doing in April at Webster Hall. It's a big tribute to those who have been contributing and helping People With AIDS and Dolly Parton might be the main guest on the bill.
So, I called him about 10am and told him about Going It Alone; about how it's a love song to the caregiver. This really got him excited because it would fit perfectly into the theme of the evening. He asked if I could rush down to his office on West 20th with a CD so he could hear it. Time was short so I decided to spring for a cab.
I shoulda taken the subway. The rain had traffic stuck for blocks as we tried to use the Park Ave. tunnel under the Helmsley Building. My stomach was churning; I kept looking at my watch and I realized I had just wasted the 15 bucks it was costing me to get there.
But, once clear of the tunnel, we fitted and started our way to 20th, which was also blocked up. I gave the cabbie my cash, jumped out of the car, and ran up the block -- and I made it just in time!
A few hours later, I got a call from the guy who said he thought the song was "beautiful." Honestly, he was totally knocked out by it, and asked if I would be available for the show. I said, "Is this an official invitation?" He laughed and said, "Yes." I said, "I'M THERE!"
So, on April 26 at Webster Hall, I'll be performing my favorite song from THE LAST SESSION for a room full of lovely people who deserve all the thanks and love in the world.
BUT THERE'S MORE. I've also been approached about being the keynote speaker for the Mid Atlantic College Health Association convention being held this November! The email came from Andy Hill at Old Dominion University where I played a concert last year. Garsh, Batman. Do they know I'm a college drop-out?AIDS UPDATE:
The new protease inhibitor, Viracept, has been approved by the FDA and on my AIDS email discussion group, there's a debate going on. Evidence is showing that if the virus mutates and becomes immune to Crixivan, which is what I'm taking, it will also be immune to Viracept. So, for those who have been on Crix for a long time, it might be best to switch to Vircept while the viral load is still undetectable. Or not. Who knows?
Doncha love this kind of decision? Someone once described taking these drugs as driving down the street at night going 90 miles an hour with the lights off. What now? Disable the brakes?
Saturday, March 15, 1997
Susan Hayward, The Monster & The Big Wind.Jim is here. Jim is my other half, you know. He was back in El Lay while I've been having all this fun here in New York. But while we're here, we're staying in separate places. He's staying with Carl while I'm staying with Mike Wills, our director. Jimmy actually flew in last night. He kept saying, "A big wind is blowing in on Friday!" And he can be a mighty big wind.
So, we only get to see each other when we go out. It's like dating your own spouse. Very strange.
Today I witnessed five of the most extraordinary minutes I've ever witnessed in my entire life. One actor delivering a performance -- a cold reading, mind you -- that left my heart beating and tears streaming down my face.
Today was audition day. We were in a room on the fourth floor of a building down on 23rd street, I think. (I can never remember streets.) One by one these great actors filed in and sang for us and read for us. And just like when we cast the reading for this past November, we were overwhelmed by the extraordinary talent in New York City. The kind of acting you'll never see on TV or film, really, because the impact of "live in the flesh" cannot be captured there.
The Currican Theatre, where we are doing this showcase, is one of the most respected houses in New York. It's a tiny not-for-profit theatre which exists solely to make great theatre. They are unconcerned about huge ticket sales or making skads of money. They look for brand new works, cast the best actors they can find (and they do find great ones), and they create great theatre. The New York Times frequently uses them as a standard to which others are compared.
There might not be a single other place in the world better than this place right here for us to take our show to the next level. It's a small protected environment where some of the very best actors in NY go to work with the very best. I cannot tell you how lucky we are at this very moment.
SUSAN HAYWARD AND THE MONSTER:
After the auditions, we all walked to the Victory Restaurant -- which is staffed mainly by bodybuilders in tight black t-shirts -- and sat around a table to talk about the actors who had auditioned and to laugh with "big wind" now that he's here. We were going to order some food, but the cheapest thing on the menu was the burger which cost $8.50. (We ended up eating as a pizza joint later.) Then we went down to the Village to a club called The Monster where we met with one of the greats of all time: Richard Bell. Dicky, as we call him, is one of Jim's oldest friends.
The Monster is a sprawling Greenwich Village bar with a piano, and which is packed from stem to stern every single night. It's the kind of bar I could never play because the pianist really needs to know just about every song ever recorded. Every theatre queen in NY jams into this place and they sing their asses off every night.
Well, at one point, the pianist insisted Richard favor us with a song. Dicky jumped right into it. Dicky has memorized just about every move in every song from every Susan Hayward movie ever. If you've never seen a Susan Hayward movie, then this may not mean much to you, but to see him doing these poses and singing these songs may be the funniest site on this planet. If one didn't know what he was doing, he would look completely insane. I told him I would talk about him and make him famous.
I said, "Dicky, can I have your permission to use your name in my diary?" He said, "Honey, it's when they stop talking about you that you worry."
I also saw Morgan from GMHC, the guy who asked me to be on the show I told you about. He's such a sweetie. And he was with some of the others from the Gay Mens Chorus. Jimmy and I have been in invited to hear them perform at Carnegie Hall Sunday night in a special tribute to Jerry Herman. Carol Channing is going to be there, too. And Eartha Kitt!!
Morgan gave me the tickets day before yesterday. Jimmy and I are going together. Only thing is, the seats are not together, so on our first date, we'll be separated. Ah, what a tough life it is.
Sunday, March 16, 1997
Carnegie Hall.I almost got dizzy looking down from the balcony onto the floor of Carnegie Hall last night. It's four stories up and we were on the front row. As I told you yesterday, Jimmy and I had our "separate but equal" date to hear the music of Jerry Herman sung by, among others, my new friend, Morgan, who was singing in the Gay Mens Chorus at Carnegie Hall. To my ears, there is nothing more beautiful than the sound of the human voice -- and a choir is like a banquet of sound. And few civic choirs sing more beautifully than the NY Gay Mens Chorus.
I didn't stay for the whole thing because it was bitterly cold last night and I didn't want to be out too late. I'm trying to stay in the warmth and sleep as much as possible.
But while I was there, I made a wish and set a goal:
One day I would like to play Carnegie Hall in a concert with an 11 foot Steinway and 16 cellos. Mmmmmmm.....MONDAY MORNING NEW YORK TIMES Business Day section. In an article about Geocities, they include my little Survival Site in the story. Of course, they spelled my name wrong, but, HEY! When ya got a name like Schalchlin, you learn to cope. Can't wait until people start typing "Schachlin" into Yahoo and coming up empty. Another brush with fame goes slipping through my fingers. *sigh*
Monday, March 17, 1997
Christening The Currican. Men in Skirts.At last, the keyboard was delivered and assembled at The Currican. The keyboard we're using for the production. So, tonight, with Director Mike Wills sitting out in the audience, I played Connected for the first time on the stage where THE LAST SESSION will experience its true birth.
No big deal or anything. Mike just said that "all my fans" would enjoy hearing this. He makes fun of the fact that I have fans.
The debate rages on in my online groups about possibly switching from Crixivan to Viracept before the Crix starts to become ineffective. I just hate this kind of choice. On one side you have everyone saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." On the other side you've got, "If you fail on Crix, Viracept may not work for you." In the middle are people who say, "It's the switching that's bad."
There is no clear answer for this.
The other notes that come -- the ones that really break my heart -- are from places like South Africa where one guy says neither the gov't. NOR his insurance will pay for protease inhibitors, so he has to pay the $500 or more a month out of his own pocket!
Mike Wills and I were walking around doing errands and came upon an intersection where the St. Patrick's Day parade ended. All these men were walking around in kilts. Finally, he saw one group wearing kilts that were not plaid. They were just blue and pleated. Finally, he said, "That's not a kilt. That's just a skirt!"
In New York, St. Patrick's Day is a sacred event and they go to great lengths to keep gay people out of the parade (since, what? There are no gay Irishmen?). We thought it awfully ironic to find homophobia in a parade where men wear blue skirts.
Tuesday, March 18, 1997
Trains, Hats & Medications.My friends, forgive me for writing this late, but I couldn't seem to get to a computer to even sit down today. It started off when Mike and I got on the subway to go downtown to the theatre. We had one more audition at noon. We weren't on the train ten seconds when I remembered I hadn't packed my new bottle of Crixivan -- the old one having just run out. So, I got off at 86th Street to go back uptown to his apartment, leaving him to go on without me.
I got my Crix, got back on the train and when I changed trains at 59th, I got on one going the wrong way. Next thing I knew I was in Queens. Panicking, I got off at Queenborough, ran downstairs just in time to catch a train headed back to Manhattan only to discover it was the wrong train again. Well, it was headed in the right direction but stopping at the wrong stations.
I went to the little map and plotted how I would get to where I wanted to go. The only possibility was to take yet another train to a station in the Village. What was driving me crazy was that I was late for the audition. So, after arriving at Union Square, I jumped into a cab and spent eight precious dollars -- already a half hour late -- trying to get to the theatre.
But by then, my brain was so scrambled, I actually told the driver the wrong street (28th instead of 29th). He stopped to let me out and I searched in vain for the theatre. Then it hit me I was in the wrong place. So I began running up 7th Ave. feeling like a total fool when I heard this little voice, "Steve?" I stopped and there was Mike casually strolling.
"Why are you running?" he asked. I blurted out, in a panic, that I was late and got on the wrong train and told the cabbie the wrong address, and even left my new hat in the cab. He said, "The audition isn't for another half hour." "It's not? But... but..."
And then I just stopped and shook my head; and said, "It's AIDS dementia. I'm losing my mind." We got to the theatre and everyone had a laugh at my expense, including me. I don't know what goes through my head sometimes.
Wednesday, March 19, 1997
Impossible Days.I sorta had a similar experience today to the one I had yesterday. Jimmy had told me after the auditions yesterday that we should make an appt. to call ASCAP and go by there since he is going to be writing the script for their annual Pop Awards Show. Well, somehow that information get twisted up in my brain to the point that I thought was had an 11AM appt. with Loretta Munoz, who is in charge of the NY office, and who is an old friend of ours from El Lay.
So, once again, thinking I was late, I raced down to the offices and sat there waiting for Jimmy who never showed up. Soon, a phone call came in and it was Jimmy. "What are you doing there?" he asked. Needless to say, once again, I was subjected to ridicule and laughter.
But, I did get to see Loretta, who introduced me to many of the other staffers and before you know it, ASCAP, which had co-sponsored the original staged reading of THE LAST SESSION was now going to help us out with our showcase productin here, including featuring a story on us in their magazine.
It just astounds me how much people are moved and surprised by this whole story. Loretta told the others that she remembered seeing me last May at the Pop Awards, where I was so weak I could barely stand. She said that she honestly didn't believe, after that day, that she'd ever see me alive again. I remembered that, too; how I had to leave before the dinner was even served. It seems so long ago.
And days like today seemed so impossible.
(By the way, I'm not at all bothered when I get dizzy headed. Frankly, I've always been this way, so the "dementia" joke was just that: a joke. True AIDS dementia is not a joke, however, and I don't mean any disrespect to those who suffer with it. There's a woman in my online support group who is struggling because her husband has dementia and her life is a living hell sometimes.) TLS Update:
We are almost fully cast. I'll announce the names soon, but we have an astounding line-up of great actors. The only role was haven't cast is Gideon, that singing/piano playing/acting guy who looks and sounds a lot like yours truly. We thought we had someone, but he couldn't get free of previous engagements for us. So, the quest continues...
Thursday, March 20, 1997
Gays, Ex-Gays, and Laughing Out Loud.I've gotten into two fascinating email discussions this past week. It's not easy doing this since I have so little computer time, but they relate to so much of what happens in our play.
The first email I got was from a student at a Baptist College who praised these diary pages and my attitude about life, but who just had to make sure I knew that I was "going against God" and possibly going to hell. He tried to let me know he was only telling me this out of love for me -- how can I hate someone who wants to keep me out of hell? -- but I am also, as I have told you here, tired of that same old theological debate. My answer to him was rather rude; as in, "Thanks, but you're wrong and I don't feel like fighting."
This, of course, only spurred him on to more debate and he said I was only avoiding the fight because I was "avoiding the truth." *sigh* There's no winning with this course of conversation. I told him to read my diary and see all the debates on this I have already been through and to study the Biblical references which are scattered around the site. That oughtta keep him busy for awhile.
The other "debate" has been my first time to jump into the discussion between gays and "ex-gays." My cyberpal, Maggie Heineman, has put a webpage up called Bridges Across which is an attempt to bring the disparate world of fundamentalist Christians (and ex-gays) together with gay people.
Since I don't think anyone can be ex-gay, and since I've seen news reports on these hideous organizations which attempt to recruit gay people into leaving the "gay lifestyle" -- and which usually only end up destroying the lives they are trying to save,I don't have much of an open mind about it. But the "ex-gay" in question, Steve Calverly, has this annoying habit of being very sweet and non-bigoted. He has turned all my wrathful and ugly remarks aside and acted like a real person.
He says, "I accept you as a gay person. Why can't you accept me as an ex-gay?" Good question. I spend time here talking about how ridiculous it is for people to be homophobic. Am I being unreasonable?
I guess part of my problem is how many of these ex-gay organizations use things like aversion therapy, or who refuse to even acknowledge that gay people are inherently different from other people. In their minds, gay people are just heterosexuals who like doing perverted things. It's so ignorant and so offensive, you can't take people like that any more seriously than you would take a child trying to sing a complicated love song. He might get the words right, but he has no earthly idea what he's really singing about.
I still remember the Christian group who thought they could cure lesbians by giving them make-up and hair clinics. "Your problem is you can't get a man until you look pretty, honey."
I have to laugh at Maggie, though, because as she, an avowed atheist, continues to talk and study fundamentalist thought, has now discovered there are as many different types of fundamentalists as there are names. One time someone asked me if I believed in a "literal" interpretation of the Bible, at which time I could only ask, "WHICH literal interpretation?" I remember how the Pentecostals in Buna, Texas used to ridicule us Baptists because THEIR literal interpretation was different from OUR literal interpretation. Good luck, Maggie. LOL
What makes all this relevant to me, of course is that one of its central conflicts of THE LAST SESSION is between a young fundamentalist and an older gay man with AIDS. Just like these letters. I can't help but think back to East Texas and my ex-bandmate, Tommie, who despises everything I am so vehemently, when I last visited there, he and his family just cowered in the corner of the room staring at me as if I were something from "Mars Attacks!"
Friday, March 21, 1997
A "Broadway Funeral."Yesterday, just as I was leaving ASCAP, Eric, the editor of Playback, ASCAP's magazine, slipped me a couple of tickets to a show Jimmy and I went to this morning. It was at the Booth Theatre on 45th Street and was a tribute to Broadway composer, Burton Lane.
The big shock for Jimmy and me as we took our seats, though, was how much the stage looked like it could have been the set for THE LAST SESSION. A big piano, some music stands -- inside a theatre cozy enough to keep the show intimate. We were both rather transfixed for a moment.
I leaned over to Jimmy and said, "What is this all about?" He said it was a Broadway tradition. "This is a Broadway funeral," he explained.
Upstage on the back wall was a big photo of Mr. Lane. (By the way, in the parlance of theatre, yours truly is labeled, "Composer/lyricist." I don't mind being called that, but I am no Burton Lane. I'm a songwriter. Burton Lane is a composer.) Anyway, Marilyn Bergman, lyricist and President of ASCAP, moderated the event and I could tell from her voice alone how much the people truly loved Mr. Lane. Aside from being a great theatrical composer ("On A Clear Day" among others) , he was a leader for creative and human rights and devoted much of his time to helping others.
Singing for us his songs were Tony Bennett, Judy Collins, and a host of others. It was touching and lovely.
Saturday, March 22, 1997
The Broadway Museum & A Night With Jimmy.Early Saturday morning, Jimmy, Carl and I went to the Museum of New York City because there was a Broadway exhibit. Well, it started off really well. We were at one end of the hall and there in front of us was a big banner with the word "BROADWAY" splashed across the front. From the back of the room, came the sound of Ethel Merman singing "There's No Business Like Show Business." What could be better?
But, the exhibit was very small and seemed to consist of little more than a few costumes and some cigarette lighters. The security guard told us they were remodeling the whole place, so who knows.
I decided to leave Mike and Chuck alone in their home for a night and went up to 181st Street to be with Jimmy at Carl's apartment. We didn't really do anything except just laugh a lot and watch TV and eat pizza. It was great fun.
Monday, March 24, 1997
Still Looking For Gideon.My friend, Nik Venet, finally posted his Evening Star website and if you want a special treat, go there and order one of their albums. He has this weird habit of signing writers who are literate and who know how to write songs. He'll never make it in this business.
I didn't get Friday or Saturday's diary posted until today because I've been AFK (Away From Keyboard) for a few days.
Today, it took me an hour to get a CD in the mail to Boston so they can do a little promotion. Finding post offices in New York is a very exhilarating experience.
We are still looking for a Gideon. We got a few names and will be listening to them this week. We are also putting an ad in "Backstage" Magazine. Skinny 40 year old actor who plays piano and sings tenor. How can that be so hard?
Tuesday, March 25, 1997
Oscar Heaven & Subway Hell.Oscar night. Jimmy and I are having one of our "dates" at a friend's apartment in Greenwich Village. The tiny place is crammed with guys, mostly, although a few women show up. The air is heavy with cigarette smoke and the bar is overflowing with booze. Since I don't drink as a rule, and since I can't bear smoke, it would have been unbearable except that the whole group (including me) was having a blast.
There was also a piano and our host regaled us with funny "Oscar" songs after the show was over. We all approved of Billy Crystal, felt Lauren Bacall got dissed, cheered David Helfgott (even though his performance proved he really wasn't a very good piano player--we didn't care), and then afterwards everyone agreed that there is no subsitute for Susan Hayward. We also loved the way Cuba Gooding Jr. turned the scary play-off music into a victory salute.
There was a teenage boy and girl there, too. She was decked out in a black velvet gown and black opera gloves, as well as jewels and stuff and he was wearing a nice suit. She looked kind of lonely sitting in a chair, so I tried to talk to her but she was very stand-offish. Okay, I thought. Fine. I tried. Then someone told me she didn't want to be there, and that some rich guy was sending a limo for them. In other words, this party was just "slumming" for them and apparently I was just riff raff.
Well, I guess they were still in the mood for slumming later on, because as we were leaving, I caught sight of her again, and when I went to the bed to retrieve my coat and bag, there was lover-boy passed clean out on the bed. It took two of us to roll him off our stuff. I guess some people are more riff raff than others.
It was close to 1 AM before I got fancy boy off my coat. I got onto the 1 train to change at 42nd Street, got onto the NR train, only to find out that they were doing track work and running a little shuttle on one of the tracks. That took some time. I finally made it to the 6 train, whereupon I found out they were also doing track work and I could only use the Express which stopped at 86th street. I got off at 8th and walked ten blocks uptown to 96th. It was about 2:30 before I got home.
Oh, these subways...
Today, we had a brief audition for "Gideon," and then I came home and crashed until my alarm watch woke me up at 9:30 PM to take my pills. When I woke up and saw it was 9:30, I was completely confused because I thought it was 9:30 AM -- so heavy was my sleep. Once I saw it was too dark to be morning, I just took my pills and come here to the computer. If this makes it to you, it will be a miracle because MSN, which is where my friend has the account I've been using, has been down all day.
Lordy, sometimes I just want to crawl into a hole.
No "Gideon" has appeared yet. We had a good audition today, but the fellow auditioning looked really young, so who knows? We're also on the verge of losing our "Buddy" because he has commitments elsewhere, too. This casting stuff is not fun anymore. We want to start rehearsals next week and we still don't have our two main principals. Well, one day at a time.
I've had lots of trouble getting online, too, on my borrowed computers. If these dairy pages are erratic, it's not because I'm not thinking of you. I am. It's just difficult these days. But all is well, I promise. I just have to have faith and believe we're doing exactly as we are supposed to do. Thanks for the wonderful letters from new readers and the new entries in Guestbook . Keep it up. I think I can use a little inspiration these days.
Wednesday, March 26, 1997
Buddy Comes & We Leave At Intermission.Yesterday was such a crummy day. I don't know if you can read between the lines on yesterday's diary pages, but yesterday was a low point for all of us. First of all, Mike the Director has a cold. Second of all, yesterday was the day we lost our "Buddy." And also yesterday, we had no "Gideon."
Mike and I dragged ourselves down to the Currican because there would be new auditions. He was looking and sounding so horrible, and not just because of the cold. He was being dramatically depressed and wondering if we were going to be able to pull our production together. I made a total fool of myself by trying to get a smile by acting silly. It didn't work.
Since I didn't want to hang around all that doom and gloom, I decided instead to go entertain myself. So, I went into the darkened theatre, fired up the keyboard and just started singing the songs from the show full force. Absolutely absorbing myself in every word, chord, and sound that proceeded from my mouth and fingers. It was glorious.
It also reminded me that I'm doing a concert next week in Cambridge after my appearance at Harvard; and that I haven't prepared for it at all. Well, I'm not a big rock star, even though I play one on the internet. I'm just me; and when I sit behind the piano there next week, I'll probably bring a few things to read or talk about, as opposed to writing out some big phony show.
Jimmy the Author joined us at the Currican where the "auditioners" were already over a hour late. Some very talented people showed up but they were either too old or too "baritone" or couldn't act. It was very frustrating until -- and I'll hold off using names until our cast is totally "set" -- a kid came in who was referred to us by the actor who had to turn down the role of Buddy yesterday (due to getting a paying gig in Pittsburgh).
Unlike every other "Buddy" who has auditioned, this boy came in and sang the rock song, "Dream On" (Aerosmith?) and then Sting's "Wrapped Around My Finger." He had an extraordinarily high rock voice, which thrilled me. But the revelation came when he read the scenes. He was great. And he was exactly right. In fact, he was more "right" (as opposed to "better") for the part than the guy who had had to turn us down yesterday! So, once again, that Power that has been guiding us all along, stepped in and made the necessary changes.
We also saw at least two actor/players who could be Gideon.
So, by the end of the day, we were back on Cloud 9. Mike, though, found his cough getting worse and he became worried about tomorrow's (Thursday's) scheduled reading of a new children's comedy called "Udder Madness" (in which he would be reading two of the characters). So, he asked me if *I* would read the parts instead: Dr. Burger, a psychologist with an exagerrated German accent, and Colonel Cheddar who sports a deep Scottish accent. Since I have absolutely no facility with accents, he found my "audition" in the office hilarious. So, on Thursday, I'll be playing the roles. Very badly.
Later on this evening, I joined Chuck, a Composer who lives here with Mike the Director, because he got free tickets to a new Broadway revue which just opened featuring the songs of a very famous composer. Unlike the one last week, this one actually had a "book" connecting all the songs.
We left at intermission.
The writing was so bad, it was like a high school script and we found it completely and utterly unbearable. Don't get me wrong; the singers were fantastic and the musicians were fantastic, but the dialog was so inane, it was tragic watching the poor actors trying to suffer through it.
(Oh, Gawd, there I go again, sounding like a big know-it-all).
So, it was a much better day today. We now almost have a cast. This is a good thing because rehearsals start next week. And I always say, if you're going to rehearse a play, you might as well have the actors joining you.
Thursday, March 27, 1997
Accents, Benefits & Special Effects.Lots to talk about today, so hang on.
First of all, thanks to Morgan at GMHC, I've been invited to perform for a benefit for "The River Fund" which donates money to charities which helps people with AIDS, cancer and other deadly diseases. The event is April 13th at a club called, I think, "The 5 & 10 No Exagerration." It's in SoHo, 77 Green St. near Spring. I'll keep you updated. Apparently, they want me to both open and close the show.
Today, even though we had already cast a "Buddy" for TLS, we let a young Arkansas boy come in and audition also. He was referrred to us by a reader of this diary page. Well, what a great face and smile. As I said, we already had our Buddy, but Jimmy and we were so impressed with his reading, we asked him to come back Friday to read for another role in a new play Jimmy has just finished called "Father Jeremy." We are doing a staged reading of it next week.
Speaking of staged readings, today we did a staged reading of the children's play I told you about yesterday where I jumped in and read two roles: a German and a Scot.
I told Michael I didn't have the faintest clue about forming a Scottish accent, having slept through "Braveheart" -- so this morning I was greeted with a tape recorder and a cassette called, "Scottish For The Stage." And while I fixed myself my world famous breakfast sandwich, I listened to some guy give "Scottish" instructions.
It was completely useless on me.
Anyway, two of the Currican principles -- Andrew and Jeffrey -- along with their writer friend, Amy, and I sat in the Currican Theatre on folding chairs while Jimmy, Mike and Marty (the Currican Company Manager, a bright and wonderful lady) watched us -- with Jimmy reading the stage directions.
It was about 45 minutes of non-stop hilarity, much of it directed at my feeble attempts to form various accents. I think what draws me most to the Currican is how much these people truly love each other and how dedicated they are to just making great theatre. Jimmy and I already feel as if we are part of an incredible creative family.
And this purity of motive draws in great talent. For instance, the lighting designer for our show is also designing a new Broadway show about to open. The set designer is designing sets for the road company of a still different Broadway hit.
In fact, everyone associated with this production has this kind of experience and skill -- and all of them are donating their expertise to our show for the same reason someone might do, for instance, a low budget Woody Allen movie -- for the love of it, and because they love the uniqueness and quality of the material.
Serious theatre goer tell me Broadway shows have become the equivalent of Hollywood movies: They're there to make money and too many rely on gimmicks or special effects, often at the expense of great writing. And for $80 a ticket, who cares about special effects if the characters and songs are mediocre and the show is a bore? I'm don't mean to be disrespectful of those who are producing theatre -- I mean, this *is* my first show, but it's the difference between making "Jurassic Park" and "Schindler's List."
I also talked to Megen at POZ Magazine. The interview they did with me has been pushed back to the June issue, which is just as well since that means it will come out early May instead of this week. HOWEVER, they did include a review of Living in the Bonus Round, my CD, and they said, among other things that the music was "THRILLING."
THRILLING!!! I love that word. She also spoke to me about the cast appearing at the POZ Expo at the end of May here in New York. Nothing is set, but I'll keep you informed.
Saturday, March 29, 1997
Gumballs & Beer.It was about 7pm and I still hadn't found the "5 & 10 No Exaggeration" Club. I had just gotten off the N train in SoHo and was looking for Spring Street and Green Street. A group of revelers directed me to the club, which, as I entered, looked like a typical cute Irish pub with a big ancient oaken bar. Along the whole length of the bar, however, were gum machines. Gum & Beer?
I went to the back where there was a medium-sized room with tables and chair. The walls were draped with white sheer linens and hanging from the ceiling were things like little rocket ships lined with light bulbs and other 50s-looking gewgaws. I asked for the person I was to meet and was directed to a man and woman sitting at the bar.
Both had beatiful, sweet smiles and were really happy to meet me. They were thanking me profusely for agreeing to be a part of the little fundraiser they were having for their organization, The River Fund. He, Durga, spoke to me and as he did, I noticed that he was well tattooed on his neck and hands, but he wore a tight collar as if to cover them up.
He explained that what they do is, they go into hospitals and nursing homes and AIDS hospices and bring gifts for people whose lives are otherwise very bleak. They bring balloons and candy and teddy bears or toys or blankets. They do all this by themselves, getting stores to donate the little gifts. The most he spoke, the more I fell in love with both of them. He explained that 100% of the donations go to the people in need.
Do you remember when I told about how, at Thanksgiving, the APLA foodback would give us frozen turkey dinners or an extra dessert as our special holiday treat? And how on Fridays we could get extra bread? The point is that these older, younger or deeply ill people might be able to find sustenance to survive, but a life of darkness is still a life of darkness, no matter how grateful one might be that life is offered. It can make a world of difference to have someone come in and touch you or give you a silly toy, just to remind you that life is not just about surviving. It's also about living.
As Durga Patello sat there describing what he did, and as his friend laughingly described his apartment as being crammed with balloons and toys, my heart was truly filled to the brim. We talked about how, in an era where gov't services were being curtailed, that it truly was up to those who care, to fill in where people were in need.
I told him about John Bettis' and my song, When You Care, and about how the lyrics say, "...either you love or you don't, either you will or you won't, you can only make a difference when you care." I will be singing songs for them on April 13 there at the club in SoHo. The room is small, but it will be a wonderful night, I am sure. The River Fund - New York, is at 125-6 Sutter Avenue, Jamaica, NY 11420 if you're interested in more information.
Sunday, March 30, 1997
Theatre Camp & Easter Nerves.Jimmy and I took some time this afternoon, because it was so warm and sunny and beautiful, to walk around Times Square and just enjoy being together. We have decided to take our "separation" from each other -- which is happening because of space considerations -- to think of this time as "theatre camp" and we're in separate cabins.
We also went to a Joe Allen's and had the brunch. Joe Allen's is a restaurant with a room that features a wall full of posters from Broadway shows that tanked. The big failures. Like "Moose Murders," "Rachel Lilly Rosenbloom," "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue," and the legendary "Dude" and "Via Galactica." We are determined that TLS will not go on that wall. **cross fingers**
After our brunch, we parted ways and I went back up to Mike's because all of us were nervous and waiting for a phone call from... well, read on.
We were waiting for the phone call. But let me provide some context:
We were two days away from our first rehearsal and, as I've told you already, we didn't have our "Gideon," the lead character. Actually, that's not true. We thankfully had two prospects. Both of them would have been excellent in the role, but only one of them, Bob, was primarily a pianist and singer.
Well, let me take you back to Bob's audition. Bob came to us referred by actor/composer Rusty McGee to whom we had actually offered the part last week -- but who turned the part down because he was having to work on his own show which was opening this week. Bob came in and immediately we began praying he had talent. Tall, slender, shoulder-length hair, looked like a rocker -- exactly as we had envisioned Gideon.
Then he sat down to play. And I'm going to tell you exactly what happened, but you might not get all the references. Before he played anything, I told him that my music was primarily "gospel" sounding, a bit bluesy, acoustic rock. Now, in New York City, in the Broadway community, when you tell someone "gospel," you're probably going to get a song from "Purlie." (A musical.) That's about as close to gospel as you normally get.
Bob Stillman sat down and played a song by Edgar Winter's White Trash.
Edgar Winter's White Trash is a band that comes from about 30 miles from my "home town" of Buna, Texas. Janis Joplin territory. In all the world, of all the bands, and all the music he could have played, few are more obscure than "Dying to Live" by Edgar Winter. And nothing he could have played is more in the style of my music.
When I realized what he was about to play, a chill went down my back and shot through me. Then he began to sing. Oh my god. His voice. His technique and skill. And suddenly, for the first time since I've been in New York, I actually felt like a songwriter. Why? Because I couldn't wait to hear HIS voice and HIS playing doing MY songs.
So, today. Sunday evening. We were waiting for Bob to call and accept the role. We were on tenterhooks. We were prowling around the house and looking for things to do. In fact, at one point, I told Mike that I was going to just put it out of my mind and think of the play without him. The stress was wrecking me!
Mike said he would call him at nine. He did. No answer. Left a message on Bob's machine.
10 P.M. passed. 11 P.M. passed.
I really gave up. He was going to pass. I just knew it.
But about midnight, the phone rang and 10 minutes later, Mike came into my room and said, "He said, Yes."
By then I was so strung out, I couldn't absorb it. But, what this means is, we now have a dream cast of extraordinary proportions. And they are:Grace Garland as Tryshia.
Amy Coleman as Vicki.
George Peter Ryan as Jim.
Stephen Bienskie as Buddy.
Bob Stillman as Gideon.
You might not know these names if you aren't in the New York theatre community, but that's okay. I'll be posting pictures and bios soon. And you are now reading the thoughts and feelings of a very, very happy man.
Monday, March 31, 1997
It Snowed Today.It snowed today so I decided that since our first rehearsal and run through with the cast was tomorrow, that it was a sign from God that rich blessings were going to float down on us and that miracles were going to continue to happen.
Yeah, yeah. I know it sounds simpy. So, I'm a simp.
© 1996 - 2001 by Steve Schalchlin