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2 ] [ Part 3
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Thursday, May 1, 1997
The Simple Gift.
[Jimmy has joined me at Mean Mike's and now the two of them harrass me constantly. It's unbearable, you know. They both know all my secrets! and as I am typing this, they are laughing at the fact that I'm a geek, that I'm Hobbles the Clown, that... oh, never mind. It's a miracle I let these two even come near me. I think I'll go live in a convent.]Jimmy is back from El Lay. I forgot to mention that he went there to write the ASCAP Film and TV Awards show where he met Robert Wise and Robert Altman. He said they were both wonderful men. I remember telling him a year ago that Robert Altman would be a very cool choice to do the TLS movie. One week from tonight, THE LAST SESSION will open in New York City. I keep saying this over and over again to myself and I still cannot believe it. This morning, Jimmy and Mike and I sat around in Mike's living room just giddy with anticipation. At the risk of sounding self-congratulatory before anything actually happens, we were fantasizing and spinning big dreams. But why not? Isn't that what life is all about?
Check it out: All the Broadway shows for the season have now opened, they've all cost millions and millions, and they have been universally panned. Doesn't it make sense that everyone would love to see a little show in a tiny theatre with a great big heart as an alternative to a big clunky commercial thing?
It's just as possible, though, that they'll not see us at all. New York is not exactly lacking for talent, you know. It's not as if we're the only show in town. But how fun it is to imagine all the globe-spanning possibilities (and to be alive for it).
This morning, I got a notice that one of my positoid cyberpals may have leukemia. According to preliminary tests, the cancer has spread to his liver and spine. He was planning on accompanying the whole group of men and women who frequent the Undernet/chatnet's AIDS/HIV+2 chat channels. They're coming in June and are flying in from all over the world, including Italy and France and Australia. I sent him a love note and promised I'd save him a seat. I also said how much of a jolt the news came to me. So happy have I been in this little "bonus round" of mine, I had forgotten how prone those of us with screwed up immune sysytems are to these "little" bugs.
It also brought me back to last summer when TLS was just a workshop -- and how my biggest dream was to be able to just see it once. I also remembered a time about 7 years ago when I was hired to help a friend of a friend, who was really dying of AIDS, fulfill his last fantasy of performing his own cabaret act.He was not in show business, but always dreamed of being on the stage, so his friends hired me and some musicians (a group of straight guys who named their group The Nancy Boys for the occasion) to put together an act for him. We rehearsed and had the whole thing all planned out. The club was booked to capacity with all his friends. Everyone was so excited for him.I'm not telling you this, precious reader, to tell you a sad story. I'm just trying to remind myself that it's easy to lose perspective when it comes to things like "success." Last March, when we performed the rough draft of TLS in front of a capacity crowd at the Hollywood Roosevelt with Rue McClanahan hosting, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. It would have been enough for me.
A couple of days before the gig, though, he got very sick and was barely able to function. But he insisted we go on anyway and he asked me to sing all the songs for him. He just didn't want to miss his last party -- his last session.
That night, I stood on stage facing a crowd of strangers. Suddenly, from the back, wrapped in a blanket and sitting in a wheelchair, he came. They rolled him to the front and we proceeded to sing and play the show he had wanted so desperately to do himself. I cannot tell you how sad, but also how powerful it felt to be looking at this frail, sweet guy as he watched me singing his songs, performing his show.
His friends, though, cheered us on as if it were him. And though I know he was probably wishing it were him up there, he did get to have one last party with all the people who truly loved him. At the end they hugged him and loved on him and at the end of the show, I said, "And Robert wanted me to tell you all that this night is his night. I might be singing these songs, but it was Robert that brought us together and Robert who loves all of you more than he can express."
He died less than a week later.
And then last summer, just after my (latest) near death, still hooked up to an IV, when we were able to actually do a full workshop with wonderful actors and full staging, it was a delicious dessert -- a brilliant fantasy fulfilled. A thing that Robert wanted but never got to have.
And now! NOW! To be one week away from our New York opening. Whether it's a great triumph to worldwide acclaim or a private little celebration that fades into the night, or something somewhere in between, I shall think of Robert sitting in that wheelchair watching me do his show, and Jimal lying in a hospital room scared to death of the cancer spreading through his body.
And I'll remember that nothing can ever replace the simple gift of being alive.
Friday, May 2, 1997
The Load-In & The Accent.Today, Mean Mike had the cast do a "speed through" run of act two. That means they had to race through the act "beat the clock" fashion. This is an exercise to help them find the words without "thinking" of them -- like a little test -- and to, according to Mike, let them see if there are parts that might play better when paced quickly.
After the speed through, they did a normal rehearsal of act one and, well, it was kind of rough going. It had been a few days since they even looked at act one. Lines were missed and forgotten (or rephrased incorrectly), blocking missed -- it was tragic! *LOL* By the end, everyone was frustrated and tired.
After the actors went home, Jimmy, Mikey and me sat around the office and waited because Jeffrey, the Currican's manly man and Marty the motherly producer were off in a U-Haul bringing in the set which has been built in Jersey in Eric Renschler's workshop. Since the "theatre rental" is still in the theatre itself, the plan was to stack the set (which is in a million pieces) in the office.
The truck pulled up and the five of us formed a little "lift and tote line" down the staircase and out to the street. In the truck were plywood columns and flats, along with lights, cables, disassembled chairs and tables and other assorted goodies. Even Deli Mike down the block sent one of his guys down to help Jeffrey take all the flats out of the truck to make them more easily accessible to "the line."
I was able to help, believe it or not. My toe is healing "like a house afire" as they say. Yesterday I noticed that a new baby nail -- thin, but definitely there -- has already begun forming and because the fracture itself is on the tip of the toe (as opposed to being near a joint), I'm becoming much more mobile. *YEAH*
After the load-in, I went down to AndBob's apartment. Just as I got there, he was walking up the street with Tyler the Dog. Then he took me to a trendy new Columbus Ave. restaurant called Sesso. We took a table on the sidewalk becaue it was a beautiful night. It had rained the night before, so the night was cool, but warm enough for outside eating.
We both looked at the buildings surrounding us, the people passing by, the traffic and all the lights. I know I had huge grin on my face because I was loving every minute of this. He told me how much he loved New York and that it was nights like this that reminded him why. I told him about how my first New York job was waiting tables at Dobson's up on 76th & Columbus. He told me he had graduated Princeton with honors and after he graduated, he really got his parents angry at him because he told them he wanted to become a waiter. They told him he didn't need to go to Princeton for that.
He's really an incredibly talented man. He actualle wrote and arranged a musical as his senior thesis. Mean Mike told me that he first saw Bob Stillman on Broadway in "Grand Hotel." Bob was a featured performer who came out toward the end of the show, did one number and stole the whole thing away from everyone who came before.
(I've been telling you what an incredible cast we have, haven't I?)
After dinner, we went back to his place and he recorded me talking. Since he's from New York, he figured this would be a good way to pick up the little bit of "Texan" I still carry in my voice. Mostly, he was after cadence and, he said, the way I say "d's" and "t's".
It was a little embarrassing, but after we got going, and after he really started trying to imitate me, it turned into a laughfest. It was after midnight before I left to go home. When I got back to Mike's, Jimmy was on the phone. He and Mike had gone out to the Monster where Jimmy dazzled all the theatre queens with his Ethel Merman imitation.
I fell asleep immediately.
Saturday, May 3, 1997
The (Almost) Perfect Run-Through.What a difference a day makes! Today, the cast ran both act one and act two and it was absolutely spectacular. Mean Mike had hardly any notes for them at all. And now that it's all running like clockwork, he has the opportunity to finely hone the little bits and pieces that might seem small, but can make all the difference in the world. I felt sorry for AndBob, though. He flubbed a few lines there toward the end -- as did everyone now and again -- but he is very hard on himself. He's a terrific perfectionist.
I, as you might know by now, am not. So, it always hurts me to see someone beating up on him or herself because of a few missed lines when their overall performance is so amazing. Well, that's life, I guess.
The funniest and most entertaining thing today was to see Binky in his "Buddy" costume. Normally, he's this rather hip kid who dyes his hair black and wears earrings and loose, hip clothing. Today, Mean Mike dressed him up in Dockers, blue oxford cloth shirt, maroon tie, and his hair was neatly sprayed into place. It was like he was a completely different person!
He said he thought he looked like a dork. Well, maybe the costume is a bit dorky, but he looked like every preacher boy I ever went to Baptist College with. Mike also told him to let his hair go natural, so his natural auburn tinted hair is softening his face and look. It's just amazing and it adds so much to his character.
Diva Grace was also on today. She played Tryshia like this little ball of energy (with big ta ta's) who will take no guff from anyone. But when she puts down the "act" and speaks and sings straight from her heart, it's like she reaches into your chest and just yanks your heart out.
This was also the day Flamin' Amy "found" Vicki for real. I told you how her voice can rattle the walls. Well, that's not just when she's singing. At the end of the play, she has this amazing scene where she confronts Gideon and today she played it for all it was worth. What stunned me was how easily she went from fractured heartbreak to raging anger and back again without ever sounding or feeling like she was acting.
Today we also incorporated a guitar into Somebody's Friend. Dean Bradshaw plays so we found a way to pull him out of the booth to provide a little variety to our overall sound. And he's also finding new things all the time for "Jim" now that he's been with us a full week. New laughs. New nuances.
Well, I should stop gushing or you're going to stop believing any of this. After the rehearsal, we went home and I just crashed onto the bed. Jimmy made some of this famous "slumgullion" for the three of us, we watched a little of "Interview With A Vampire," having forgotten how bad it was, and I drifted off into sleep. A lovely, warm sleep.
Sunday, May 4, 1997
Superman's Neighborhood.Lots of stuff happened today that made me the object of more derisive laughter: A chair fell on me and hit me in the knee; I shook up a chocolate soft drink without screwing the cap on tightly enough and it sprayed all over me and my script and some lighting instruments; I tried to open a cabinet and the handle came off in my in my hand -- you know, the typical stuff.
But now I've just come to expect these things as part of my general klutziness. I suffer in silence. *laughing* (But, actually, reader o' mine, this is all an act. It's my version of "Clark Kent" to throw everyone off the track of who I really am.)
We had such a cool day. After another incredible run-through, Jimmy & Mike & I went to a cheap burger joint named Pinky's Cadillac where they actually have 99 cent burgers. We took our deliciously inexpensive meals upstairs to the second floor and found a table against a window where we could see a sprawling view of 7th Ave. between 33rd and 34th. This whole area, which stands in the shadow of the Empire State Building, is the New York you see in old Superman comics.
All around us stood stately, brick, art deco era buildings brightly lit in yellows, then oranges and then reds of the setting sun. The air today was crystal clear and you could make out every detail in every window and in every corner of these majestic landmarks as their spires glistened and brilliantly reflected the cool sunlight. We even got to watch New York's Finest set up a road block and stop drivers who were making illegal turns onto 7th Ave.
(...at least, we think that's why they were stopping them...)
Afterward, we walked around the area. The top of the Empire State Building, lit with bright white lights, looked brand spanking new. Our main quest during this time between rehearsal and load-out (when the troup renting the Currican finished getting their set out of the building) was to find ice cream.
But the ice cream quest was really just an excuse to walk around and breathe the clean air and take the opportunity to just enjoy New York at its best: on a Sunday evening when the traffic is slow and the weather is perfection.
I just wanted to freeze frame the moment for myself here because so many of our days have been about rehearsing and working, broken toes, rushing about looking for props, and dozens of other things. It was so nice to just remember take a little walk and feel the energy vibrating inside us, knowing TLS is only four days away.
We found good ice cream, too. And I didn't drip one drop.
AMAZING TLS COINCIDENCES:
May 8th, the day we open, is the anniversary of two events connected with TLS: It marks the day of The Potsie Incident and it's also the day Bill Clayton died. It's also the day I was a guest kid on the Chucko the Birthday Clown show. I was 8 at the time.
Monday, May 5, 1997
"Sounds Like..."INTERVIEW WITH A VAMP:
If you go to the POZ Magazine website, you will find a little article on your favorite infected songwriter -- with new photo by Ned Rosen. But, unfortunately for Degen Pener, the writer of the article, he seems to have fallen madly in love with me, the poor slob. He keeps talking about my eyes and how deeply he found himself lost in them. (http://poz.com)
It's just terrible when the supposedly objective press loses its perspective like that. *snicker* What's not onsite but is in the magazine is a quote from him in the front part where he says, "Steve is the biggest flirt I've ever met..." or something to that effect. I just cannot imagine where he got that idea.
THE LOAD-IN (part 2):
Today, Mikey and Jimmy and I didn't get to the theatre until the afternoon because today was the day the designers and set builders erected our magnificent bomb shelter set. Knowing I have the capacity to attract falling objects, I decided my best course of action would be STAY AWAY.
Instead I went down to POZ to pick up some copies of the June issue so I could see my pretty face and read about my dreamy eyes. (Shawn Decker, eat your heart out.) I also spent some time with Megan, the publisher -- a woman who has *truly* dreamy light brown eyes, by the way. (I'm an equal opportunity eye appreciator.)
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Our lighting designer Michael Gottlieb was sitting near Jimmy as we were working out details on getting into Friendly Fire. We were adding some "eerie" music at the front of it to indicate the fact that it's a fantasy sequence and, in deciding the exact sounds, Jimmy leaned over to Michael and asked, "What does that sound like?"
Without pausing for even a second Michael answered, "It sounds like a light cue."
We love Michael Gottlieb. As we left the theatre last night after a long day, he was still there, parked behind his computer working on the lights. He's a brilliant perfectionist and Mike Wills calls him a genius. I told Michael G. (who's about 30 years old) that I was going to find him a girlfriend on the web. He said, "Be sure to tell them how short I am."
He said this because he is very short and I guess it's caused him problems in the romace department. But Mike W. and I were talking and Mike noted that Michael G.'s personality, intelligence and wit are so incredibly huge, Mike W. doesn't even barely see Michael G. as "short" in his mind's eye -- and I've detected no "Napoleon complex" in his nature, either. He genuinely is a remarkable person. I guess it must be tough for straight guys who are not tall. Since I always found shorter guys extremely attractive, it never occurred to me that anyone wouldn't see this as a plus rather than a minus.
So, girls!! I got a good one for ya!! Send all resumes with accompanying photos to the Currican Theatre, Manhattan, attn: Michael Gottlieb.
Tuesday, May 6, 1997
Teching, Teching, over the Mounting Strain.Mean Mike informed me that I was crazy today, a charge I vehemently deny. Or, if I was, it was his fault. You see, he told me to listen to the sound and get the cast set up with their microphones and with the PA. This cannot be done quietly because it consists of telling the actors to sing, listening to Momo in the booth, telling everyone to shut up, start again, do it quieter, making them stop, and this went on and on for about a half hour.
Well, maybe I was a little crazy, but that's because so much of the process consisted of trying to talk over the top of a loud sound system.MOMO:Anyway, Momo was up in the booth working sound, the cast was out on Eric Lowell Renschler's amazing set testing the microphones and getting used to the new set-up. I was "crazy" listening to the sound and trying to get it right, and Mike and Jimmy were sitting there in the dark laughing at me (as usual). It was cool, though, because they were working on the lighting plot.
Momus Andrew Totolos is our stage manager ("Momus" being the Greek god of ridicule and railery), but everyone calls him Momo. He's an Greek American of medium height with a polished bald head, severe eyes and scary facial hair. He's 26 but could pass for 40. He's the kind of guy you might picture at a frat party breaking a bottle of beer over his own head. He once broke up with a "crazed girlfriend" by having a male friend of his answer his door completely naked so that she would think Momo was gay.
Momo also mixes sound for clubs and is, himself, an amazing actor. (He played a sleazy lounge club emcee in Penn Jillette's "Recreation," another Currican/Playful Production directed by Mike Wills).
The trick Mike W. and Michael G. are trying to pull off with the lighting is to keep it very natural and "real" during most of the songs, contrary to conventional "musical theatre" lighting, until the two fantasy sequences when Michael Gottlieb's startling lights will be unleashed upon the unsuspecting audience.
The cast began the tech at 7 PM. By the way, to "tech" is to do all the technical things one cannot do in rehearsal because the "tech" things are not yet in existence. It involves lighting the set and then doing the light cues from moment to moment to moment, which means the actors stand around saying lines, stopping, waiting, saying the lines again; stopping, waiting, saying the lines again, etc.
If you have a cast that doesn't get along, this can turn into a nightmare of epic proportions, because, as you can imagine it takes a great deal of endurance and patience. And with the nervousness everyone feels as they approach opening night, you could be talking HELL!
But our tech today sounded more like a party. Diva Grace (Garland) was doing her fabulous "diva" thing noticing that some stools were not exactly how she had imagined they'd be, Flamin' Amy was showing everyone how to scream/sing without ripping your throat out, and "AndBob" was doing off-color variations of songs from the show. At one point, Binky -- isn't it horrible how we've labeled this poor boy "Binky?" -- was trying to get to his onstage stool and accidentally stepped outside the set area (which means you've stepped through the wall). AndBob immediately began doing an air raid siren, which made Binky jump right out of his skin. And always, from behind the booth in the back, came the smart alecky comments of Butterboy Dean Bradshaw.
Michael Gottlieb (lights) sat out front in the dark, parked behind his computer terminal next to Momo who was directing traffic. Next to him was Mean Mike and Big Wind Jim, the Author. Step by step, cue by cue, moment by moment, they set the lighting cues and kept up the action, with a couple of food breaks, through til after midnight.
And that was only for act one! So, Mean Mike became Sweet Mike and dismissed them for the night, leaving only Andrew Miller, the Artistic Director on a ladder painting the lobby in fresh new colors. Tomorrow, they will start at 4pm, finish the tech, pose for production stills at 7pm, start the dress rehearsal at 8pm, and then for the first time, we will have all seen the play all the way through with sound and lights.
I am so buzzed, I can barely sit still.
Wednesday, May 7, 1997
A Disaster Dress.Oh, gawd. What a miserable day.
You know, they say in show bidness that if you have a bad dress rehearsal, you'll have a great opening night. Please, lord, let it be true. Today was a true day in hell. It began at 1pm down at the theatre and didn't end until 1am. After the endless tech from last night where we only got through act one, they all converged today to tech act two.
And, once again, it Movin' Thru Molasses Time. The cast, still in great spirits, god bless 'em, would fill the long waits with singing and playing. They seemed to have had endless reserves of patience, never giving in to boredom or irritation. Once again Michael Gottlieb had his computer out on the floor as he, Mean Mike and Big Wind Jim worked through the play moment by moment getting the lighting cues right. It seemed to take forever and I couldn't tell if, when they finally stopped, they were done or not. I couldn't tell anything by this time.
Then about 7:30, my buddy Ned Rosen showed up with his photo equipment to shoot our production stills. Also, Manny Igregas, the press agent for the Currican arrived. The two collaborated on poses and set-up shots. Mike told me that the papers have very specific things they will accept for shots like this. He said, for instance, that the Times prefers (demands?) shots with only two heads in them doing something specific to the play.
Anyway, at the end of it, we all posed for a big group shot with Jimmy and me sitting on chairs in front of everyone. It was so cool!
But, also, it was getting really late. The dress rehearsal was supposed to have started at 8, but it was already after 9 before we got started. Thank goodness we hadn't invited an audience. Partly because of the time, but also because the theatre was filled with trash and lumber and cups and food from all the construction that had been going on.
But mostly because the dress was an unmitigated disaster. Suddenly, our bright little play was slow and so ponderous. And all the funny spots weren't funny anymore. The dramatic moments were anything but dramatic. The poor beleaguered cast heroically slogged through, but they were tired and forgetting lines, forgetting lyrics, forgetting blocking... and they kept having to stop while for Mike and Michael to readjust lighting cues, etc.
Also, this was our first time to work with the microphones and sound and it was horrible. First it was too soft, then too loud, then the cast couldn't hear themselves so they stoppped to hang monitor speakers, then the piano would be too loud, or the mix was off balance or we couldn't hear anything. It was truly a nightmare that extended on into the night.
By the time Jimmy, Mike and I got home, we were cursing everyone and everything. Our only thought was that we had the world's biggest disaster on our hands. We sat around the kitchen table feeling like hell. We were mad. We were upset at ourselves, at the cast, at the crew, god and Abraham Lincoln. Finally, though, our "poor pitiful us" party dissolved into insane laughter.
I mean, what else could we do? Our only thought was that we had blown it completely. And here we were in New York to watch it all go down the drain. New York. A completely unforgiving theatre audience that expects the very best. No. We couldn't trash ourselves in Cleveland. Not good enough for us! We had to do it in NEW YORK!
Worse than that, normally a little show like ours in a tiny theatre could conceivably just fly in under the radar and not be noticed, but about midnight, I went onto the net and there BIG AS DALLAS was Matt Mirapaul's article about us in the NEW YORK TIMES online! Worse, he praised the show, having attended a rehearsal last week, comparing us to "Angels in America" and "Rent."
OH GAWD!!! Nope. No hiding now. This was not the Oklahoma Sentinel. This was the New York Times. If we had a disaster on our hands, we were destined to do it in front of the entire world. Our only choice was to trust in the gods of the theatre and hope this night was just a fluke and a bump in the road based on sheer exhaustion.
Drained, humiliated, brokenhearted, and giddy with tired anxiety, we finally retreated to our rooms and collapsed. All night I kept having these Stephen King dreams where I was singing in ghostly churches out in the woods surrounded by zombie-like locals holding hands in a circle peering menacingly into the windows.
Thursday, May 8, 1997
Opening Night in New York City.I woke up this morning and I felt as if all the blood had drained from my body. I couldn't summon a smile or anything remotely resembling happiness after the dreadful dress last night. And that's not like me at all.
All I could imagine was that tonight we'd bore the audience to death and they'd laugh at us on the way out of the theatre. I could just hear their taunts echoing through my mind as they wondered what ever got into us to have the audacity to come to the theatre capital of the world and impress anyone.
I was out of my favorite cereal, too, Honey Bunches of Oats, so I couldn't even have the satisfaction of a good breakfast.
Finally, I called my old friend and lyricist, John Bettis.John Bettis was a mentor for me back in El Lay. His list of great songs extends about a mile in both directions, having begun his career writing at least half of all the Carpenters biggest hits and then graduating onto tremendous hit songs for Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Madonna, etc. And who is now writing for theatre. Most music writers I know would do anything to get a John Bettis lyric for one of their songs.Anyway, I got John on the phone and told him about last night. His response was a huge sigh of relief. "You couldn't have given me better news," he said. "There is nothing worse for opening night than a good dress rehearsal."
But I know John as as friend who, when I was particularly depressed one day while working at the offices at National Academy of Songwriters, dropped everything to drive over to take me out to lunch and give me a pep talk. He also, after hearing about my HIV diagnosis, back then, paid for me to get some expensive medical treatments.
John, also, was one of the first to tell me that he thought the songs from LAST SESSION were remarkable and who, in a show of support early on (after I kinda hinted), contributed the lyric for When You Care. (You cannot imagine how much having his name attached to this show has turned heads in songwriter circles. It was an incredible act of generosity on his part.)
I caught him up on all the news, told him how magnificent the Currican theatre is. About Mike Wills' subtle, effective directing -- Jimmy calls Mike the best director he has ever worked with in his 25 years in theatre, Eric Renschler's sparlking set, Michael Gottlieb's deceptively moving lighting design, the loving, talented cast. About how my diary page was apparently making history as the first time ever that the whole world could read along with a musical in progress on the day it happened. How Matt Mirapaul of the NY Times had written such a fantastic story about us. About how I had just spoken at Harvard and saw these pages incorporated as part of their curriculum materials.
As I spoke, I began to come back to life. Like a blood transfusion, I could feel hope and energy coursing through my veins again. By the time we finished speaking, I felt like maybe, just maybe, we might still have something great on our hands. John Bettis had one piece of advice. He said to follow Frank Loesser's cue and on the day after opening night, have a meeting about the next musical. Decide where you're going to go next.
I told him I would, and I thanked him for his friendship and love.
Jimmy and Mean Mike were already getting their opening night clothes ready. Jimmy had his tux and Mike had his full Scottish kilt uniform laid out. I got my tux coat out and, oh my god, it didn't fit. I have gained so much weight in this new influx of health, nothing fits me. I tried on my pants. Too tight! I could barely squeeze into them.
So, I borrowed a black fancy shirt from Jimmy -- one he had left in the drier too long -- and we all went down to see if we could salvage THE LAST SESSION.
We began with the sound. We pumped it up a bit and rebalanced the levels. Then Michael G. and Momo the Stage Manager went through the lighting cues. Momo would be working sound and lights tonight for the FIRST TIME. *groan*
About 2:00 pm, I laid down on the couch in the lobby to take a nap and didn't wake up until 5:30 to the sound of our friend, Larry Dusich from El Lay sawing and gluing some last minute things for the set. It was so great to see him! Also, Renee French (who calls me "stege" because of a typo I once made in an email to her) was hanging her fantastically weird paintings and drawings in the lobby.
The cast arrived later on and we went over the sound check, balancing the monitors, while Michael Gaylord rehearsed them on some harmonies that needed to be cleaned up.
Soon, I retreated them to the office and changed into my too-tight pants and shirt.
It was strange to watch the people file in to our first performance. In the first place, the house was completely sold out. Secondly, I didn't know most of these people. Normally, opening night crowds consist mostly of fans and supporters, but there were as many curiosity hounds as there were friends of the Currican.
Oddly, I wasn't nervous or sick. I was mostly in a daze. People would speak to me and I could only barely make out their words. It was like being in a parallel dimension where you can see everything going on, but you aren't really a part of it. Near the door of the theatre, Tatiana was handing out champagne to the opening night crowd.
The Currican Theatre space is a big black rectangular room. The stage and set are at one end on the floor and the seats are on risers at the other, so the audience is mostly looking down at the set and at the actors, although there are several rows of chairs on the floor itself.
Just before the show started I crawled up into the top row at the back next to two young men who looked completely out of place. Just before the lights went to black, one of them slipped off the riser and went to the lobby and slipped back in surreptitiously. During the opening scene, which is a very quiet moment where Gideon is announcing his intention to take his own life the next day, I suddenly heard this loud "POP" next to me.
They had stolen a bottle of champagne from Tatiana's table and were treating themselves to it. They were also talking. So, I poked one of them on the arm, put my finger in his face, wagged it back and forth and hush-whispered, "NO TALKING!" He completely ignored me and while the action ensued onstage, I was enduring a two man frat party up in the back. *GROAN*
At one point, the one closest to me nudged me on the elbow and said, "Hey, this should be a movie, man." And then, even before we were halfway through the first act, they both jumped down from the riser and left. I was so relieved.
But the show was moving along remarkably well. The cast was getting laughs and the applause on the numbers was strong. Grace and Amy stopped the show a couple of times with their funny lines as they made their entrances, as did the ever-reliable Dean Bradshaw. Stephen Binskie as Buddy arrived, dressed in his baptist "Buddy" clothes and new haircut looked like he had dropped in from another planet.
I knew the audience was with us up to a point, but I couldn't tell how much. This show is so different from anything else, it probably takes some getting used to. When Buddy begins to preach and go on about sin and "homosexuality" you don't know whether to feel sorry for him or wring his neck for being so inappropriate. Plus, "Buddy's" don't really exist in New York, so I don't know if the audience thought he was funny, scary or stupid.
But by the time Going It Alone comes along, where Buddy is placed effectively into Gideon's shoes, you could hear a pin drop in that room. And both Stephen and Bob Stillman have these heartbreaking voices. After they finished their number, the audience was stunned and silent. It was as if they hated to break the mood. But when the applause started, it turned into a roar. A massive ovation. Jimmy said later he's never seen a ballad stop a show before.
At intermission, the crowd was energetic and very excited. Clearly, if they were hesistant at first -- and I'm not sure if they were or not, something had changed by the end of act one, because when they came back for act two, it was as if someone had set them all on fire. The laughs exploded through the room, the applause was deafening, and the tears were flowing as freely as a cleansing rain.
By the time they got to Friendly Fire, all bets were off, as Jimmy says. The girls danced in silly red, white and blue bows for the fantasy sequence and Steve, dressed in military parka and helmet, stood front and center staring into a spotlight.
At the end of Friendly Fire, he takes his helmet off and... I can't spoil this moment for you. I would love to tell you about it, but it's something you just have to see. It's about Stephen's innocently, fragile face and Mike Wills' surprising staging. This moment is one of the most touching and real moments I have ever exprienced in the theatre.
And then from there, we give the audience Bob Stillman's achingly beautiful rendition of Connected -- a performance Matt Mirapaul made reference to in his article. Bob Stillman can sing with more beauty than just about anyone I have ever heard in my entire life and tonight, he held us all breathlessly in the palm of his hand.
Then, everything changes again. Flamin' Amy Colman's Vicki finds out Gideon's plans to commit suicide and we are suddenly pulled out of our peaceful reverie. With that foghorn trumpet of a voice and wild red hair which, by now, had gone totally out of control, her Vicki flies into a rage that shakes the walls one moment and breakes your heart the next. One moment screaming with rage, the next moment making cruel jokes and offering to do Gideon a favor by shooting him herself. "I think you'd like," he says.
And the audience was on a roller coaster flying back and forth between absolute horror and wild out-of-control laughter. It was a bravura performance and since it was our first time to see any of this in front of people, I was just stunned and thrilled by their reaction. She was so human, so fragile, and so wildly out of control.
Well, by then, they could do no wrong. When Grace's Tryshia took over from poor exhausted Vicki, singing One More Song, she absolutely brought down the house. It was the longest sustained applause of the night. And she did it OFF MIC! No amplification.
You know, if you've ever sat down to a great meal where the food is exquisite and the drink is first rate and the company you are sharing it with is someone you love and can't get enough of, you never want it to end. You just hope that the dessert course is sweet and rich and full.
Well, that's what When You Care does. It's a sweet, inspirational song that allows the audience and the cast and everyone else to simply bask in the afterglow. It finishes THE LAST SESSION on a gentle note. With John Bettis' poetic lyric and the thrilling choral arrangement bringing us down to a peaceful, reflective moment, it reaches out and hold the audience in a warm, loving embrace.
THE AUDIENCE REACTION:
At the last note, when the lights went down, the audience held for a moment and then leaped from their seats, shattering the night with shouting and applause. The cast took two curtain calls and then called for Jimmy and me to come down, also. "AUTHOR AUTHOR!!" They screamed. I was in such a daze, I could barely move. I remember embracing the cast members and kinda remember taking a bow, but by then I was an emotional wreck.
A screaming standing ovation.
In New York City.
On our first night in front of an audience of strangers.
Once again, the lobby afterward was filled with people buzzing and laughing and chattering away. Mean Mike came up to me and said this was the biggest hit the Currican has ever seen. Andrew Miller, the Artistic Director also said they had never had such a reaction. I thanked them both for putting their theatre on the line and taking such a huge a chance on "unknowns." Andrew said even if it didn't last past this night, it was all worth it.
I got hugged and hugged. Women were crying. Men were crying. People were kissing me and telling me how much the whole experience absolutely moved them. Even the "hardcore" theatre buffs who hate everything came up and said it was the absolute best show they've seen all year long. One singer begged me for the sheet music to Connected so he could start singing it around town. Jeffrey Brooks from the John Houseman Theatre said he was going to tell everyone in the theatre community about it.For just a moment, bathing in the glow of all this praise I stopped and thought of my many cyberfriends who have been following this diary all along. I said prayer for Jimal, my little friend who is undergoing the "Friendly Fire" of radiation treatments for his own newly discovered AIDS-related cancer. I thought of Luke Chipperfield in Australia who is having such bad reactions to the new AIDS drugs. I thought of my cousin Shirley who is caring for her husband who is having a horrible time with infections in his legs, and Gabi reaching out to our online gay teenage friend, Andrew, who is petrified of his family "finding out." And dear Jerry, home at last, but in so much trouble with his health.I stoppped for that moment and dedicated the night and all the joy bubbling in my soul to them and to my family, of course. And I remember something Bob Stillman said to me at one of our rehearsals. I was telling the story of how, at the bottom of my own despair in the hospital, four years ago this very night, I reached out with my mind looking for my own reason to go on and fight for survival.
I told him the story of how, at that moment, the faces of all my friends flashed across my mind. How I could hear their voices telling me "...how much they needed me to live..." (as I wrote in Connected) and how their love bathed me and lifted me from the hospital bed in a hot flood of tears and yearning.
Bob Stillman looked at me as I related this to him and he said, "You aren't kidding, are you? You really do love people, don't you?"
I looked over at him and said, "There is nothing else. Absolutely nothing else."
Friday, May 9, 1997
A Big Surprise For Steve.After last night's high, the big question became, Would we succumb to the Second Night Blues? We had a few "special guests" coming -- industry types who would "judge" us -- and it would be terrible if, after our great opening night, suddenly the whole thing fell out of wack. Luckily, a big bunch of our pals from the internet were coming and we knew they would be a great audience.
And they were. And the show was spectacular. Since this was only the second public performance, the cast was still "adjusting" their line readings and figuring out where the laughs come, but no one but us could "tell," if that makes any sense. They are an astonishing group of talented people. Also, they were more relaxed during the musical numbers tonight and, for the first time, Somebody's Friend fell together with the guitar and they really did sound like a "real" band.
As for our "friends," they fought for front row seats and they so enthusiastically applauded and cheered the cast, I know it must have been fun for the actors. As for our "industry friends," they all loved it unequivocally. Mitch Douglas, our agent (an old friend) who works for ICM who negotiated our contract here as a favor to both Jimmy and me -- and who used to represent Tennessee Williams -- AND who "hates" everything:Mitch has no compunctions about telling authors what he thinks of their work. He has been known to trot out to the write at an intermission and say, "This is the worst piece of crap I've ever seen in my life..."Well, Mitch ran right up to Jim and said, "It's FABulous! It's fabulous."
What was truly fabulous, though, was the big surprise that happened earlier in the evening. Don K., one of best pals here on the net kept telling Jimmy and me that he had "special surprise guests" coming, but he wouldn't say who they were. I arrived at the hotel where he was holding a reception for the cast and crew of TLS, and out of one of the back rooms popped Tracey Thornton and her dad who had driven up from Virginia. (Tracey was the woman responsible for booking me into Old Dominion University this past fall.)
Then I saw Linda George and her daughter Emily! They weren't supposed to be able to come because they had been in El Lay taping a LEEZA show where they were assaulted by right wing "Christian" zealots, much to their own surprise. But the big surprise came next. Jimmy walked up to me holding out a little identification sticker and said for me to place it on someone.
I looked at the name and it was Gabi Clayton. For you newbies, Gabi is someone I met about this time last year. I wrote her after I saw her 17 year old son Bill's face on her site -- Bill who committed suicide several years ago after a vicious gaybashing. At the time we met, Bill's face was little more than that: a face. But after she sent me an email telling me the whole story, I edited it and posted the whole thing on my site. Soon after that, she posted it herself on her own site. I dedicated my CD to the memory of Bill Clayton and his story has influenced hundreds, maybe thousands of people in the past year.
But Gabi and I had never, up tonight, actually met face to face. I cannot begin to tell you what it meant to me to finally see her and hug her. She even brought her son, Noel, along (who was wearing the "coolest hat"). Noel is an acting student in Washington (state).
Saturday, May 10, 1997
A Private Concert & A Binky Story.A BINKY STORY:
Tonight, we had a special guest sitting in the audience: Dr. Bruce Dorsey, the Merck scientist who synthesized Crixivan. I was very excited to see him and his wife, Jenny, again. Backstage, Mean Mike told Binky that "the man who saved Steve's life" was in the audience. (Mean Mike knows how sensitive Binky is and knew his reaction would be wide-eyed.) He said to Mike, "What do I say to him?" Mike told him to just say whatever he wants.
Finally, the moment came. Binky came into the lobby after the show and I introduced him to Dr. Dorsey. Binky stood there for a moment and then quietly said, "Thank you."
JUST BETWEEN FRIENDS:
With the TLS cyclone in full force, the show opening and the NY Times CyberTimes writing about me, and the POZ article, etc. it's been a thrilling week. But none of those events (forgive me cast of TLS) can compare to what happened Saturday night at the Currican long after everyone had gone away. You see, earlier in the day, I had promised Gabi that I would sing a song for her since she has never heard me "live."
I didn't want to intrude on the actors or anyone else, so we waited until everyone had all gone home. Then, a small group of my cyberpals and I went into the darkened theatre. There were no lights on the stage and it was almost black except for a couple of recessed ceiling lights out over the audience chairs. There was Gabi, Linda, Emily, Don, Shawn Decker, Ronda, and -- lord, I know I've left someone out (please forgive me) and also a woman named Sarah and her friend, Dan (I think his name was Dan).Sarah is a Bonus Round reader who had flown in from Columbus, Ohio with her friend just to see TLS. They both work in a medical facility taking care of patients and Sarah told me that she has had a special affinity for working with patients with AIDS. I remembered that she and I had exchanged some emails, but like many who write me, our notes are infrequent and I only "truly" remembered her when she began reminding me of her story. One of the things she said is that when I have a day where I'm in one of my philosophical moods, or have said something particularly uplifting, she, in her role as social worker, will print out the page and give it to her most critical clients to give them inspiration. (She even said mine was the first website she had ever visited).Anyway, I sat at the little electronic piano, they all gathered, sitting around on the darkened stage and we had our own little private concert. I sang three songs: Connected, The Group, and Going It Alone. It was one of the most beautiful moments of my entire life. All of us clustered in a little "love huddle" - LOL . And you know how vain I am -- I was having the time of my life singing for some of the people I love most in the world (and members of my fan club, I might add) -- people I usually only get to "see" through the web.
Ah, what a privilege to be living in the bonus round.
Sunday, May 11, 1997 - Tuesday, May 13
Ticket Boy & Big Reactions.BIG REACTIONS:
As of Monday night, we have had five performances and five standing ovations. Two of the shows were stacked with friends and three of them were not. The reaction to both was equally enthusiastic. One "big" producer who came on Sunday was astonished that perfect strangers were gasping, screaming and applauding like old fans.
Morgan Rice, the Volunteer Coordinator, at GMHC said the feedback from his clients and volunteers was amazing. He said even the "theatre queens" -- who usually hate everything -- were raving about the show.
On Sunday, a person from a different big producer's office raced into the office at intermission and begged to know if the rights were available. He said he would call his boss and get them down there immediately.
Jerry Talmer, a critic who used to be at the NY Post until Rupert Murdoch broke the union and fired everyone, came this past weekend and loved it. He is an older man who was one of the original writers who formed the Village Voice. So, on Monday he interviewed Jimmy and me for the Villager.
MAGGIE THE SCOT:
Mean Mike's friend, Margaret from Scotland, is here. Maggie, I call her.
Maggie has been getting these diary pages by e-mail and she has had a blast reading about her friends putting on a new show. I ran one of her letters here once. Remember, she was the one who said Mike Wills should be called "Wonderful" Mike, not Mean Mike. Poor deluded woman.
Do you remember when Mean Mike ridiculed my Scottish accent? Well, he forced me to perform it in front of Maggie today and, fully expecting Maggie to pass clean out, Maggie instead said, "I think he's got a bit o' the Highlands." Mean Mike was appropriately humiliated.
Meanwhile, I got this letter from Sarah, the social worker from Columbus, Ohio who flew in this past weekend and who saw the little intimate "family" concert Saturday night after the show.
SARAH AT THE MIDNIGHT CONCERT:Hi Steve.A BIG SCARE: I've told about my friend, Jerry, sick at home in El Lay hooked up to IVs and meters. He had planned on having his own little ceremony to celebrate the opening of TLS by setting his alarm for 8pm and having the Bonus Round CD automatically come on. I have to warn you, it's a bit difficult to read because he's taking medications. I didn't correct the spelling:
It's me, Sarah. I'm back in Columbus Ohio. It's a little after midnight and I couldn't go to bed without first writing to let you know how awed I am by my experience Saturday night. I feel like I have been reading a novel for the past 4 months and all of the "characters" (Jim, Gabi, Shaun and so many of your very special cyperpals...) just came to life right before my very eyes. So strange how I felt they were old friends. As if seeing TLS and meeting you in person were not enough, I can't tell you how honored I was to have been among such close and special friends during your "private performance." I will cherish that moment always. I wrote in my own journal Saturday night/ Sunday morning until 4 am. I woke up again at 6 and told Dan that I had just had the most amazing dream. He smiled and told me that I wasn't dreaming. I'm so glad.
I do feel truly "connected." Thank you for giving me a gift that I will always treasure.
I'll be in touch.
Love, SarahI couldn't get to New Your for the openning so I planned my own here.I gone to the doc's two of them and they had each given me some new. Nothing really to write home about. Well I went home and took them and all the others and layed down for a nap.His doctor had given him some new drugs earlier that day. So, he took his new medications and went into some kind of coma. Then, when the alarms went off, the CD began playing loudly, but he didn't wake. His neighbor heard all the noise, found him, revived him and got him back into the hospital. Jerry called me the next day and said that if not for the opening and all the alarms and the music, he would have died.
The guy next door was trying to wake me, my alarlms clocks were going off, my O2 wasn't going a because there was no need for it, "My Friendly Fire" was taken its toll. BUT YOUR CD WAS PLAYING LOUD AND CLEAR.
I'm back in the hospital and doing pretty good..........but I did make the opening.
Tonight, I had another surprise visitor. My friend, David Bohnett came to see TLS. David is the CEO of Geocities, where my home page is hosted. He said he loved the show and I told him that I would not be here at this time if not for the free home pages they give out.
Also, remember friend with whom I had the big fight a couple of weeks ago? She came tonight with her parents and a freelance music writer. The writer loved TLS but my friend, of course, said she had "some comments." I laughed and asked her parents if they liked the show. They said they loved it, so I gave her mother a free CD (for Mother's Day) and got permission to ignore "her" completely. *CHORTLE*
Oh, the reason I labeled this diary entry "Ticketboy" is because I've been sitting in the Currican office for two days taking ticket orders. Yes, the composer will even man the phones!
Now, is that dedication or not?
Wednesday, May 14 & Thursday May 15, 1997
Moving to the Gershwin.Well, everyone decided that Jimmy and I needed to vacate Mean Mike's tiny apartment for awhile because we are "The World's Worst Houseguests." Actually, only Jimmy is the world's worst houseguest. I'm a perfect angel if you don't mind stacks of papers, clothes on the floor, dishes in the sink, half empty bottles of water everywhere, and your phone line tied up for hours.
Our friend, Jamie got on the phone and tried calling every hotel in NYC, but nothing was available except a little hotel on 27th near the Currican called The Gershwin. We heard about the Gershwin from Mean Mike because they had once sent the Currican a postcard inviting them to house actors and others there. They even have a website.
Well, how do I explain The Gershwin? It's very clean and totally funky. The lobby, such as it is, has mod furniture that comes right out of a sixties sitcom: wavy chairs, psychedelic floor lamps in bright primal colors with mod murals in the hallway entrance. The elevator we took to our room was one of those ancient models where there's an operator pushing a brass handle back and forth.
Our room looks a bit like a hospital version of the Ricardo's bedroom. There are twin beds separated by a little bedside table painted mod green with gold swirly things. The walls are yellow. There's a mural of a woman singing just over my bed, a TV up in the corner, and one light fixture:a circular florescent bulb centered in the ceiling which casts a nice unearthly blue glow. Very X-Files.All night long, when people asked us how our room was, we just smiled beatifically and said, "It's perfect. It's exactly what we deserve."
Because it is. They even gave us two towels and a teensy bottle of shampoo. It's also full of drop dead gorgeous young European tourists (male and female) and who can complain about that? Unfortunately, they only had two nights open so after Friday night, we're out on the street again. And just so you know: Mike has already told us we're more than welcome back at his place. He wasn't the one who invited us to leave. It was more everyone else thinking we were driving him crazy.
Us? Driving someone crazy? How could that happen?
Tonight we had a smaller house than last week. (All of our friends have flown back home and the "Opening night" excitement has begun to fade.) What was interesting was that tonight the audience consisted of theatre insiders, producers, someone from CBS radio, and other media people who have heard by word of mouth that something extraordinary is going on. (Remember, the Currican has no budget, so there are no advertisements or "real" publicity yet -- this is a totally homegrown event.)
So, they were a quieter bunch tonight, as if they were analyzing it as much as watching it. But then they'd break out into howls of laughter at Jim's wonderful dialogue or cry their eyes out during Going It Alone. All the songs got extended rounds of applause and once again, at the end:A STANDING OVATION (seven in a row now)And trust me: when you get a standing ovation from "cool" theatre people, it's the equivalent of a stadium full of people screaming their lungs out. For the cast, it was a good performance, if a bit rocky in just a few places. Understandable, though, it was their first performance after two days off, and also Jimmy made some big cuts in some of the scenes -- the kind of tightening one normally does during this kind of development process. In a way we're doing an "out of town tryout" right in the middle of the city.
Particularly good tonight was Grace Garland as the Diva. She's such a good comedienne, actress and singer. But sometimes I think she doesn't trust her own talent and feels she must "perform." Not tonight, though. Tonight when she sang, she just allowed herself to get into the songs and let the audience come to her. And she mesmorized everyone.
Binky was good tonight too. After the show, I realized why: his agent was here! It was also his birthday, so as soon as he came into the lobby, Jeffrey came out with a Baskin Robbins ice cream cake full of candles and we all sang and laughed together.
I'm sorry I haven't posted pictures, but I don't have a scanner and can't afford to rent time on one. I'll get to it soon. I promise. But here are pictures Gabi took.You got to see this set and these faces. They're too wonderful to miss. Meanwhile, you can see the "new postcard." It was sent by my friend, Karl who drew the picture of Louie, my IV tree, from last summer. He said he found this in an archive from an ancient expedition:
Friday, May 16, 1997
TKTS Boy Strikes Manhattan!Right in the middle of Times Square there is a little triangle shaped "island" where two big thoroughfares, both going south, more or less come together. On this little island there is a red booth that sells discount tickets to the big Broadway and off-Broadway shows. Sometimes the reduction is 25% -- sometimes 50%. People who want to see the big shows stand in two lines that trail back to the point of the triangle. Sometimes they won't even know which shows are going to be available until they get to the head of the line.
While people are waiting in line, they are "accosted" by pamphleteers trying to lure them into restaurants or other smaller shows that don't get on the "big board." The people in line sometimes listen, sometimes ignore, sometimes can't speak English, but the TKTS booth is a tradition that has been around since the very first time I ever came to New York City.
Well, yesterday I was doing an errand for the Currican by running some pictures to the New York Times on 43rd street when I suddenly had this "brill" idea. I would go to a copy store, make some fliers and hand them out! Why not? I've done everything else I know how to do to get people to know we're here, haven't I?
So, I made a few hundred half page fliers and walked down to the TKTS booth. It was pandemonium. Here I was a total virgin to this process competing with people who actually get paid a lot of money for their skills in the art of "luring." One lady was dressed in a coffin costume, there was a clown, some cute "theatrical" types who are completely indescribable, and then there was me.
At first, I was kinda shy. I'd walk down the line holding a flier and saying stuff like, "15 DOLLAR MUSICAL!! If you wait too long, you'll have to pay FIFTY DOLLORS MORE!!" People would just back away from me. It was hilarious.
Soon, though, I figured out how to be more charming aned less idiotic. I also figured out that many of the people in line didn't speak English. *DUH* One group of women thought I was cute and they were asking a lot of questions. I said the music was really good. They said, "Really?" And I said, "I should know. I wrote it!" So they had me autograph the flier!!
Standing in line at the TKTS booth autographing fliers for TLS. Ya gotta love that!! (I must sound like a lunatic...)
MORE HATE IN THE NAME OF LOVE:
Here's an article about gay youth you might be interested in. It's all about the unholy war being waged against young people by the likes of Pat Robertson, who seizes every bigoted opportunity to make a buck off of hate. Well, as Jimmy says, we should all do what we do best.
Well, as much fun as this has all been, it has also been very stressful for me and I am exhausted, both physically and emotionally. On Tuesday, Jimmy and I fly back to El Lay for some rest and relaxation. We need it. I also want to see Thurber the Cat and all my friends out there. So, if you're a friend of mine and you're in El Lay, call me! I'd love to connect. Last night's house, by the way, was another good one and we had our sixth standing ovation.
Saturday, May 17, 1997
6000 Cats.Today, it felt like 6000 sleeping cats were lying on me. Everything in my body felt heavy and my mind was swimming like a old lava lamp. Just before rehearsal, I told "Andbob" how I was feeling and when he asked me why. I told him it was just stress and work, some of it private. He said, "You have a private life?"
I took a look at him and said, "Oh, good point."
But, honestly, today I was the walking dead.
We are going to be visited by some very big wigs Sunday night and Monday night, apparently. So, we hope that will turn into something which will give us a future. Financially, Jimmy and I are literally running on fumes these days. We moved back into Mike's apartment today and on Tuesday, we go back to El Lay to face a stack of overdue bills and that's scary. But, that's life, isn't it?
The cast was on a roll tonight. They were all brilliant and are settling nicely into the script (which is about 10 minutes shorter after Jimmy's cuts). We're still fiddlin' with Friendly Fire, but tonight I think we finally found the right arrangement of elements.
The audience tonight (mostly strangers again) was just knocked out by the show and we had another standing ovation, so we're batting a thousand -- and no, none of us are in the front row "making" them stand by leading off the ovation.
At least two "friends" of the Currican have reported being emotionally ripped to shreds by TLS because they have, or are battling, hardcore religious fanatic relatives. One said he has a brother who told him that even "working with" homosexuals would put him in hell.
The strains of bigotry and hate reverberate in so many families. But what really has moved us is how deeply these wounds are felt -- and how honest the conflict in TLS must be. How awful it is for otherwise good people to be so blinded by hypocrisy and hate. Can they not see the harm they are producing? The pain they inflict? I guess they either cannot see it or do not care. It makes me realize all the more how lucky I am to have the family that I have.
Sunday, May 18 thru Tuesday, May 20, 1997
The End Of Book Four.It is Tuesday morning. I am down at the Currican Theatre and it has suddenly dawned upon me that since we are no longer "off off Broadway bound" -- having already arrived and opened -- that it is time to close this chapter of "The Diary of Steve S." (Can it have all happened this quickly?)
Last night, Peter Marks, the critic from the New York Times arrived to review THE LAST SESSION. Do you remember how, in the beginning, I expressed doubts that we would even be noticed by the Times (or anyone else for that matter)? Well, we got noticed. Also attending last night's thoroughly sold out performance was Cynthia Tornquist from CNN. While I didn't speak to Peter after the show, I did speak to Cynthia and she enthusiastically wanted to know everything -- how we wrote it, what the whole story is behind "the making of..." etc.
We also had representatives from most of the major theatrical production companies (the Weislers, the Nederlanders, Jay Cardwell of "Nunsense" fame), a movie producer (Michael Alden, who produced "Michael" -- the John Travolta as angel movie -- and "Unzipped" about the fashion designer Israhi) and other assorted media people. I spoke to Michael about doing a documentary on my own personal story and how we got to New York in the first place. (Thus setting up new "storylines" for Book Five...).
But the big one, as always, is the New York Times. Now it's a waiting game. Mean Mike Wills, our director who has thrown his whole heart and life into this project at sometimes great personal sacrifice, sat in the office afterwards and said, "This is like the Olympics. You work and work, and then in one night, you have to prove yourself, hoping the judge will give you a '10.'"
Last night, the show raced across the stage like a house afire. With the cast truly settling into the new cuts, the play seemed to blast into overdrive. The packed room veered wildly between stunned silences, painful tears and outrageous laughter. And once again -- our tenth in a row -- an enthusiastic standing ovation accompanied by shouts and cheers.
Last night also, Bob Stillman turned in the performance of a lifetime as Gideon. Cynthia Tornquist said afterwards that he had an amazing "angelic" voice. I told her that was precisely the word I had used describing him in the diary here. He did things last night I had never heard. She also was happy to get a CD expressing a desire to hear "the original demos."
So, it's up to the fates and the gods now. We have done our work. The cast has risen to the occasion. The Currican has delivered the kind of production most authors only dream of. And now, Jimmy and I, exhausted, elated, thankful beyond any measure, will return to our little home and Thurber the Cat -- and we will sleep.
I will be getting new blood tests and seeing Dr. Ellie, but staying on alert for any new developments in the ongoing drama of THE LAST SESSION. While this spells the end of a lovely and wonderful time, it is only the beginning for me and Jimmy, whether TLS moves to Broadway and becomes a movie and worldwide sensation, or whether it becomes a beautiful memory in our own personal scrapbook.
My life does not begin and end with TLS. It begins and ends with the knowledge that dreams have been fulfilled, lives have been changed, music has been shared, and that I have been here to see it all.
In the song The Group, Gideon sings, "...and I had water, I was the only one with water, and I couldn't spare a drop of it to drink." He's singing about how he, upon entering the group therapy session felt alone and dying -- but how, upon hearing everyone else's sad stories, he realized how rich he truly was simply because he had a family that loved him and friends who really cared about him.
And that's the bottom line for me. Though I can be petulant, selfish, self-involved, self-centered, caustic, mean and lazy to name only a few of my more endearing qualities, my friends and family (and Jim) seem to forgive all these things. And they aren't afraid to scold me or spank me back onto the right path when I veer from the goals I have set for myself.
People who write me or about me often comment that I am not afraid to take the blame when I am wrong, nor am I shy to reveal my own idiocies, fallacies and weaknesses. Perhaps it is a southern thing -- the ability to laugh at oneself and to see the fool that lives behind the noble mask and righteous facade.
Myself, I credit The Preacher and the Nurse, my mom and dad for always seeming to have a clear perspective on what is right and wrong. They always seemed to know that caring about their family and church members was more important than having wealth or fame or a big congregation.
In the song Preacher and the Nurse, we tell the story of a very humble man, my father, who built a tiny congregation into a large one; who with his own two hands built a new church plant, and then resigned because he felt he was a more capable "pastor" with a small group of people than a large one. He always felt his mission in life was to stay close to the roots and tend to the people where they were at their weakest and poorest.
I compare that to the Pat Robertsons and the Jerry Falwells who seem to care about nothing except stripping gay children of safe school environments, railing against other human beings, and glorifying themselves with millions and millions of dollars at the expense of widows and retirees like my great grandmother who died penniless, but whose apartment was stacked with "premiums," "gifts," and immoral fundraising letters from these monstrous leeches.
I wrote in that song, "I know I'll never be the kind of man my father was...but I barely have the strength of just one man, so I'll write my songs and do the best I can." To be very candid, my friend, it saddens them that I do not "write hymns anymore" as Gideon says. It saddens them that I have AIDS and that TLS is my life story and not someone else's but each of us has to make our own best contribution in the way we know how using the talents we have been given at birth.
People leave TLS with joyful tears in their eyes. One man said to me two nights ago that his life has been changed forever by "the Last Session experience." In fact, "The Last Session Experience" is a phrase that keeps popping up over and over again by people who do not know each other and who have not compared notes -- but who have been profoundly moved and changed.
If, in writing this piece, Jim Brochu and I will have lowered the level of hate and increased the amount of compassion we all have for one another, we will have done more than we ever dreamed possible. We did not write TLS to get rich. We wrote it as a legacy from a dying man who wanted to just leave one last mark upon the earth.
But fate has intervened and brought it to a place most people only fantasize about. Back home, Jimmy is going to start writing a book about this whole experience from his point of view. I myself will hug my cat, revisit my friends like David Robyn & Paul Zollo & Nik Venet & Harriet -- & the gang down at National Academy 0f Songwriters, who helped make all this possible by producing our first staged reading.
But, mostly, I'm going to obey my friends' direct orders and sleep, eat tons of Jimmy's good cooking, restore my body to health, take my blood tests, look at the new therapies and generally look under the hood and tighten all the bolts.
Before I take off, though, I want to thank you for continuing to read along and share this experience. It's never as much fun to do things in isolation as it is to do with with a group (unless you're traveling), and just knowing you're there makes a huge difference to me, whether I've told you so or not.I also want to thank "Mean" Mike Wills, Andrew Miller, Jeffrey Dewhurst & Amy Kiehl back here at the Currican; and "Flamin'" Amy Colman, "Diva" Grace Garland, "Butterboy" Dean Bradshaw, Stephen "Binky" Bienskie, and "AndBob" Bob Stillman and Andrew "Momo" Totolos -- all of whom, with designers & contributors Michael Gaylord, Eric Lowell Renschler, Michael Gottlieb, Andrew Keister, Charles Rosen, Manuel Igrejas, Annette Kurek, & Renee "Froderick" French turned our dream project into a fantasy come true. Also, on my thanks list is Don Kirkpatrick, Kim & Ronda Espy, Loretta Munoz & ASCAP, NAS, Rue McClanahan, Kathleen Capper, The Zephyr Theatre, Firehouse Productions, Gary Guidinger, Linda Toliver and Irene Oppenheim.I would enjoy getting feedback from you, oh reader o' mine. I've been writing like crazy and documenting all this, so it's your turn. I would love to hear your questions, hear your comments, and know what has been going through your collective (and individual) minds all this time. Next time I write to you, I'll be back in El Lay.
Wednesday, May 21 thru Thursday, May 22, 1997
Book Four Epilogue I: Crash and Burn.It's early Thursday morning as I write this. For the first time in a very long time, I am parked in front of my own computer. I had a very rough night last night. It began with leg cramps that had me flying out of bed, scaring Jimmy to death. (It's still very sore.) And it ended with me having massive cold chills and a terrific sore throat.
For a few days, my voice had been getting "low," and I had developed a little scratchy cough, but last night I was in a lot of pain and I was shaking from the cold. So, I layed there in the bed for awhile hoping it would go away. When I didn't, I got up and made myself a very hot bath -- and I laid there for about an hour until I felt better.
I think I have strep throat. And Dr. Ellie's in Germany. While he does travel a lot, we have this timing thing going on where everytime I get sick, he's out of the country.
Yesterday, Wednesday, I drove down to Santa Monica and had them draw a couple gallons of blood from my arm. I never even felt the needle. (*Blood-drawing tip: When you have to have blood drawn, drink lots and lots of water before going in.*)
Last night, Jimmy and I went to NAS' Salute concert at the Hollywood Palace. It was there that I began to really feel bad and we left way early. We did, however, get a chance to talk to all of our songwriter friends and tell them all the exciting news about NY. They were all very happy for us and enthused about having watched it grow from a concert to a workshop to a full production.
TIME FOR RECOVERY:
Anyway, I'm going to find a local clinic and get treated. Then I'm going to take some long days off in bed, tending to myself and recovering. I hope you don't mind if I take a few days off from this diary, too. I'm very anxious to begin Book Five, which will start when I get back to New York (next week unless I'm sick still).
And please don't worry about me. I've been through much worse than this, and I promise I'll be back in full swing as soon as possible.
Friday, May 23, 1997
Silly People & Meatloaf.People who have been involved with THE LAST SESSION have been panicking over the fact that I ended Book Four, as if life was also going to end. Can they really be scared about what will come in Book Five? or did they have such a great time in Book Four, they fear all the good times will now end? Silly people...(Getting people into the Bonus Round is a more difficult task than I remembered.)Maybe I should stop calling them "books" and start calling them "rounds." (Now it's time for Round Five!) Who knows. All I'm saying here is that everyone should just calm down and realize that at this point, we are between buzzers -- giving ourselves time to breathe -- and to simply enjoy our downtime a little bit.
Out with the bad air, in with the good air...
REST & RECOVERY:
Yesterday I spent all morning on the couch, sleeping a little. Reading a little. Then, Jimmy drove me to Tarzana to see my ear nose and throat doctor who told me that there was a lot of strep throat going around. My mom and brother, Scott, in Texas, have apparently had to deal with it, too. My mom also had some nasal surgery recently along with some complications from infections. (thinking of you mom).
Dr. Pleet prescribed a Z-Pack ($50) and said to stay in bed for a few days. So, Jimmy and I went to Blockbuster and rented some videos. Then I plopped down in bed and watched a Brad Renfro movie (I love Brad Renfro after seeing him in "The Cure" where he beat up the bullies who were picking on the kid with HIV). It was the latest one with Dustin Hoffman and Robert DeNiro. It was okay but there wasn't nearly enough Brad.
At 7pm, Jimmy came into the bedroom with the most incredible home cooked meal ever! It was meatloaf (cooked to death so there was lots of semi-burnt crunchy stuff around the edges -- my favorite part), mashed potatoes, peas, cream "gravery" (as he calls it). And ice cream bars for dessert. We ate until we couldn't move.
Then we put on 101 Dalmations, which I found horribly boring, so I drifted in and out of sleep until 9:30, at which time I completely crashed into a long night's sleep.
NOTE TO KC:
I got your note in my guestbook and I appreciate your love and concern. Your apology to me was completely unnecessary as I have found you to be nothing less than a perfect gentleman. Good luck with your project up in Canada. I hope to see you soon. Thanks for supporting TLS. Now is the most crucial time for us as you already know.
Saturday, May 24, 1997
Steve S: The Video Game!THE STREP:
Well, I'm doing better, but can't say anything. My throat is less sore, but my voice is completely gone. I've also been scolded by Radec, a cyberpal, who thinks I shouldn't even be here at this computer. Look, I took my Zithromax like a good boy and I haven't left this apartment, so stop worrying.
Well, I have fans now who are clamoring for us to do something with the music from TLS. The big brainstorm this week is to do a dance remix version of Friendly Fire for circulation in the big dance clubs in New York (using instruments from Geman carbaret). When I suggested this ideas to Nik Venet, he told I should go stand in a mirror and say it ten times.
These people. They have no imaginations whatsoever.
Also, people who have seen the play want a full length version of "Shades of Blue." The characters use it to do their sound check, but they only sing the chorus, not the full song. Hey! This might be the first musical with a hit single of a song that doesn't actually appear in the play! Sorta like those movies that have "soundtracks" full of songs "suggested by" the movie. Well, I did love the "Dead Man Walking" soundtrack, so who knows...
DEFINING BOOK FIVE:
Mean Mike Wills, Director par Excellence wrote me with an idea regarding Book Five. After I began talking about it yesterday, questioning whether I should label them "books" or not, he sent this:They should be called "levels". We should be entering "Level 5". That's the way it's done in a computer game. Which for some people who do nothing but your diary, all this must look like a computer game to them. To reach the next level, you have to achieve something in the current level. What do you think?What do I think? Well, let's see. First you suggested my readers don't have lives. Ya hear that, Dr. Dorsey, who won "Patent of the Year" for Crixivan? Mike thinks you don't have a life!
As for your idea: You're suggesting we establish ground rules and that we leave people behind if they don't "achieve?" Oh, Mean Mike, I think I'm going to have to change your name to something softer or people will think you're evil....
But, just to keep an open mind, you are correct. I have ended each of these books at a moment of "achievement," I suppose. I didn't really plan it that way. It just happened very conveniently.
At the end of Book -- "Level" -- One, we had just successfully finished an impossible task: a workshop in El Lay which played to standing room only audiences! That fits. Book Two ended just as we finished our New York staged reading this past fall. Perfect. Book Three ended when.. oh. I didn't really do anything during Book Three except rest and get ready for Book Four.
Does that mean I don't qualify to be in "Level Five" at all? And that Level Four was actually just a long drawn-out Level Three? This starts to get very confusing, Mike old man.I don't know. That just sounds like too much work. Who would ever believe anything like that?
Dear Video Game Programmers:
Just to let you know that if you want the rights to
STEVE S: THE VIDEO GAME
I am absolutely up for sale.
Let's see, on Level One, you have to survive the horrors of
(EXCELLENT GROSS OUT FACTOR
for the kiddies to enjoy). You are attacked by
LETHAL BACK UP SINGERS
with tiny syringes, and you take little pills of d4T and 3tc for extra energy points. All the while, you are trying to get to the
GOLDEN PROTEASE INHIBITOR
so you can live long enough and have enough energy to star in
THE HIT WORKSHOP
of your musical.
I liked what Sarah in Columbus said:
That this diary is like a LIVING NOVEL -- how meeting all of us at the theatre was like watching a storybook come to life. Suddenly, all these characters became actual living, breathing human beings.
Isn't this a little like Tennessee Tuxedo and the Way Back Machine? (Except we're not in the past?).
Are we mythical yet? We can pretend to be!
[ Book 3 ] - [ Part 1 ] [ Part 2 ] [ Part 3 ] - [ Book 5 ]
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© 1996 - 2001 by Steve Schalchlin