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Sunday, August 3, 1997
Safely Back in NY.
I don't have time to update all the goings on of the past two days, but I will do it soon. Suffice it to say that I have arrived safely and happily in New York.
Monday, August 4, 1997
A Long, Long Weekend...Friday:
Nightmare at Tower Airlines. I won't tell the whole dreary story, but I did NOT make my flight. It also exhausted me so badly, I went home, dropped onto the couch and didn't move the rest of the day or night.
Got to the ticket counter right when the opened to assure myself a seat. Brought along a big ol' empty notebook and did some writing. Got into Manhattan and made it to our new digs about 10pm.
Finally saw the "new" TLS and am greatly impressed with the new dialogue and changes. I mean, essentially, it's the same play, but there is much more characterization and it's fun to learn more about these wonderful characters onstage.
It was great to see Jimmy, but -- well, perhaps you know how it is -- you haven't seen someone in a month and it's as if you're strangers and have to get reacquainted all over again. By Monday night, though, we were back to "normal," watching TV and eating a good ol' Jim-meal (his famous slumgullion).
It's great to be back seeing the show, of course, but I also have mixed emotions about being back here in New York. I love the city, of course, but -- well -- I have to be frank. I'm hesitant to do so because it's personally embarrassing, but here we go: Jimmy and I are totally broke. (And NO I do not accept conributions, so don't ask). It's just a fact.
My friend, Bobby Cox, said it's very romantic, this picture that's been painted of what's happening to us with the show being in NY and us flying coast to coast. And I don't want to seem like a crybaby or ungrateful for all we do have, but facts is facts. And being in this city is not helpful.
Luckily, we do have a nice place to live. Someone who knows someone who knows one of the producers had an empty apartment available for the month of August, so at least we're not being bounced around from room to room, and we're near Times Square -- so that's really cool!
Tuesday - Wednesday, August 5-6, 1997
Jim Gets His Tony.[Note: My computer access is severely limited still, and I have not figured out my email-send problems. Please write me in the guestbook if you want a response. I'm happy to do so.]TLS BIZ:
This morning, Jimmy and I met with Keith Sherman and Kevin Rehac, who are doing public relations for TLS. Like most of the people related to this project, they are doing much of their work on a deferred basis because of how strongly they believe in it. (They promote the Tony Awards and other high profile clients.)
Since this was my first time to meet them, I was really stunned at how passionate they were. For them, as for others who are involved in this show, they don't see this so much as "another job" as much as they see it as a "cause." They feel like this is a important work that *must* be seen.
As a songwriter, I'm supposed to be good at describing my feelings, but I cannot describe how overwhelmed I was at their boundless enthusiasm and spirit. It just filled me with renewed energy.
After that Jimmy and I went to see -- well, let me describe what happened, first:While I was still in El Lay, Jimmy told me of a tall man in his late 50s who came to see The Last Session back here in NY. At intermission, he came out and he looked absolutely white. He even went to the box office, told them that it was one of the most powerful experiences in his life and made a $200 donation.So, today we went to his office and he just threw his arms around me this time, effusively praising my music and songs. After we sat down, he pulled a "genuine" Tony Award from his desk and gave it to Jimmy (to look at). The look on Jimmy's face was priceless. As a man who's spent his whole life in the theatre, he was overwhelmed by the whole experience.
After the show, he grabbed one of our producers and told him he was "speechless." The producer introduced him to Jimmy as "the playwright." The man threw his arms around Jimmy and openly wept on Jimmy's shoulder. Then he said, "This is why I'm in the theatre; to see things like this happen." Then he gave Jimmy his card on the way out the door:
Bob Callely, Executive Director of the American Theatre Wing -- the organization that gives out the Tony Awards.
Tonight was one of the most magnificent performances of TLS I can remember. It was just stunning. The new scenes are so funny and add so much to what's already there. Tomorrow, Jamie (producer) is taking Jimmy and me to see several off-Broadway theatres that are possibilities for the move.
Anyway, I'm still catching up on things and my computer access is extremely limited, so please give forgive me if I am unable to respond to emails presently.
Thursday - Friday, August 7-8, 1997
The Big Signing & The Big Choice.Today, Friday, we signed the agreement giving Carl, Jamie, Jay and Michael the rights to produce TLS as a full off-Broadway production. They are not compelled to produce it, but they have the exclusive rights to do so. It was really exciting to be up in the offices of Mitch Douglas, who used to represent Tennessee Williams (and who now represents us). After we signed the contracts, he leaned over and said, "I'm going to make a lot of money off of you." And I said, "From your mouth to Godzilla. I hope I get to bring it to you in wheelbarrels."
Without Mitch having accepted us as a commissioned client, we would never have been able to afford the lawyers fees to negotiate this very compicated contract. CHOOSING TO LIVE:
The changes in the book for TLS have really brought the show up to date and clarified many issues, especially the ones surrounding Gideon's intended suicide. Survival Site reader Rob from Canada, who works a suicide hotline, sent Jimmy and me a great email detailing the "reasons" why someone would decide to kill themselves and it has brought a new clarity to Gideon because Jimmy has incorporated this new reality.
It really comes down to this: Even if the new drugs work for you, you still have to make the choice about whether you even *want* to live.
If you've ever been in a car wreck -- and I've talked to others about this, so I know it just isn't me -- but the moment just after you know you've lost complete control of the car until you actually hit something... well, it's a strange peaceful moment where you just kinda give it all up. The inevitable is about to happen, there's nothing you can do to stop it, so all your worries just kinda fly out the window. Essentially, you just put yourself into God's hands and let it just happen.
That's what it felt like for me when I really and truly believed I was going to die and there was nothing I could do about it.
After you hit the tree or other car or whatever, and you realize you've lived through it, the whole rest of your life and worries suddenly descend. (What's this going to do to my car insurance? I wonder if I've lost any body parts? Will the hospital have a good doctor? What's this going to do to my health insurance? Am I going to be crippled? In bed? ETC ETC ETC).
You remember a couple of days ago I was whining about being "broke." It's more than that, really. It's not just about paying bills. It's about trying to make a living, paying back the IRS, the credit cards we used for food way back when, the rent -- and all this is complicated by the fact that, for many people living with AIDS, going back to work means losing your state health insurance, losing your SSI -- and, really, being penalized for being productive.
Think about it: If your AIDS meds cost $2000 a month and your insurance has been long cancelled, what kind of job can you get that will pay enough to make those kinds of payments? Or which employer will allow a person with AIDS to go onto their medical plan? And what do you do during the "wait" period even if you do get accepted?
I mention these things only as examples of the kinds of "post car crash" reality facing people now living The Life of Lazaurus. And that doesn't even begin to address the fear that, assuming the drugs worked for you at all, they might fail at some point.
I spent about three years with hideous diarrhea, wearing diapers, trying to have "one good day" in a row, vomiting, and enduring constant nausea. If the drugs fail me, am I doomed to another three years of the same thing? The very thought of it makes my blood run cold.
It probably seems ungrateful to even question the gift of "not dying," but sometimes I feel like a Viet Nam veteran home from war. One day he's in a swamp surrounded by a faceless enemy watching his buddies get blown apart; and the next day he's listening to his kids scream about which TV show to watch. Is he ungrateful about not having to be in that swamp if he cannot handle life at home?
I think many of us suffer a kind of post-traumatic syndrome because reality has been massively altered. I'm one of the extremely lucky few. Although my immune system is severly impaired and not rebuilding at the speed many others have seen, at least the drugs are working for me (for now). And, in TLS, I have a wonderful opportunity to actually make a living and pulling myself out of financial ruin. No promises, of course, just a possibility.
Sitting there Mitch's office signing that paper was a major milestone for Jimmy and me -- the kind of fantasy scene most songwriters and playwrights dream of: Someone wants to produce our play in New York in a major off-Broadway theatre. But, the real work still lies ahead -- finding a theatre, marketing a so-called "AIDS play," promoting, funding... and the knowledge that most shows fail.
But, there's hope.
Last night, Loretta Munoz, the head of the ASCAP office here in NY came to see the show for the first time since the original reading a year and a half ago. After the show, she threw her arms around Jimmy and sobbed for five minutes. At dinner afterward, she told me she had had a particularly stressful week and was really questioning whether she could continue.
But she told me that seeing our show completely renewed her and reminded her of the power of song, the power of theatre.
I have chosen to live.
For me it seems like a simple answer. I wouldn't miss any of this for all the money in the world. But for many others, it's not that simple. As Gideon says in the play, "I'm tired of this disease controlling me. Tired of hospitals and doctors and tests and pills and well-meaning people telling me to hang on..."
Jimmy told me yesterday that when I began getting sick, he also had a moment. He had watched his father die of lung cancer after nursing him for several years. The thought of going through it all again only to watch me die of AIDS was more than he could bear.
Well, I've gone on long enough. All these things were on my mind and I needed to just say them out loud.
Saturday, August 9, 1997
It Ain't Done Until the Lawyer Cries.This has been one of the most exciting days of my entire life and so if I sound a bit like a maniac, you'll just have to bear with me.
I received a wonderful letter from "Nurse Sarah" who told me she had shared the thoughts in yesterday's diary with her AIDS patients.Just wanted to let you know that the August 7-8 entry will make a difference in the lives of many of my patients. I continue to share your story in my work. Your words inspire us all.I also received a note from the parents of a 16 year old boy in Arkansas who had to withdraw their son from public school because of gay bashing. They read my correspondence with Linda George from last year when she was facing a similar emergency and they wanted to express their gratitude to me.
But what they did that went beyond the call of duty was, after their boy entered college, they went back to the public schools and they initiated Arkansas' first program to stop harrassment of gay kids in the school system. So, not only did they save their own son's life and give him confidence and love, but they went the extra mile to help others. These are the people who change the world.
The other personal high for me was my beloved "first angel" Don Kirkpatrick came into town.
Tonight was probably the very best performance of THE LAST SESSION *ever.* It was a combination of things. First of all, Jimmy and I made a couple of surgical cuts in the second act that dramatically propelled the show along. Secondly, the cast was at the top of their form. Thirdly, the audience was at the top of its form, alternately laughing their guts out and then crying their guts out. Fourthly:
Tonight, the producers gathered the cast together after the show and announced to them that TLS will officially close at the Currican on August 31st in order to re-open in early October at an off-Broadway house! Now, between you and me, all the papers are not signed and so this announcement is still not "official," as in a press release. I'm just keeping you informed so you'll be the first to know!
Fifthly, tonight one of the hard-nosed lawyers involved in the show sat in the audience and cried. So, :) TLS is officially "done." After all that fixing and changing and adding songs, etc. the show is now what it ever shall be. I'm not saying we won't be tinkering here and there, but it's essentially done. It says and does everything we ever dreamed of.
One of my readers wrote and said she loved it when I addressed you, reader, as my "family." She said she loves that I consider her and you part of my family. Well, it is thrilling for me that you are "here" to share all the news -- good and bad -- with me.
As "Singer and the Song" (the new song in our show) says, "No one is promised even one more day..." After the show last night, I went up to each cast member and I told them how honored I was that they gave us their talent and time. I told them when I feel this way, I don't wait until tomorrow or tomorrow's tomorrow to express it. Nothing is guaranteed. All the power is in the moment.
*now we cross our fingers and pray it all works out*
Sunday, August 10, 1997
The Singing Crusaders.Sunday's performances of TLS were, once again, amazing. At the matinee, they had to put in extra chairs because more people showed up than had reservations. The show is really beginning to play to capacity crowds now, which is pretty amazing considering this is August and there's not on paid advertisement in any paper or magazine anywhere in town.
There were two groups in who were mostly "old folks" as my grandmother would say. One of the Currican managers says he usually dreads these groups because they talk during the show, open candy wrappers and complain a lot. Well, during TLS they sat stone quiet. And after Friendly Fire, Stephen Bienskie delivers a short speech about how a wounded soldier coming off the battlefield doesn't know if he'll survive to see another day, "...but most of all, he doesn't know if he wants to." One precious older voice in the audience just sighed, "Oh..." It was quite touching.
THE SINGING CRUSADERS:
I might have mentioned that there is a little group of high school kids (which Mike Wills has now dubbed "The TLS Crusaders") who hand out fliers at other shows, particularly the RENT line where they hold a lottery for cheap seats. In fact, one of the TLS Crusaders, whose name is Bobby, told me that each day, when he does this, at least one person in that line will ask, "Is this Steve Schalchlin's musical? I read his diary every day!"
Four of the Crusaders attended the show on Sunday night. After the show, I was standing in the lobby when someone grabbed my arm and dragged me into the theatre telling me there was something I had to hear. There in front were three of the Crusaders. They counted down and began singing "Shades of Blue," (a fraction of which appears in TLS) in full harmony. It was beautiful! And it's fantastic that we have a group of young people dedicating time to helping us get the word out about our show.
Monday, August 11, 1997
A Celebration On The Roof.Picture this: It's a spotless summer night in Manhattan. Jimmy and Carl and Jamie and I are standing on the rooftop of a building right on Times Square -- the balcony of the offices of Victor/Victoria. Thousands of lights brilliantly spill forth from billboards running up the sides of buildings. Just to our left is a gigantic TV screen which has to be at least 20 stories high. Below us, thousands of tiny cars flow like a river of light through the crowded streets. We can also see 42nd Street where all the former porno theatres are darkly boarded up and waiting for Disney or someone to come through and complete their renovations.
We stand outside and laugh like college kids fantasizing, "Wouldn't it be cool if we wrote this really great musical and everybody wanted to see it?" Except that instead of fantasizing, it was actually happening. And the reason we were on the roof was that we were celebrating the fact that Jamie and Carl had just signed the contract that Jimmy and I had signed up in Mitch Douglas' office.
They told me some great news. Remember when I mentioned how much of a competition there was for off-Broadway theatres and how each theatre had at least four shows lined up waiting? Well, Carl told me last night that we now have three theatres competing for us. The only thing left for us to do is let the negotiations continue but our October opening is essentially a done deal. The official announcement will appear in the "Fall Preview" edition of the NY Times.
I told Carl about my great big wishes. One was that I wanted Bette Midler to sing Going It Alone at the Grammys -- of course. The other was that I want to do an "all-star" benefit album of songs from TLS which would benefit all the agencies in El Lay that had helped me when I was desperately ill. Aid For AIDS helped pay some electric bills, the Foodbank at APLA had given us sustenance, MusiCares gave us rent money once, and the Society of Singers helped make some car insurance payments and had given us food vouchers. For me, this was payback time. I once vowed I would pay back tenfold what I had received because they came to my rescue when I had no place else to go. And I know all these agencies are now hurting desperately both from government cutbacks and from the terribly mistaken impression that the AIDS crisis is over. I feel a great responsibility to take care of my own community when I am finally able to do so.
Don't get me wrong. I know there are probably a dozen ways in which things could go awry and I know that simply going into a theatre does not guarantee a hit show, but my god, look how far we've come in barely a year. It only speaks to the power of the message of TLS. As Ronda and Jimmy have said from the beginning, The Last Session has dragged us along every step of the way.
After all the papers were signed, the four of us went to Sardi's and sat in the bar and toasted each other. It's been an arduous journey sometimes but mostly it's been a glorious revelation. The lady who told us she had decided not to kill herself after seeing Gideon make the same decision; the patients who had decided to fight the disease rather than give up; the 12 year old who told his friends they would never use the word "fag" anymore in his presence... You can't plan those kinds of reactions. All we have done is tell the truth in as entertaining and straight forward a way as possible.
Miracles. And they say there are no such things as miracles.
Tuesday, August 12, 1997
Wrestling Fantasies & Broadway Shows.Tonight I skipped seeing the show. I was tired after a long day. Mostly I was writing. I'm putting together an op ed piece for Keith Sherman who is now handling the TLS publicity. I also worked on the new song cycle since it will also incorporate this material.
So about 8pm I looked at Jimmy -- we were at the theatre -- and I said I wanted to just go home and sleep. And that's exactly what I did.
My brother Corky writes:Perhaps you should explain in your diary the significance of going from Off Off to Off Broadway and give a small cultural lesson of what it all means to us uneducated, uncivilized folks. We understand things like professional wrestling and free beer. Perhaps now is the time to give a small lesson in the arts.Well, Corky, ummm.... these designations refer to theatre size -- or more specifically, audience size. There's yer wrestling matches in the high school gym and then there's yer professional wrestling matches on pay per view (where they dress in drag and act out latent adolescent homosexual locker room fantasies).
The different theatrical levels indicate a sort of "legitimacy" on a commercial and, possibly, artistic level. If you set up two chairs in your apt. in NY and do a one man play, I think you could call it "off-off-Broadway." (i'm just guessing here)
Here're your levels:1. Broadway.The Currican is an off-off-Broadway house, but it has a reputation for putting on cutting edge theatre like Penn Gillette's (of Penn & Teller) "Recreation" or Richard Thompson's "Hunting Humans" -- and there are other off-off-Broadway houses with similar reputations, but they are usually "launch pads" for commercial productions.
The Off-Broadway level is now considered to be completely legitimate. In fact, they're considering allowing off-Broadway houses to be eligible for Tonys. (Only Broadway shows are currently eligible.) One kind of cool thing about off-Broadway as opposed to Broadway is that big Broadway shows are perceived by many to be the stage equivalent to big Hollywood movies -- deliberately designed for mass audience appeal, but with possibly less artistic value.
ANYHOO, the point is that being in an off-Broadway house gives us industry "legitimacy" (whatever that means) and greatly increases the possibilities of bringing TLS to other cities, including London and Canada.
SPAWN FROM HELL:
Yesterday, someone took me to see the movie "Spawn," based on my favorite comic book and it was horrible. I couldn't believe they bungled it so badly. Later on, I was talking with a Spawn fan about it and he agreed. It's just so hard to put these guys in super hero tights and keep them from looking stupid -- hmm, did I say something about latent adolescent something-or-other?
I spent a good deal of time today answering new questions asked by readers in the guestbook. You might enjoy checking them out. My email situation has not been fixed. What I'm going to have to do is quit my Loop ISP and join one of the nationals like earthlink or something. Loop changed the rules on me and it is not longer possible for the loop smtp server to send mail if I am logged in using anything other than the Loop. But they only have numbers local to El Lay. I can't afford a long distance call everytime I want to send someone a note.
So, I'll be retiring the "email@example.com" address when we get back to El Lay on September 1st. The Steve_S@Cliffhanger.com address is an email relay that will always be current with whichever ISP I change to.
Wednesday, August 13, 1997
"I Hear You Got A Hot Show..."Today was hot and muggy. Stifling. But I spent most of my time at the Currican working on this site, answering mail and writing music. The production team was busy preparing a full scale press assault for the October opening while negotiations with the theatres continued. Meanwhile, there's a buzzzzz......Jimmy was in producer Jay Cardwell's office today when a call came in. Jay answered by putting on speakerphone and the first thing out of the caller's mouth was, "Jay, hello. Just got back from L.A. and I hear you got a hot show on your hands!"Jimmy just beamed when he told me this story. Apparently, the new scenes and rewrites are having a spectacular effect. And investors are showing up in droves. Jamie Cesa brought an investor this evening who is a very big honcho in the rock concert arena, although he also invests in theatre, too.
When he came out of the show, he looked absolutely stunned. He spread his hands, looked at Jamie and said, "Phenomenal. How much do you need?" It seems that our problem now is not whether we can raise the money, but whether we can keep people from throwing themselves at our feet. I'm really not kidding here. And our producers want to make sure all our initial angels and investors get the opportunity to be first in line.
What an incredible situation this has become. I'm literally just jumping out of my skin with excitement as these stories keep coming out. We're also discussing the possiblity of doing a cast album next month in time for the October opening.
COMICS FOR BETTER...
The family comic, "For Better Or Worse" is going to feature their gay character this week in a story based upon an experience in the comic strip writer's brother-in-law's wife. Many papers have refused to run the strip. What I loved, though, was the writer's response about the cancellations, "It's not frustrating for me but for the people who are harassed because they have to put up with this every minute of their lives."
I also see that my fave soap, "All My Children" is running a wonderful storyline about people trying to change the orientation of a gay teen.
I'm not for arbitrarily including gay characters just to be politically correct. I like stories based upon real life situations. I don't complain about what I had to endure growing up gay in a straight world (much -- LOL), but having done so, even in a most loving and caring family, I do understand what gay teens have to face.
The cases of AIDS among gay teens is rising. And this, I think, can be partly attributed to the fact that many families toss their kids out or treat them coldly, so that they engage in self-destructive behavior out of sheer rebellion. This is a tragedy; mostly because it is absolutely preventable.
We're hoping TLS will be able to contribute to the dialogue and create just a bit more tolerance in this world. "You can only lift the darkness when you care..."
Speaking of which there is a new website being created called White Ribbon Campaign designed to promote awareness of gay teen suicide. If you have any information on the subject, or have stories to tell, let them hear about it.
Thursday, August 14, 1997
Two Days To Jimmy's Birthday.Suddenly it dawns on me that Jimmy's birthday is two days away. He will be 51 on August 16 -- same birthdate as Madonna and Kathie Lee Gifford. Geez, put the three of them in a room and you can barely tell them apart. I have no idea what to get him for a present. He's been losing a lot of weight, though. Maybe we could go get some pants or something. *scraping bottom of pocket looking for change*
AIDS TREATMENT NEWS:
Today, I read that this "crix belly" phenomenon is being more closely examined to see what it might be. One doctor said it looked like Cushing's Syndrome, whatever that is. And there is no proposed treatment at this time. Most of the reports have been anecdotal since protease inhibitors are a new therapy, still. He reported a simultaneous rise in blood sugar (which I also have), cholesterol (which I do not have), and some wasting in the arms and legs (don't notice that either -- to the contrary, my legs are better than they've ever been *preen*).
Binky and I had dinner at the 99 cent burger joint with two teenage TLS fans this evening. Shaun and Chris have seen the show a number of times and earlier in the day, before Binky got there, we sat together in the theater and I played The Sad Lady and Shades of Blue for them. I think they liked it. Chris said, "It's very sad." Clearly, this is a young man of great intellect. :)
If you want a huge laugh, there's an old picture of me at Dave Hollingsworth's website along with a brief history of the band from my point of view. I'm the guy in the middle with the huge afro. And yes, it was natural. (Why didn't somebody say something???).
Friday, August 15, 1997
The MASH Unit in Harlem.I love my mornings at the Currican. It's the only time I can really get anything done. I usually rise about 7, take a shower, admire my muscular body in the mirror *oh lord*, and then walk down from 51st to 29th street. Today it was kind of muggy and overcast. The first tourists were out and looking around as the shopkeepers were opening up their stores and cleaning off the sidewalks.
I walked past the TKTS booth in Times Square (where people can get discount tickets to Broadway and off-Broadway shows) and I imagined our show up on the big board -- and then I imagined us too sold out to be there!
Because I take my Crix at 8am, I can't eat until 9am so my stomach is usually growling and begging for food. The Currican is basically a black door between two restaurants -- one Chinese and one Indian. The theatre is on the second floor over the Chinese restaurant. (funny, i never smell cooking...)
Then I prop my feet up on the desk, put the keyboard in my lap, turn on the computer and start playing around. Since I'm online during this time, I also answer all the calls that come in because the computer uses line 1 and that's what the answering machine is hooked up to.
This morning I spoke to a doctor from Harlem who frequently brings her patients into see TLS. After I identified myself she thanked me for helping her in her practice. She said she all too frequently has patients who are a so frightened of AIDS, they are unable to make any decisions regarding therapy.
She said, "I feel like I'm working in a MASH unit and it's difficult to gain the trust of patients to help them overcome their fear of the disease and the medications. But, lately, all I have to do is bring them to your show. When they can laugh at the horrors, as they do when they see Friendly Fire, it's incredible because you become less fearful of something you can laugh at. When they're scared, they cannot make decisions. But once I tell them we're going to go see some entertainment, and when that entertainment lets them laugh at the thing they are frightened of, it gives them courage. I cannot thank you enough for that."
She said she had some patients try to write down their feelings regarding the disease, but that most of them just didn't have the vocabulary to truly express themselves. She said her patients, after seeing The Last Session, tell her, "I'm so glad someone is really telling the world how I feel." She said it makes them feel less lonely helps them cope. She said our show has helped save lives, especially among those who have been seriously suicidal.
At this point, reader o' mine, I'm the one at a loss for expressing how I feel about that. Mike Wills told me this evening that directing TLS has changed his perception of what he wants to direct in the future. He said, "Once you've worked on something with this kind of emotional impact, it's hard to think about directing plays that do not."
Saturday, August 16, 1997
Birthdays, Books & Cyberpals.Today was a joyful day. My cyberpals, Rob & Glenn came down from Canada. Todd drove down from Albany and Scruffy came in from Seattle. Rob gave me a gift: bound editions of the the books from this diary. He took the time and effort to convert the entire diary into a Word file. Then he cleaned it up and bound it into separate books. It was a spectacular gift.I've been asked by people if the diary was available on "real" pages. I suppose if there is enough interest, I could use this file to set something up. But what a thrill to see it in a format that looks so "legitimate." He warned me, though, that he did not want me correcting spelling or syntax. He felt all these things indicated state of mind and time availability and should not be changed. I don't know. What do you think?It got really, really hot today. And very humid. Midafternoon, Jimmy and I went back to our apartment which is on the 17th floor. About 5pm or so, the skies grew suddenly dark and the wind whipped up into a fury. Jimmy called me over to the window and I saw a piece of paper get picked up by the wind and literally thrown right over the top of a 40 story building. It was spectacular.
Mike and Scruffy joined us for Jim's famous slumgullion and also Todd came up. He was soaking wet, so I gave him a dry shirt to wear. The performance was great tonight, again. The cast was really cooking and afterwards, we gave Jimmy an ice cream cake and sang to him. Then we went into the theatre where I sang "The Sad Lady" and "Shades of Blue" for our out of town guests, and Jimmy sang "Christmastime" for them -- a song from our Christmas musical we wrote 12 years ago.
After that, we went down to the Village to hear Amy Coleman singing blues in this little basement club. There she was in her bare feet playing with a bass, drums and guitar and singing a rootsy blues set that sounded like I was back in Louisiana again. Man, this girl has pipes! At one point, Michael Alden, who will be producing us off-Broadway pulled me aside and asked, "Where did you FIND her?" I just smiled.
Sunday, August 17, 1997
lordlordlord.Another swelteringly hot day. The humidity was as high as an elephant's eye and it was difficult to keep the theatre cool. After arriving at the Currican, though, I went into the theatre and played the piano alone. It was a gloriously peaceful moment.
Then I went with Rob and Glenn to MCC, the gay church. I don't know if it's me or them or what, but I just do not like being in church. During the singing and prayers, I was stone cold disinterested. And it's not that I don't respect other people's desire to connect with God -- or that I don't have my own.
And this is not meant as a criticism of MCC or any other church, and I certainly invite you to make your own interpretation of my reactions. Some will say I'm "hardened" and some will say I'm brave to even articulate this kind of "heresy," but I have a sneaking suspicion, I'm not much different than anybody else. I don't believe myself to be hardened or brave or a heretic. I am trying to be honest with myself.
I just can't get over the feeling that something is "wrong" with the way we humans have tried to connect with the Eternal. I also think that if there is a God with a Personality, He pretty much knows my heart and will allow me to honestly make my own journey.
A VOTE ON GODHOOD:
The paper today had a poll on whether the Catholic Church should elevate "Mother Mary" to equal status with Jesus since she is His mother. WHAT??? What the hell are they talking about? How stupid is that?
I can see the scene now in heaven: Jesus and the Father and the Holy Spirit are sitting around ruling the cosmos when suddenly down on planet earth, some guy with tall pointy hat in Rome holds a vote among a certain segment of humans about conferring Godhood status on a dead human.
"Hey! Looks like we're not the Big Three anymore! We're the Big Four!" Meanwhile, Mary ascends to the throne, tells Jesus to clean his plate and don't get crumbs on the floor, and tells "Father" to quit drinking beer every night in front of the Celestial Tube.
She'll say, "It's been a boy's club around here for too long. From now on, dirty undies go in the hamper and everyone takes turn doing the dishes. And no feeding satan under the table, either."
Sometimes I think the entire planet is nothing more than the imagination of an insane person on some island somewhere.
There were two performances of TLS today. After the second show, we went up to 8th Ave. and 47th where Amy Coleman has a rehearsal studio. It was a birthday party for Jimmy. The whole cast was there and there were two highlights. The first was a decidedly off-color (but tasteless) improvisatory thing sung by AndBob, Binky and Momo called "Mangina." I cannot describe it to you except to say that you had to be there.
The other highlight for me happened when the others more or less left the room leaving Amy, Mike and me at the piano. I started playing "The Sad Lady" and giving the words to Amy. We slowed it down and found a new sound for it. It was so moving and so intense, all of us were speechless afterwards. She said it sounded like something Marianne Faithful would sing.
I just love Marianne Faithful -- and Amy was exactly right. I'd been pulling my hair out to find a "comparison." But she nailed it.
Earlier that evening, I went and sat with Michael Alden, one of our new producers. We just talked and dreamed big dreams. He said we have so many investors for the NY production, the team is now working on plans for separate road companies of TLS. I just can't hardly believe all this.
I was reading back in Book Two and saw that one year ago, we were just making plans to come to NY to do our staged reading. Now we're a "...sleeper hit!" lordlordlord
Monday, August 18, 1997
Meeting on the Roof.Things are moving at the speed of light, now. Michael Gaylord, our vocal arranger, and Carl the Producer met with Jimmy and me up on the roof of our building overlooking Times Square and we talked about the cast album. We talked about pulling together a recording session within the next few weeks. Already, we have several huge record labels circling around us.
But we don't want to wait for negotiations, which always take forever, so we thought we'd do it quickly at first, on a smaller label, to make it available for the internet and at the theatre. Plus it will make a better promotional device than my CD because all the "real voices" will be on it with all the new songs.
We are also planning a folio edition, i.e. the sheet music in a kind of souvenir book that will have pictures from all the workshops accompanied with text from Jimmy and me telling how the songs were written and how the show came to be. It will be really beautiful.
Meanwhile, the producers are meeting with marketing firms letting them pitch their ideas for new logos and marketing campaigns. And since our off-Broadway debut is planned for six weeks from now, there's not much time to squeeze all this in.
You know, I know I made some very smart remarks about Mother Mary and God and stuff yesterday -- so I can get a bit cynical, but there is nothing that can convince me that this show is not blessed in some way. We have defied so many odds and broken so many rules, and moved at speeds never before seen, it's just impossible to believe that we are not guided by the Unseen Hand. And when we continue to see lives changed and hearts moved...
Ronda told us yesterday that she reminded the whole production team that it's exciting to think TLS could become a commercial and financial success despite the odds, but she warned everyone to not get greedy and not lose sight of the fact that this has been a labor of love from the beginning. And that everyone who has come on board came because of the sheer experience they personally had in the theatre when the material connected with them.
No one believed an "AIDS play" about suicide and divorce and homosexuality could be either entertaining or enlightening or commercially viable. All they knew was that when they saw it, they felt it had to be seen by others -- and they wanted to be a part of making that happen.
Tuesday, August 19, 1997
Open Letter To A Very Sick Friend.Dear "Mickey." The thing I learned when battling my own corpuscles -- aside from the fact that it's not good to vomit too close to a deli -- is that I had myself permission to be in complete control of my own therapy. I knew what I needed to do and I did it. While I smiled nicely at the "did you take your vitamins today?" crowd, Jimmy knew that only I could navigate the waters.
All I can tell you is what my friends (the real ones) told me and what "Tryshia," more subtly, tells Gideon at the end of TLS:
It's great to have your legacy. It's great to have your music and your productions and your contributions to music history. But, these are not your greatest contributions.
Your greatest contribution to me is your life. It is your presence, your spirit, your voice, your hugs. Your goddammed big mouth. We will all die, sooner or later, Mr. X. But when you die, when you inevitably die, a part of me will die. Like it or not, that's the plain truth. There will be a huge silent spot and that spot will be shockingly empty.
Even as I type this tears are burning through my pupils because I cannot fathom it. I cannot bear the thought of it. I believe you when you say you are going to get well. I refuse to believe anything else.
I've been trying to break through a barrier, recently, in writing about the bonus round -- Lazarus and all that good stuff. And during my journeys I remembered back to last summer when I was so very, very sick. I truly thought of death as a beautiful peaceful angel (with big boobs) who would gently put me to sleep and carry me away, finally free of this struggle and pain.
But I also fought like hell for each new day. Just one day more. One week more. One song more. One album more. One year more. It's like crossing the finish line of a very long marathon. I know when I do cross that tape, I'm going to get water and rest and a ribbon, so I keep on pressing and hurting and running.
You have been instrumental in giving me life, confidence and aversion to the mundane and frivolous. It's probably a gift I had already granted myself while writing these "AIDSONGS" but when I played them for you, it was like you gave me a second opinion that said, "F*** what anyone might think or what you think their expectations are, just write from the gut."
I cannot tell you how liberated I feel in the creation process. I don't know if you've heard "the sad lady" song but it's a completely uncommercial story with self-mutilation and incest (and God knows what else under the surface) and the only reason I wrote it was because I *had* to. Why else would anybody write anything?
Well, this has gone on too long. Go rest. Enjoy the recuperation period and make yourself as comfortable as possible. We're biting our nails and praying to God that we're allowed at least a few more years with you. And remember this Wise Steve Saying:
Cantankerousness is its own reward.
Wednesday, August 20, 1997
Budgets, Unions, Lights, Sets...Today, for the first time in all this, we had a meeting down at the Currican with all the designers -- sets, lights, etc. -- and Nancy Gibbs, our General Manager, asked all the relevant questions regarding how they can proceed and how much they want to spend. The budget for this production is tight because it's still going to be a small off-Broadway house -- under 200 seats. This is good news for audiences because it means the show will remain intimate. But for the producers, it means there is little or no play on the budget.
Everyone, to my knowledge, will be accepting union minimums and cutting unnecessary costs at every corner -- but without cutting quality. One major problem is that we are still basically "unknown, unfamous" to the general public, so that means the promotional budget will have to be more than adequate or we'll close. We have to raise awareness. Much of that will be advertising, but we're also working on getting "free press" at every opportunity. Even with great reviews, there has to be a lot of follow-up.
People talk about the "overnight success" of RENT, for instance, but they were working on that for over seven years here in Manhattan. By the time they were launched onto Broadway, they had -- over a period of time -- gathered huge momentum, crowds and visibility. We've been here less than six months.
Other problems are that the set here will not fit on the stage where we're probably going, so it has to be redesigned and rebuilt from the bottom up. That was an unexpected expense. Plus, now we pay union wages for everything. All the lights have to be rented, the sound system, etc. Lord, it just gets more and more involved.
But, it's exciting and everyone seems willing to continue doing this as a labor of love as long as is necessary. That's what continually floors me through this whole process. But if we're able to successfully promote TLS and if we are able to really find our audience like we think we can, the longterm benefits will be multitudinous.
Meanwhile, next week, we begin auditions for understudies and maybe principal parts in other cities, should those plans continue to unfold. It will be fun watching the parade go by. When last we auditioned, no one knew who we were and agents just HATE sending their best clients to work for free for unknowns. (Bob and Binky came on referral, for instance, and Dean had done work at the Currican before.)
But now, inside industry buzz is deafening -- both on the "upper" levels and on the lower -- and there are going to be paychecks and even, possibly, musical history involved here. Suddenly, actors are coming out of the woodwork begging to do this show -- or just be a part of it. What a feeling that is!
Starting off-Broadway will be like starting over, really. But then, we've faced all kinds of challenges already. It's a whole new ballgame and one that will test the mettle of everyone involved. Naturally, you will hear it all first.
Thursday, August 21, 1997
A Touch of Grace.We were in Harlem today. Jimmy, Jay the Producer and I were told to take the 2 Train to get to the Harlem Community AIDS Center, but of course, we took the 1/9 instead and ended up walking a half hour. Grace Garland, the diva herself, was schedule to join us and she did the exact same thing, arriving about 15 minutes after we did.
I was introduced to the Executive Director as "the writer of The Last Session. Jimmy and Jay were introduced as my "two assistants." Naturally, I ordered them to find me a chair and drink. hehe.
We were escorted into a well-lit ultra clean dining area where a hot lunch was being served. It was lightly crowded with women, men, and some children. The woman in charge announced that this was a family day and that the entertainment was about to start.
I had already accepted an invitation to sing, and Grace eagerly agreed to join me, so we huddled in the corner and decided on Connected (me), The Singer and the Song (her), and Somebody's Friend (mostly her). I quickly jotted down the lyrics to "Vicki's" verses and, in case they asked, I also wrote down the lyrics to the first verse of When You Care.
The opening act was a group of young schoolgirls dressed in bright blue and white costumes. They danced a "hello" dance and sang a little. The audience cheered them on and really made them feel special, especially when they did a solo routine.
I was completely aware of being a white guy in a room of black people. I imagined them seeing me as some rich composer from Beverly Hills trying to make a buck off their experiences. As if reading my thoughts, Lionel -- a handsome volunteer/worker who's wife watched him lovingly from our table -- introduced me as a "brother." He tried to explain some of TLS to the gathered, but they were ready for music and a few expressed their impatience verbally.
Ohhh, my, I thought. Tough crowd. Now I was a bit nervous.
So, I sat at the little out of tune piano and simply told them that I living with AIDS and that I understood standing in line for free lunches and free health clinics. I also told them that with TLS, I might -- for the first time in years -- might actually begin to draw a real paycheck. Now that was something EVERYONE understood. Then I launched into Connected.Singing these songs for people living with AIDS is completely unlike playing them for other people. When I sing, for instance, Connected for a "normal" audience, their faces usually are full of wonder and curiosity, as if they were viewing a rare species of animal for the first time. Their interest in intense, but you can also see them trying to imagine how they would have reacted in the same scenario.Grace then came up to sing "The Singer and the Song," a number featuring her character pleading with Gideon, the character with AIDS, to not kill himself. It was during the opening few lines: "Nobody knows the bottom better than you...Nobody has the right to tell you what to do..." that voices began to come back from the crowd in total acknowledgement that she was speaking directly to them. Grace, slightly startled, looked out into the audience and realized, suddenly, that she was looking at a whole roomful of Gideons who have to daily make the choice to live or not live.
Today, each word landed like a branding iron on the faces of those watching me. The look of "knowing" spread so quickly and ran so deeply, I thought my chest was going to explode from the huge wave of Being There again in that hospital room hooked up to meters, bottles and the TV. I could see it in their eyes. They knew. They were there.
If there was any racial divide between us at first, it evaporated long before the first note died down.
(I could tell it was affecting her powerfully. Later in the subway on the ride in, she told me she almost couldn't get through the number. It's one thing to sing this to an actor in a dramatic setting. It's quite another to look into the faces of those who are living it for real.)
Well, it didn't take her long to realize the effect she was having on them -- they knew who she was: Vera from All My Children. The mere fact of her being there was no less an impact than Marlene Dietrich visiting soldiers in world war II. Their eyes began to sparkle and they began answering her as she pleaded in the song, "...is there nothing we can say to make you want to fight for one more day..."
It was a stunning performance to watch her reach out to them and touch them and sing to them. Two little boys on the front row were mezmorized. An older man smiled for the very first time the whole afternoon. There was so much light in that room, so much joy. And I have to give it to Grace. She made them feel like they were the celebrities and she was the honored guest.
Dr. Williamson, who has been bringing patient after patient to see TLS, requested Somebody's Friend. Grace remarked afterward that she was astonished at how much they laughed knowingly at the fantastical bridge with the the "hiv-free clown...hiv-free children..." Then we finished with When You Care, which knocked everyone out.
Afterwards, Grace pulled out a stack of 8x10s and signed autographs for every single person who asked. It meant so much to them and she is so generous with her attention and love for them.
We were then treated to a tour of the facility: "This is a kitchen area where we teach clients how to prepare meals for themselves. Many have never lived in an apartment, nor do they know how stoves and ovens work. We also provide them with showers and we have a washer and drier for them."
With HIV, cleanliness and nutrition are essential to life. I was amazed and delighted that their services so completely addressed the needs of the community. And this was not a large, rich place. The Executive Director, Mr. Green, explained to us that funding is always a struggle. Having been in a position of having to raise funds for non-profit organization myself, I knew what he meant. But for poor African-American agencies up in Harlem, the complications are even more intense.
One of the assistants even confessed to us that he, when he first arrived, had trouble even looking a gay person in the face. He said homophobia in the community of Harlem is part of the problem. "No one would admit they got AIDS from gay sex," he said with a wink. Then I thought back to the crowd we had just played for and it occurred to me that, even with my "gaydar" on, I couldn't detect but one or two men I thought might be gay.
This really was a different world.
Producer Jay told them we had some modest ideas in the works to possibly help them with fundraising and I silently re-pledged to myself that I would use my own future earnings and "fame" to be of help to AIDS Service Organizations as much as possible.
"You can only lift the darkness when you care..." --John Bettis.
Friday, August 22, 1997
The Fire Engine & The Super Receptionist.COOL STORY FROM TONIGHT:
Our crowd, tonight, was about a 50-50 mix of black and white, old and young, male and female, straight and gay, positoids and negatrons. It was probably the best audience we have ever had. They laughed at every funny moment and they got deathly still during the more dramatic scenes, they were applauding the songs and at the end of the performance, they made the cast take three bows.
But during the show, a baby started talking and they crying. It happened during Going It Alone, which is probably the quietest, most tender moment in the show. The parents were trapped on the side of the stage where they would have to pass right in front of the actors (who are on floor level). Binky and Andbob heroically made it through the scene, but still, I was ready to tear my hair out.
Sitting near me was a man who had been really enjoying the show and we got into a friendly conversation. At one point, I said I wished the baby hadn't "wrecked" Going It Alone. The man turned to me and said, "A fire engine couldn't wreck that song." Later on, I found out he was a critic reviewing the show.
Know what? I'm having a very good time right now.
THIS TIME TWO YEARS AGO:
In the months leading up to August 1995, I had been in and out of bed for a good year and a half to two years (it's all a blur). But I had slowly, over the entire time, slowly built myself back up to a functional state. And Jimmy and Thurber the Cat were there every step of the way, feeding me, giving me the remote, taking me out for walks (beginning with just trying to climb the stairs and then graduating to walks on the sidewalk in front of our apartment building).
Finally, I decided to get out of the house and go do something. I began by visiting The David Geffen Center: AIDS Project Los Angeles. Entering the huge ex-TV studio, I was startled by how fantasically organized it was -- and how huge. I kind of wandered around until I found a room where people were just stuffing envelopes. Perfect.
I asked the guy behind the desk if I could join them. He pointed out that there was a full orientation procedure where I needed to register and listen to a lecture and become an "official" volunteer. I thanked him but wanted to know if I could just sit and stuff. He shrugged and said, "No problem."
Gradually, my strength built and I was able to increase my daily worktime from one hour to a half day. (Thanks to my friend, John Bettis, I was receiving acupuncture therapy from Dr. Frank Jasper once a week. That and the diet and some other holistic things plus my "nukes," combined with an iron will to live and the fact that I was playing music again at home, seemed to be doing the trick.)
Finally, I decided I would try half days at a "real" job. I knew I couldn't get a paying gig in my condition, so I worked as an intern for a newly independent film composer agent. Answering phones and making tape copies for client pitches.
I got a new suit, too. Jimmy put it on his JCPenney card. My first day was fantastic. I arrived in my old Ford Festiva, walked to the office and waited in the hall because I was a half hour early. I quickly got behind my desk, learned the phone system, and became Super Receptionist.
It was around this time that I wrote Connected. All but the last verse. I played it for anyone who would listen. It was fun working at the agent's, but after a month or so, I found myself falling apart again physically. Constantly nauseous, wearing diapers because of the diarrhea -- and then calling in sick and missing days.
I went to Vasi, the boss and said that I was very sorry, but didn't think I could continue with them because I was no longer reliable. I knew how much the office was thrown into chaos when I was gone and I felt like I was letting them down. Vasi called me several times and begged me to come back, even for just two days a week.
I thanked him but it was clear to Jimmy and me that I was not doing well. So, thanks to friends of ours from back when I was a cruise ship entertainer, we took what we assumed would be "the last cruise" of my life. This time two years ago, I was in Hong Kong saying goodbye to the world. I had always dreamed of visiting Hong Kong.
By the way, I was a very happy man back then, too.
Saturday, August 23, 1997
Well, It's Official: 47th Street Theatre.It's official. THE LAST SESSION will be opening mid-October at the 47th Street Theatre Off-Broadway. As I mentioned earlier, we actually had several theatres to choose from; two were bigger and one was more ornate, but this seemed to be the right size for us at this point and it has the additional advantage of being one block from Times Square.
So now it starts all over again.
Today in the Currican office, before most of the others got there, I waw sitting with Angel Amy Kiehl (Currican producer), Binky and Flamin' Amy. Flamin's Amy was telling us how excited she was getting and that it was making her really nervous. We all agreed, but Binky looked a little reticent. Finally, he stood up and said, "This is how I felt with Zombie Prom." He was referring to a show he did last year off-Broadway, which died a very quick death -- sliced and diced by the critics.
"I bought into the whole thing. It smelled like a hit. The cast was jumping around all excited. The audiences loved it. We all thought we were in the 'next big thing' and then *poof* -- all gone." Then he apologized for raining on our little parade.
I told him, "No! Don't apologize. That's experience talking. None of us can take any of this for granted. The stakes increase with each leap up the ladder. It's one thing to like a little out-of-the-way show nobody every heard of. It's quite another to 'legitimize' something in a more 'official' type theatre. I think the only thing we can take for granted is that we're opening off-Broadway. Beyond that, it's anybody's guess."
This is the big leagues. For every critic and theatre fan who loves us, there will be those who will react exactly the opposite way. It's quite arrogant for nobodies to suddenly just decide they belong on Broadway. Some will resent our even being here. Some will applaud us as the little engine that could. Some won't give a whit.
Jimmy figured out yesterday that TLS was born on November 25, 1995 during a Thanksgiving gathering. Maybe someone can do a "chart" on us and read our horoscope. We opened at the Currican in New York on May 8, 1997 -- the Day of Ascension, according to Christian calendars. And we will open Off-Broadway on October 9, five days after my birthday and one day before.
And with the good news comes the clouds that circle overhead. The NY Times this past week featured a front page story of a man in the Justice Dept. who had "come back to life" and had started working again thanks to the new drugs -- but who suddenly failed on them and then quickly died. The story continued on and described how well the drugs have been working for those with strong immune systems, but not so well for those whose systems were already ravaged.
It scared me a bit, frankly. I tried to not read it, but my eyes wouldn't tear themselves away from the article. The drugs begin failing at 3 months or 6 months or a year for people like me. I've been going strong now for a year and three months, so once again I'm in the Bonus Round.
I think what scared me was the fact that, once the virus had evolved to the point where the drug didn't work anymore, the crash was quick. It seemed to just eat him alive. So, it made me think: Do I want to go quickly or do I want it to drag out? It's a tough question, but right off the top of my head, the answer is: I want it to drag out. Even sick as a dog, I would prefer to live unless I'm in some kind of horrible pain, I suppose.
I just believe that with life there's hope. Once I'm dead, it's all over and there's no hope of bringing me back. But as a person who has gone all the way to the brink, said goodbye and then come back, I suppose I just learned to treasure life for itself.
The article also reminded me that I cannot afford to take one day for granted. The ticking clock may be scary, but at least it's ticking. At least I can still hear it. Now if I can just keep that rusty thing running until Jimmy and I collect our Tonys, Grammys, Pulitzers, Oscars and Good Deed Merit Badges.
I do love making speeches.
Sunday & Monday, August 24-25, 1997
Sleep, Musical Meditation & Bob.On Sunday and Monday, I did two things to excess:
1. I slept a lot. Long naps in the afternoons. 2. I meditated for hours at a time at the piano singing and playing alone.
We've been getting calls, now -- people requesting that I or the cast or both go play and sing at some benefit events. The cast is scheduled to get a full two weeks off at the beginning of September. God bless them, they really need it. They've worked hard and they've earned a rest. So, we're looking at what's possible and what is not.
LISTENING TO BOB:
Speaking of the cast, one of the great honors and pleasures I get to have is providing the world a vehicle that spotlights Bob Stillman doing what he does best: Singing. His voice is a spectacular instrument that does so much -- so effortlessly (at least, he makes it seem that way) -- that he elevates my songs to a level I never dreamed possible. His reedy voice soars into the stratosphere and darts so freely, it's like a comet pinball bouncing around the universe.
One of the finest moments of all is when he sings Connected. His performance is so rich, so beautiful, so heartbreakingly pure, it's worth the price of admission alone. When he opens his mouth to sing, everything else just fades away.
Bob and I still talk about the songs and what they mean. In the beginning of this process, I was so intimidated by his musical prowess both as a pianist and singer, I was pretty much inclined to just fall on my knees and thank him everytime I saw him. Now I just slap him around a lot. (just kidding)
Except for when he sings my song, my favorite times with him are when he's at the piano just warming up before the show. He has some beautiful songs of his own he's been composing. Sometimes I sit onstage and watch closely, and sometimes I go up on the audience risers and revel in that sound coming from the heavens.
Ah, it's a grand life in the Bonus Round these days.
Tuesday/Wednesday, August 26-27, 1997
On Diaries & New Beginnings.A good diary is not about events, you know. It's about emotions and feelings and smells and sounds. It's a thing one should not edit. It's a thing that should plunge into the places where you don't really want to go. In short, it's like songwriting. An "online" diary, on the other hand, is a public document no matter how you slice it. Everything I say here has a repercussion somewhere.
If an actor or other creative person pitches a fit or does something that irritates me, should I talk about it here? And if I do, am I not invading their privacy and potentially ruining their performance for the night or the week? And now that we are involved with a production team and investors and fans and actors and agents and press people and marketing people... there are jobs and negotiations and -- well, people's futures are at stake.
Or when I get pissed off at Baptists or other homophobic groups and speak my mind, either in sarcasm or humor or anger, I upset my family. I don't like upsetting my family. I don't like upsetting anyone, frankly.
But, for instance, this past week I read a book called "All American Boy" by Scott Peck, who was raised in a horribly oppressive fundamentalist atmosphere, and it brought up all this old stuff about being gay and being a young Christian; praying to a deaf God. Being forced into thinking that the thing that I inherently am, is itself a sin and a type of rebellion. Drafted into an army I did not choose (while being accused of choosing to be in that army).
Well, anyway. I'm saying all this because there are fantastic new beginnings about to unfold and there are surprises around every corner along with some changes and, possibly, startling developments.
On Sunday, we close up shop and tear down the set and the whole show comes to an end for one full month. And, similarly, I shall be closing Book Five on Sunday night. Jimmy and I will be moving once again to new digs (but staying in Manhattan).
Lots of changes and thrills and chills lie ahead for us all. We have auditions for understudies, plans for taking TLS on the road, the recording of the cast album, the big opening night in October, my speaking/singing engagements in October/November. Oh, and now we're putting together a score -- sheet music with souvenir photos and story -- of the show!!
My my my. What a life.
Thursday - Friday, August 28-29, 1997
Crusty Nik & Mama Ronda & Bob Lobagasso.I beg your forgiveness, reader o' mine. I haven't had the opportunity to write one word for several days and I apologize profusely. So, I'll do a quick catch-up. After all, only one more day left in Book Five...1. Nik Venet, my fave record producer in the world, blew in this past week with Mama Ronda and we have made a deal to quickly produce and manufacture an original cast album of TLS on Evening Star Records.All along the way, we've tried to keep the fans and workers of TLS included in the process, making sure everyone gets their own rewards for the labor they've invested.
FUNNY NIK STORY:
Nik, who seems to have met every historical figure EVER and I were chatting Friday night in a loud restaurant. I asked him who the most impressive person he ever met was. He said, "Bob Lobagasso." I said, "Who the hell is Bob Lobagasso." He looked at me like I was nuts. "You never heard of Pablo Picasso???" Oh, not Bob Lobagasso. PABLO PICASSO. Uh, yeah. I hearda him...
2. The producers have met with several advertising firms to find exactly the right one for the off-Broadway production. Yesterday, Carl and Ronda brought samples over for Jimmy and me to look at, and all I can say is, "Wow." Once again, we are going to break all the rules and go for something completely different. I can't describe it to you yet, but let's just say it's eye-popping and completely original.
3. The show has been selling out and we've had waiting lists every single night leading up into the final performances. Each night, the cast has had to "endure" three standing ovations and shouts and screams. Between Jimmy's changes in the script, Mike Wills' adjustments and tightening of the action, and some work I did on one of the songs, coupled with the actors' incredible abilities to respond to new ideas, this truly is, as critic Jerry Tallmer said, "...two powerhouse hours."
4. We're proceeding with the plans for the souvenir book which will also hold the sheet music and score for the show. And we're attempting to find a way to sell this book for not much more than the cost of only doing a souvenir book.
For instance, I've told you about how terribly tight the budget is, so the production team is trying to find creative ways to put more money into the pockets of the actors through the advertising or CD. Also, much of the initial plan for the promotion -- not finalized since it has only now been approved -- will be character-based, so each of these incredibly talented people can be spotlighted in creative ways as publicly as possible. They've literally sacrificed and given so much, it's only fair that we make every attempt to give back to them.
We also are planning to do a massively overhauled web page for the show with its own thelastsession.com domain name complete with the new logo and all the latest bells and whistles. Everything is happening so fast. Jimmy remarked how a year ago, it was just me and the computer trying to eke something out. Now, suddenly we have press reps, marketing people, advertising people, etc. etc. etc. and it just gets better and better as we go along.
AS FOR ME:
I'm almost in shock watching all this happen. It's swirling around me and happening so quickly, on such a massive level, I'm not sure how to process it all. One years ago today, we sat down with our friend John Sparks and looked at a home video of the El Lay workshop production of the show and I remarked about what a terrible actor I was and how difficult it would be to find someone who could do my part. We were also bemoaning the scenes and dialogue we didn't like.
I also wrote that "there was a buzz in Chicago and a buzz in New York" over us. Now we're getting stories from all over this town about people here in the biz who have heard we have this sensational new show. Doncha think I don't love hearing that?
One more day for Book Five and then this home page is going to evolve into something new. Don't worry, I'm not planning on going anywhere. But I probably will take some time off just to catch my breath, because the "real" work will begin soon. I'm also going to try to include as much backstage as possible because now I'm getting all new mail from young composers and writers who want to know how we "did it."
Funny. I don't remember "doing" anything. "Yesterday," I was sick in bed doing a diary and this morning I was in New York opening a play on 47th street, one block from Broadway.
The wonders never cease when you live your life in the Bonus Round.
Saturday, August 30, 1997
The Cabbie, The "Whore" & The Teacher.Tonight, after the show, we were on our way to a jam session at Flamin' Amy's studio. We were driving up 8th Avenue -- I was in the front seat of the cab. On the news, it was announced that "Lady Diana" had been in a horrible car crash and in emergency care. They also said that her "date" had died, as well as some bodyguards.
I was shocked and turned around to Ronda and Jim and said, "Did you hear this??" Anyway, they were telling a few more details when suddenly the cab driver (who spoke with a decided accent that was vaguely Middle Eastern) burst out in a loud voice saying:
"SHE SHOULD DIE! SHE WAS A WHORE!"
I just looked at the guy and said, "What the hell are you talking about? She was a very decent human being -- maybe the only decent one of the whole bunch!"
He said with disgust, "Why would the royal marry someone like her? She's not even pretty..."
I just got pissed and said, "...And you're a f***in' idiot!"Now you have to understand that this is a personal issue with me. When the world was still in catatonic fear of People With AIDS, Lady Di was one of the first public figures to vist an AIDS ward and hug and embrace the very sick. This was about the time Ryan White was getting kicked out of schools and treated like shit.Ronda, ever the sweet and gentle soul from Texas said, "It's not nice to wish somebody dead."
Ronda, you always know the right thing to say.
The show tonight was again packed to the rafters and the ovations were loud and enthusiastic. The cast was brilliant. And tomorrow is our last day at the Currican.
I also got a note in my guestbook from a teacher who said he found my page after doing a websearch on Bob Stillman. He had seen Bob on the wonderful children's show, Allegra's Window, and that he used Bob's manner with the children as a role model for his own teaching methods. I thought that was beautiful, so I printed out his remarks for Bob.
After the show, I gave Bob the note and the look on his face was fantastic. I should let Bob speak for himself, of course, but I can tell you that for an actor, sometimes you just audition for something and hope you get the job. You never know the effect you are going to have once you put it all out there.
Bob is a very gentle man with a sweet and tender heart. I could tell that he was genuinely touched by the man's letter. As we are all touched by those who tell us our work has made a difference in their lives. That's the reason we are here.
Tomorrow will be our last day to celebrate at the Currican. I feel a mixture of excitement and sadness. It's been a beautiful time with a fantastic set of people.
Sunday, August 31, 1997
The Send-Off.A PLEA:
I have a friend (A) who has a friend (B) who lives in Brazil and who is dying of AIDS because he cannot get the protease inhibitors that are so readily (if expensively) available here in the states. In fact A said that his Brazilian friend had not even heard of the new drugs, information being so difficult to get where he lives. His query: Is there some kind of way B can get the new drugs? Is there some kind of international organization or group that has an outreach program?
I can tell that A is frightened and desperate for his friend, so I'm putting it out there for you Bonusites. What can he do?
Well, this was it:
Two last performances of the Currican/Playful production of The Last Session. Four months of bliss, stress, joy, anxiety, intense creativity, intense ego diversity, and much, much more. An "out of town" try-out on 29th Street.
And tonight it would all come to a close.
I was numb. There is something cozy and "family" about the Currican/Playful team of True Believer Andrew, Amy the Angel and Mike the Miracle Worker. They pulled together the type of production most authors can only dream of in their wildest fantasies and then allowed us a creative space to develop and change. It also allowed Jimmy and me a chance to step back and watch it from a fresh perspective.
The 3:00 matinee was full of "first timers" who had heard it was closing and wanted to catch it at its "original run" here in New York. Still, there was a huge ovation (two, I think) and it set the tone for the evening's show.
Between shows, we all kinda kept close to the theatre, lounging on the couches, quietly talking and laughing. I played the piano a little, Bob played a little. It was peaceful.
THE LAST SESSION:
The last show, however, was a completely different animal. The house was full of TLS fans from all over the city, including a huge contingent from the Harlem Community AIDS Center, thanks to Jean Semler from Merck, who covered the cost of their tickets. (Thanks, Jean).
It was a great send-off show for the actors because so many in the audience not only knew the show, but loved it and were anticipating the great comedy Jimmy has incorporated (applauding and laughing). In the opening scenes where there are some wonderful comedic bits performed by Grace, Amy and Binky, the audience was almost teasing the performers back. At one point, Binky finally just broke into laughter and had to turn his head away upstage, at which point the audience began just screaming with laughter and applause. I could only pity for poor "first-timer" trying to make sense of it all.
The response on the songs was earth shattering. Preacher & The Nurse received three ovations -- just as the applause began to wane, another wave would start back up. I thought maybe it was all getting out of hand for a moment and I was afraid that the drama would be sacrificed to the "party" atmosphere.
But, then Going It Alone came along and that beautiful moment where "Buddy" steps into "Gideon's" shoes and sings what is essentially a love song to Jack, Gideon's lover. The room was dead silent, people were crying, and at the end of the song, nobody wanted to move. Nothing stirred. Stephen Bienskie and Bob Stillman held them in the palms of their hands and the moment really was nothing less than magic.
Finally, someone started applauding and you would have thought the roof was going to come off the building. And that's the kind of show it was through to the very end. When Grace Garland finally led the others in The Singer and the Song, the room exploded into an ovation that lasted forever.
At the curtain calls (which were deafening), the cast invited Jimmy, Mike and myself out to take a bow. Sharing the stage with these magnificent performers was a privilege I cannot ever describe.
Later that night, at the Triple Crown Restaurant, the new producers threw a party for the cast and crew and gave us all hats with "original cast" embroidered on the back. Then we toasted each other, kissed each other, cried and said goodbye to one of the most extraordinary experiences any of us had ever undergone.
As for me, I ran over to the buffet table and loaded up on Buffalo wings. My heart was full of joy and sadness, elation mixed with melancholy. At one point, dipping deeply into the fiery Buffalo Wings, I had a sudden flash memory flash. I was suddenly back to a point in time last year. It was a time when I was only allowed to eat banana, rice, applesauce & toast because my diarrhea had become a steady stream of lost nutrients pouring from my body.
I remembered the daily trips to the bathroom scales watching the numbers fall. 170, then 160 --and I'd say to myself, "If I go below 150, I know I'm in trouble." Then the day I hit 149. 145. 140. 139. I remember the fear that suddenly gripped my heart and clutched at my chest when that number appeared. And that voice that whispered in my ear:
I'm really dying. I really am and there's nothing I can do about it. I stood there naked and shivering in cold despair "knowing" I would die soon. "Knowing" it wasn't worth the effort (as a new stream of water began to trickle down my leg). And I remember bursting into tears, bitter sad horrible gnashing weeping...
But there was something in me that said to just keep going, keep trying, keep pushing. Pushing without reason. Fighting against all the odds. Believing that if I could just do that, to put my faith in Life itself, that it would be worth it.
Buffalo Wings. A thing that, a year ago, would have had me in the john for three straight days -- and here I was pigging out on them as if I'd never had a full meal in my entire lifetime.
And looking up through my greasy fingers, I saw what looked like a hundred people celebrating the life they had breathed into my music and Jimmy's characters. But one thing that will remain a constant no matter what. They are part of the heritage, legacy and history and it all started two years ago with one song, the last phrase of which is:
"We will always be connected to each other."
ON TO BOOK 6: FANTASY FAITH & A RUNAWAY TRAIN >>>>>>
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