Volume 3 Book 7 Part 14 of
Living in the Bonus Round
A very tearful curtain call.
[ Book 3-6 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ]
[ Pt 5 ] [ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ] [ Pt 9 ]
[ Pt 10 ] [ Pt 11 ] [ Pt 12 ] [ Pt 13 ]
[ Pt 14 ] [ Pt 15 ] [ Pt 16 ]
February 20-21, 2004.
Sold-Out Closing Weekend.One of the most difficult things about writing a story as it's happening is that you don't know how it's going to "end" until you actually get there. I can't drop in hints or foreshadowing in the early pages because I don't know how it's going to turn out. The reader and I have to simply stumble along in the darkness, crossing our fingers and hoping for the best.
In our second week here, I was worried. The ice was thick on the sidewalks. The houses were small. The producers were privately worried that they had made a big mistake with The Last Session -- mistake in thinking that people would rush in to buy tickets. It felt like no matter what we did, we just could not seem to get people into the theatre.
I tried to reflect this somewhat in the diary but because it's a public document, I am caught between trying to cheer on the troops and trying to relay exactly what's actually happening. Also, just on a psychological level, no one really knows what's happening in their life as it happens. Almost all of our insight and knowledge happens after the fact.
So, on that second Sunday matinee, knowing we had only 22 people in the audience, I didn't quite know how to express what I was feeling in this diary. On one hand, the response from the people that were there was phenomenal. On the other hand, well, we only had 22 people in the audience.
Then on the third Friday, the icy weather broke, the sun came out and suddenly we were playing to 100 people, 80% capacity. All weekend long we played to full houses. The world of mouth combined with all the personal appearances we had been making seemed to turn it around.
Suddenly, the lobby was full afterwards with hugging and tears. We in the cast had found our rhythm and the show played like a well-oiled machine. Laughs were loud and the sniffling of people crying their eyes out came across the lights to us on the stage. The "Going It Alone" moment was electric, with the audience holding its breath waiting for us. Everything worked.
But that was the third weekend. How would our closing weekend be?
Well, let's put it this way: Do the words "sold out" mean anything to you?
TLS comes through again. And it's always the same pattern. First people don't quite know what to think of a musical about AIDS so they shy away and wait until someone else has seen it. Or they see the announcement, dismiss it and don't think about it until someone they know calls them and DEMANDS that they come. Even good reviews don't seem to bring them out. The only thing that works is word of mouth and in the case of this show, word of mouth never fails.
Our closing weekend was glorious. In fact, closing night they got out the folding chairs and shoved as many people into the space as they could, including some who were sitting on the steps. And since it was general seating, they were lined up over an hour ahead of time to get the best seats. The house manager told me they were literally fighting over the seats.
So, by the time we hit the stage, all we had to do was show up and say the lines. The audience did the rest of the work for us. And what an audience. The age range was phenomenal. From ages 11 to 80. Male, female, straight, gay, liberal, conservative, atheist, liberal Christian, conservative Christian, new agers. I cannot think of a single group that wasn't represented in that audience. And all of them laughing and crying together.
Afterwards in the lobby, everyone hung around and gave us all great big hugs. It was a celebration and an incredible goodbye.
This production happened because one man, John Doti, saw TLS in NY seven years ago. It so moved him that when he had the means to produce it in Indianapolis, he put his own money on the line and paid for it himself. His only motivation was to share something profound with the rest of his world.
Behind the scenes, lives were changed. The private emails I've received which I cannot share with you because I've been asked to hold them confidentially, were powerful, transforming and humbling. I can tell you that more than a few emails told me their lives had been saved by seeing the show. That they were in Gideon's place of having lost the desire to live. But after hearing the show, they said they had found exactly what they were looking for: hope.
Myself, I learned a lot in Indianapolis. I learned that the issues in this play, Gideon's desire to end it all, Buddy's desire to save a life, Vicki's anger at feeling betrayed, Tryshia's center of gravity, and Jim's love for his friend -- all of these things affected me deeply both onstage and off. I found myself in tears on that stage every single night.
I learned that no matter how young the cast, there was always something each of them could teach me.
I learned that passion drives great theatre.
We had a great run, not just because we were standing up there on a stage doing lines, but because every single person involved, from Ruth the director to the kids in the booth volunteering their time, felt PASSION to be involved and to tell this story with excellence and integrity.
And how did I feel? Well, what can I say? I was surrounded by people who were deeply involved from their souls, devoting themselves to words and music that were created from the most painful and personal time of my life. We had a audience that literally, as I have described, sent white hot emotion, waves of lava flowing, pouring down on us. People who flew or drove in from all over the country. A audience member with cancer paid for a cast album because he NEEDED to bring the music we played home with him.
As Gideon says in TLS, "I didn't do anything." I showed up. I allowed this great city to envelope me. I found something white hot here that was bursting to get out. Maybe it's something the whole world is feeling but it took the sincere, gentle people of Indianapolis to open their hearts and let it flow.
We didn't end anything here. All we did was light a small fire. But this fire will burn brightly in all our hearts for a very long time.
I love this city and I will be back. (In fact, Jimmy and I BOTH will be backin August. I cannot wait to show him off to the people there. And I cannot wait to show off the Indy audiences to Jimmy.)
I love you Indianapolis, Indiana. And I will never forget what you have given to me, a renewed faith in myself, a renewed faith in people, and, as we illustrate in The Big Voice, a renewed faith in the redemptive power of musical theatre.
© 1996-2004 by Steve Schalchlin.You have permission to print from this diary and distribute for use in support groups, schools, or to just give to a friend. You do not have permission to sell it.