BRIEF BLOG INTRO:
NEWS UPDATE: I have been given the Editor's Choice Award for "Excellence in Songwriting" by BroadwayWorld. I am most grateful. If you've never been here...
I'm a man on a mission. A mission to convince you that music is a Super Power, and that life is worth living, no matter how many obstacles are placed in your way. And that you can accomplish great things if you just push ahead and don't let anyone tell you no.
I'm a singer/songwriter and actor from Texas who is "Living in the Bonus Round" in New York City-- which is my way of describing how I feel having cheated death. (In a game show, the Bonus Round is where time speeds up and the prizes are better.) Accepting my death changed me. Now, I'm consuming life as quickly and as fully as I can, while still taking time to breathe and appreciate every single day as an utter miracle.
Last year, I turned 60 and I had a set of goals, all of which came true, including composing -- and performing in -- a Mass, recording a solo album (selling 10s of copies), headlining to a sold out house at a major night club in New York City and playing the lead role in a staged reading of a play not written by myself. I update a few times a month these days, and I don't spam. So it's easier to keep up with me by following by Email. When this blog began, it was to track my death. I'm told it was the first AIDS blog. You can start at the gruesome beginning if you want. Or just jump in and maybe we can learn some life lessons together. Welcome to the Bonus Round. I'm Steve [SHACK-lin] and we're just getting started.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
I hope you've enjoyed the video "reality show" diaries as much as I've enjoyed making them. Next stop: Tuscon! See you there.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Sunday, August 26, 2007
Today's final show didn't feel like an ending. It felt like a beginning. We love San Francisco; and we feel loved by San Francisco. I love just saying, "San Francisco." I love how it's such a delicious mouthful of crunchy sounds.
Jim and I also love the people on the staff at New Conservatory Theatre Center. It's a place where the people genuinely like each other. The sheer volume of work, not to mention the focus required to produce, schedule, staff, cast, build and promote full seasons of shows on three stages is mind-boggling. It's an extraordinary achievement to done by just a handful of people. I've been a part of non-profit orgs. It's a lot of stress and requires utter commitment. It seemed to me that Ed sets a very kind atmosphere. Loose and efficient.
You know, a non-profit theatre is a terrific place to just go volunteer/work when you're young and you need some structure -- especially if you're feeling a bit lost. There's always work that needs to be done, it's a disciplined atmosphere and it's a college education just to work on a full season, even if you're just running errands, making copies and helping build and strike sets (or whatever).
Jim and I loved melting into the family there and being a part of it all.
Several people reported seeing the show four times during this run. Some three. A lot of people came twice. It was fantastic. It made me wonder if we couldn't actually do an extended run here.
I also loved how our journey seemed to strike a chord with so many different kinds of people -- atheists, Catholics, Jews, spiritualists, theatre haters and theatre queens. And yes, Ethel Queens and Judy Queens. The Jewish mom brought her 14 year old daughter (which reminded me of the man who brought back his kids when we played for the Unitarian Universalist conference).
I love that people see our show as a romantic date musical. We saw old gay couples, young gay couples. Lesbian couples (I'm such a lesbophile). Cute straight couples sitting in the front row holding onto each other.
I'm sure this is all sounding very self-serving. I imagine everyone thinks their show has the capacity to cross over to any and all demographics. So, take everything I'm saying with a grain of salt. It's just how I feel right now.
Jim and I were in the car and he asked me how I felt about our experience here. I told him I felt triumphant. Did we totally sell out every house? No. But we always had full houses. And they were always enthusiastic. Plus, we had a total clean sweep of raves from the critics here. And lots of press (thanks to the promotional staff at NCTC).
It just could not have been better -- and it's very upsetting to have to leave just when we felt like we were getting settled in. But that's show business! We form these little families and then we break them up and move on to form even more. Today we drive back home with cats in tow.
So long, San Francisco. We will be back.
My friend, Mark Evanier, is authoring one of the books and he is always reminding us in his entertaining and irreplaceable blog.
Saturday, August 25, 2007
Even better, he wants you to send the money to a "charity" run by a convicted sex offender -- a charity that doesn't seem to exist anymore.
Shall we compare the work of Ted Haggard to Mother Teresa? And yes, by all means, let's keep sending him money.
In response, someone asked me, "So doubt is faith?"
And this is how I responded:
Faith is a subject I've been wrestling with for a very long time and I don't think it helps to discuss something like this in snarky, sarcastic posts as we do here (not that I don't love snarky, sarcastic posts).
But it seems to me that Mother Teresa is a perfect example of true faith in that, for 50 years when she prayed, she felt absolutely nothing coming back from heaven. Utter silence. It also seems to me that that's exactly what everyone hears when they pray. The difference between Mother Teresa and everyone else is that she's admitting it. But even she couldn't bear to say this unsayable thing out loud. And even in her death, she asked that these letters be destroyed. I can only thank whomever it was who made the decision to not destroy them.
Too often, religion becomes this emotional masturbation where people work themselves up into a chemical frenzy so that they can tell themselves that they "felt" something -- and therefore God is real.
During my wanderings in the land of pure atheism, it was this silence from above (coupled with theological claims that made no sense to me) that left me angry and bitter -- a state many devout people never forgive you for.
What happened to me is that I began writing songs about living with AIDS. And these songs began to have a healing effect not just on me, but on everyone I played them for. They were LITERALLY changing body chemistries and bringing people into a deeper sense of themselves, their role in the lives of others and their love for life.
When a minister in upstate New York heard them, he asked me to sing in his church. I told him I hadn't been in a church in 25 years and that I didn't "believe" in God. He said, "Yes, you do. Now come sing in my church."
And that was the beginning of my long road back to "faith." And it began with someone believing in ME. That also became a crystal clear moment for me about what "belief" might actually mean, that belief in "God" is really belief in each other. If I tell someone I really believe in them and that I have total faith in them as a human being, it changes them. They rise to the occasion. It's a gift that transcends theology, church, our notions of the "personhood" of God, all that mumbo jumbo.
When I began to restudy the Bible, it hit me like a ton of bricks that Jesus' ministry (which, as was pointed out to me last night, was very much in line with Jewish faith) was touching people one at a time, believing in them, seeing past the skin diseases and the poverty and the hunger and the sense of loss and weakness, to empower them with belief in themselves to overcome great strife by realizing that the true Kingdom of God is within their own selves. That they BECOME the hands, eyes and feet of God.
And that was what Mother Teresa did. She couldn't relate to all the praying "up" and waiting for some kind of sign or voice or signal. Instead, she went to the most poverty stricken place on earth and she dug her fingers into the dirt and began a lifelong service to the people who were the most outcast, the most unloved, the most forgotten, the left behind, the nameless. A friend of mine tells me of dropping everything he had and following her into those hospices where he, a man of wealth, would be on his hands and knees cleaning up shit and vomit and blood. He said the smell alone in her hospice was enough to make you sick for a lifetime.
Though I don't call it that, I have discovered my place of "ministry." I see what happens when I sing my songs and tell my story on a stage. Last night after the show, the people were hugging me, telling me stories, crying, thanking me for providing a voice that they thought they had lost, telling me how inspired they now felt -- and three of those people were Catholic priests who had come because they had heard about our show.
But if you were to ask me if I "believe" in "God," who the hell knows? I know, though, what the power of ministry is to people who need help. I'm certainly not trying to compare what I've done with the self-sacrificial ministry of Mother Teresa, but when I heard about this series of letters, it hit me hard.
Doubt is not faith. But doubt is what keeps our faith humble. I don't have to start a religion or hold myself up as some religious figure. I don't have to start a TV ministry and start asking for donations. I don't tell people to follow me or even care one whit about what I have to say on the subject of God.
But I can sing a song that touches their hearts and heals something inside. I can sing my songs in hospices (which I have) to caregivers to remind them of the importance of their work. I can sing to people who are dying (which I have) to give them some comfort in their pain. I can hug someone after my show who is standing there with tears streaming down their face.
I doubt everything. I doubt God. I doubt church. I doubt my talent. I doubt my own ability to be remotely compassionate. But I continue doing what I do because I've seen the results. That is my faith. That is what I hear from the pen of Mother Teresa. Faith is when you push ahead THROUGH the doubt and simply do your work.
Faith is not belief. Faith is what you have when belief is out of reach.
TAG: mother teresa
Friday, August 24, 2007
Since we've been here in San Francisco -- basically the month of August -- we have had nothing but the most amazingly perfect weather imaginable. Each morning, there's a bit of a fog. The sky starts out overcast. The breeze coming through the windows is bracing, cool and moist. Then the sun breaks free about mid-morning and the sky completely clears out -- a rich, spotless blue that shimmers magically against the stark concrete of the many skyscrapers.
At noon, the sun is bright. The sky is perfectly clear. The ocean breeze warms up a bit so that when you're standing in the hot sun, the rushing air is cooling your skin -- clean, brisk and fresh smelling. Unlike L.A., there's not a trace of smog.
After we passed over, we came back out into the sun, but when we looked behind, we saw this:
Tiberon is a little town with a beautiful waterfront. This is part of the little tourist area. We went to Sam's Anchor Cafe overlooking the bay.
After we left Sam's, we were crossing back over to the car when we saw that the fog was starting to dissipate. So, the city, which we couldn't see before, seemed to appear out of the mist:
It's impossible to believe we only have two more performances. Last night's show was another roof raiser. The level of pure emotion in that room was palpable. And when we greeted people in the lobby afterwards, they all but fell into our arms. It was truly amazing. One man, "I'm here representing the priests. There were three of us. We loved your show."
A woman: "I'm Jewish and I saw it two weeks ago. I had to come back and bring my 14 year old daughter. Why can't you keep on running?"
"I was raised Methodist."
"I was a Baptist from Oklahoma."
"I knew everything you were going through."
"I directed and choreographed, at the age of 10, a production of 'Annie Get Your Gun' in my driveway. On roller skates."
How can we leave San Francisco? I've never felt so embraced by a community. This past week, I had lunch with Kathy McGuire who leads the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus. We connected on such a deep level. She's from Melbourne, Australia, and I think we have very similar tastes. I told her how much I loved choral music. When I was in college, I would find myself crying inexplicably whenever I would hear a choir. The sound of all those voices always gets me -- and I can't even say why. Tears just streaming down my face for no reason at all.
We did talk about the choir possibly singing some of my material, but I don't want to say too much at this point or put her on the spot. But let me say this: I do have a rather "big" idea that I have been conceiving -- and since 2008 will be the 30th anniversary next year of this chorus, the first gay men's chorus in the world, it might be a perfect match.
We have also spoken with Ed Decker about writing something for New Conservatory. It's just that we feel so integrated. I want to live here EVERY August!
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Ed Decker called this morning and said that the event sold $4000 in tickets, produced $4000 in additional donations from attendees, and then that total will be matched with a matching grant of $8000, bringing the total for the evening to $16,000 to help fund the New Conservatory's Educational and Production programs.
And Jim was brilliant.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2007
TRUTH WINS OUT WARNS REPORTERS OF NEW BIASED 'EX-GAY' SHAM STUDY ON THE HORIZON
TWO Challenges 'Ex-Gay' Researcher To Have Study Subjects Submit To 'No Lie MRI' To Prove Tales of Change Are True
NEW YORK - Truth Wins Out warned news organizations today that a biased new politically motivated "ex-gay" sham study will reportedly surface later this year. A controversial "researcher" at a right wing religious university will release it and the goal of the study, known as "The Thomas Project," is to show that ex-gay therapy is often successful. Unfortunately, an early report by the website Ex-Gay Watch indicates that the research likely consists of calling handpicked ex-gay lobbyists and ministry leaders on the telephone and asking if they had "changed." There is no indication that key physical measures or tests were included, such as a "No Lie MRI," which is a scientific truth-detecting brain scan.
"Any 'ex-gay' study that does not include physical components that measure truth are essentially meaningless," said Truth Wins Out's Executive Director Wayne Besen. "We challenge Dr. Stanton Jones to submit his so-called ex-gay subjects to the 'No Lie MRI' because we believe that ex-gay ministries are consumer fraud and his reported study may be invalid. Our direct challenge is a unique opportunity for ex-gay organizations to back up their outrageous tales of transformation and prove us wrong once and for all. What are they afraid of?"
According to Ex-Gay Watch, The Thomas Project is a 5-year study of Exodus Ministries undertaken by Dr. Stanton Jones, Provost of Wheaton College. The report says that the study likely consists of questions asked once a year by telephone. There are also unconfirmed reports that the study has a sample of as few as 100 to 150 participants. This is surprising considering Exodus claims to represent "hundreds of thousands" of ex-gays.
"After several key ex-gay leaders have been caught in sex scandals, their tales of transformation lack credibility," said Besen. "It is folly to suggest that telephone interviews can be considered genuine research. News organizations should avoid covering such a mockery of the scientific method."
The website Ex-Gay Watch also reported that Dr. Jones has worked with Dr. Mark Yarhouse, a professor at Pat Robertson University, also known as "Regent," and is the co-author of the Sexual Identity Therapy Framework with unlicensed ex-gay therapist Dr. Warren Throckmorton. Jones and Yarhouse also co-authored a book, Homosexuality: The Use of Scientific Research in the Church's Moral Debate, in 2000.
According to a recent article in The New Yorker magazine:
The "No Lie MRI" makes a series of scans that show changes in the flow of oxygenated blood preceding neural events. The brain needs oxygen to perform mental tasks so a rise in the level of oxygenated blood in one part of the brain can indicate cognitive activity there. Brain scan lie detection is predicated on the idea that lying requires more cognitive effort, and therefore more oxygenated blood than truth telling.
"Once you jump behind the skull, there is no hiding," Joel Huizenga, founder of the company 'No Lie MRI' told The New Yorker.
"It seems that ex-gays would rather mislead and practice skullduggery than get behind the skull," said Besen. "I hope they take our challenge and end the semantic games and phony studies used to propagate their political agenda."
Truth Wins OUT is a non-profit organization that counters right wing propaganda, exposes the "ex-gay" myth and educates America about gay life. For more information, visit www.TruthWinsOut.org.
© 2007 TRUTH WINS OUT. All rights reserved.
TRUTH WINS OUT | www.truthwinsout.org
1000 West Avenue, Suite 706, Miami Beach, FL 33139
Phone: 917-691-5118 | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you plan on attending the Wednesday night show (11pm) at the Red Devil Lounge for the world debut of the full band version of "Cool By Default," bring a video camera and shoot the band. Shoot whatever looks interesting to you on stage. Then, send them to me and I'll cut a music video of the event using all the footage.
Now, more about this:
The Preoccupied Pipers have suddenly and mysteriously activated a MySpace account.
As I said before, I am an extended "member" of the Preoccupied Pipers but they are as mysterious to me as they are to everyone else. All I know is we're singing "Cool By Default." I will not get a rehearsal with the band. They are going to learn the song, rehearse it and then I'm going to jump onstage, video camera in hand, and sing it.
This once-a-year band reappears out of the ether, the members gather from around the world, they perform for the International Pop Overthrow, and then disappear again. Here is their description from their website:
(a) Most of the dozen-plus bandmembers used to be in Lawsuit. (b) Lawsuit was a ska/jazz/punk/bubblegum band hailing from Davis California (1987-1996). (c) "Preoccupied Pipers" was originally the name of a 'zine-like yearly cassette collection of homemade Lawsuit demos and other miscellaneous outtakes & experiments. (d) Now it suffices for a band name, though we're more of loose collective than a band. (e) We mostly record bubblegum-psychedelic-buttrock-powerpop and/or stoner-weirdo-comedy songs using commonly available 21st century recording methods... but we also occasionally play live shows. (f) For instance, we play at the International Pop Overthrow festival every year.
Powerpop / Psychedelic / Rock
Preoccupied Pipers: General Info
Member Since 12/10/2006 Band Website preoccupiedpipers.com Band Members Preoccupied Pipers recordings typically include contributions from: Ned Sykes, KC Bowman, Michael Ishizue, Jeri Sykes, Paul Sykes, Marta Wilson Sykes, Joe Hayes, Paul Kagiwada, David J Anderson, Dan Ciruli, Barbara West, Stephen Erickson, Phil Sequeira, Andy Siff and Steve Schalchlin...and often many others. Influences Beatles - Sloan - Talking Heads - XTC - Jesus Christ Superstar - The Partridge Family - 70's AM Hits - Mommyheads - Phish - Elliott Smith - Aerosmith - Television - Dukes of Stratosphear - R Stevie Moore - Rush - Bread - Carpenters - Toy Dolls - Fishbone - Andrea Perry - Rosie Rojo - Dead Kennedys Sounds Like Dorky people with a keen sense of musical gratuity trying to make each other laugh. Record Label Timber Trout Recordings Type of Label Indie
I'm very proud to be a part of this modern day rock and roll Brigadoon.
Monday, August 20, 2007
I don't have to be fancy or artistic or anything. It's enough to just point the camera and just be ourselves. All the time people come up to us recreating little bits they've saw and laughed at.
And yes, Alexandra, Jimmy's "spit take" at the radio station was absolutely real. It's not easy to make Jim laugh, but when you DO make Jim laugh, it's worth every penny.
I noted today that I have 95 videos up on YouTube. 95. And there are still more that preceded YouTube, with a number of them at Ourmedia.com -- an early video-hosting site. I have to get into my archives and put them up on YouTube. "Living in the Bonus Round: The Early Years." Like the one in which I took off my eye patch and could see normally for the first time in years.
It's all very primitive and basic, but it's all real, too.
Here in San Francisco, the critics have been comparing us to some of the great classic comic teams -- like Laurel & Hardy. Five years of performing this piece (that still feels new every night) has given us a natural rhythm. Our stage personas becoming more developed. And I'm the lucky one in this regard, because I've just allowed myself to learn from the master.
Jim has been a great comic actor all his life. He's theatrical and real and silly and hilarious and touching and, like all great comics, he eventually breaks your heart -- and puts it back together again. Every night is like, as he would put it, speaking of watching all the great Broadway stars while selling orange drink in the lobby, a "master class in acting."
One of my netfriends remarked, after seeing the show, "I wasn't expecting you to be the straight man." But, yeah, I'm the straight man. I love the role. I'm Ricky. He's Lucy. It's perfect. And this is kinda how we are all the time with each other. He's hilarious and I play the congas.
Sunday, August 19, 2007
The story, with its emotional range, is warm and touching. The performances by Jim and Steve are brilliant. Steve with his gaunt face plays completely deadpan, firing off some hilarious lines without cracking a smile. Burly Jim has a very motile face and uses unabashedly nellie gestures. When they move around the stage together, seemingly independently, they are professionally, unobtrusively and totally aware of each other’s presence. Their comic timing is quick and precise, never stepping on each other’s lines and always coming in right on cue. Their singing voices through the fourteen songs are generally well controlled, but with little musicality.Little musicality? Jim sings like Sinatra and Goulet? LOL. And why would you end the review on that last sentence? It's a punchline, guy. Oh, well. I liked "the performances are brilliant."
When Jim sang “You Are a Stranger,” the slow romantic ballad allowed his tonalities to be more fully developed, with some hints of Sinatra and Goulet. When they sang the duet “One New Hell,” Jim’s voice soared, but Steve’s cracked occasionally. Steve at the onstage keyboard missed his lyrics a few times, but recovered well. When he sang about being “wounded by the closet” back in Arkansas, his voice was plaintive and affecting. When Jim belted out Merman songs, Steve complained that he wished he would sing in his own voice.
Saturday, August 18, 2007
Friday, August 17, 2007
Now, my friends over at Beyond Ex-Gay and Soulforce have reported that three more leaders of ex-gay ministries in Australia add their names to the long list of former leaders apologizing for their part in the destructive and indecent lie called the Ex-Gay Myth.
EDIT: More info here.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
We visited the longest running show in San Francisco, called Beach Blanket Babylon, which is, to put it mildly, a hoot. But the big surprise was that the musical director is the man who first hired me for a theatre gig, Bill Keck. Yes, this guy is the one who started it all. He put me into the line-up at the Gran' Crystal Palace in Dallas back in the late 70s.
Thurber has been keeping all our appointments. The theater has been keeping us so busy, he feel asleep just trying to keep it all updated:
Then, on Wednesday, we were interviewed for a new book about the secrets longterm couples have in keeping their relationships together. The authors, Linda and Charlie Bloom, have another book called "101 Things I Wish I Knew When I Got Married." They were looking for a gay couple, I think, and saw our interviews in the SF Chronicle. So, they contacted me and we took about two hours just talking about ourselves.
Jim took this pic of me and Steinbeck. We love having the boys here. This is only one of two places we've been able to go to and take them with us. It makes it all seem like home.
When we told him we were coming into San Francisco, he said he had a friend he'd like to bring. So, imagine how we felt when we were standing in the receiving line hugging Brian Boitano (who is a total sweetheart). Katelyn, our stage manager, was having major heart palpitations, doing triple lutzes backstage at intermission. I just felt so honored. And, of course, Franc is being deluged with mp3s from me, begging him to sing my songs!
(Click on image for high res photo and see how cute we really are.)
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
"Gay people who are raised in a religious environment, a conservative religious environment are basically told, 'You're not good enough / you don't belong here / you need to change / you need to be something else.' And so, in a lot of our lives, we end up leaving the church and hating God or hating Religion or hating the whole nine yards. But an inherently spiritual person doesn’t really lose the core of their being. So it’s going to come out somewhere."My point was that church people can call us names all they want. They can insist that we are Sons of Satan or profoundly reprobate, but they are wrong. And if they want to throw us out of their "holy" houses, we'll simply go elsewhere, but our essential spiritual cores do not fade and will not be held down.
"I think that what we discovered is that it comes out of theater, because theater and church are essentially the same thing. They are story-telling, they are inspirational, and they are true. Theatre brings an even higher truth sometimes. Church basically repeats the same old story over and over again. I often wonder if that’s not one of the reasons so many gay people wind up getting into theater. We’re always told that the reasons are because we're used to hiding and wearing masks and being somebody else. But I think there's something more profound." - Steve Schalchlin, in an extensive interview with the San Francisco Sentinel.
Theatre is one of the places where we find our power. And, for Jim and me, the most profound spiritual experiences came from a stage, not a pulpit.
AIDS virus is a "double hit" to the brain: study
(Reuters) The AIDS virus damages the brain in two ways, by not only killing brain cells but by preventing the birth of new cells, U.S. researchers reported on Wednesday.
The study, published in the journal Cell Stem Cell, helps shed light on a condition known as HIV-associated dementia, which can cause confusion, sleep disturbances and memory loss in people infected with the virus.
It is less common in people taking drug cocktails to suppress the virus, and why HIV damages brain function is not clearly understood.
The virus kills brain cells but it also appears to stop progenitor cells, known as stem cells, from dividing, the team at Burnham Institute for Medical Research and the University of California at San Diego found.
"It's a double hit to the brain," researcher Marcus Kaul said in a statement. "The HIV protein both causes brain injury and prevents its repair."
The cocktail of drugs known as highly active antiretroviral therapy or HAART that treats HIV does not infiltrate the brain well, allowing for a "secret reservoir" of virus, said Stuart Lipton, who worked on the study.
HIV-associated dementia is becoming more common, as patients survive into their older years.
Working in mice, the researchers found that the virus directly interferes with the birth of new brain cells from stem cells.
"The breakthrough here is that the AIDS virus prevents stem cells in the brain from dividing; it hangs them up," Lipton said. "It's the first time that the virus has ever been shown to affect stem cells."
The culprit is gp120 -- a protein found on the outside of the AIDS virus, the researchers found.
"Knowing the mechanism, we can start to approach this therapeutically," Lipton said.
"This indicates that we might eventually treat this form of dementia by either ramping up brain repair or protecting the repair mechanism," Kaul added.
The Big Voice: God or Merman?
A musical comedy with a big heartPublished: August 15, 2007
Subject(s): Eaton on The Big Voice: God or Merman?
I have been reminded that it doesn't matter if you're gay or straight, if you're young or old, or if there's a fancy set or a bare stage — an amazing love story transcends it all. The Big Voice: God or Merman? proves this point nicely.
After a successful off-Broadway run, Jim Brochu and Steve Schalchin bring their small and truly moving autobiographical show to the New Conservatory Theatre. Billed as a "musical comedy in two lives," the first act charts their journeys separately until they eventually meet and fall in love on a cruise ship. Brochu employs his broad flamboyant charisma to describe growing up close to the Broadway lights, finding himself caught between being the next pope or a stage queen. He's large and joyously irreverent, and he even comes out in Pope pajamas singing Ethel Merman. It's a wonderful juxtaposition with the quieter and thinner Schalchin, who often sits behind his keyboard softly singing original ballads detailing his uncomfortable youth growing up in Arkansas as a Baptist.
They have an Abbot & Costello chemistry that only gets better when the shock and anger of AIDS darkens their relationship. After the show the two actors retire to the lobby and offer hugs and handshakes to audience members — a completely fitting gesture after spending a fun and intimate two hours together.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
This may be the most exhaustive interview ever published on the two us -- with lots of pictures.
Monday, August 13, 2007
Steve Sings With Preoccupied Pipers at Red Devil Lounge in San Francisco. Wednesday night, Aug. 22 at 11pm.
Then, the band broke up and I got gigs singing standards in New York City. Then, found Jim, moved to L.A., worked behind a desk in the music industry, got sick, wrote a musical, created this diary, almost died, and started into the Bonus Round, started singing solo concerts and even though I love all those things, I miss having a band. Or I did. Because I actually do belong to a rock and roll band, though it's more fair to say they adopted me. Their musical skills so overwhelm me, I feel like the least of the least. Maybe they just needed a AIDS guy, know what I mean, Shawn Decker (whose brilliant AIDSness is like a magnet to the rest of the world -- he reminds me that AIDS survivors are super heroes.)?
They are a unique and world class group of artists/musicians/songwriters called Preoccupied Pipers who meet once a year to sing at the International Pop Overthrow concert in San Francisco. The International Pop Overthrow also does shows in LA. which is where I first saw Preoccupied Pipers. I knew Ned's mom from the TLS list. They shoved a video camera in my fist and I became the band videographer for the night.
Then, one year when I was up at Standford University guest "lecturing" for the Jonathan King Lectureship, took me into their recording facilities to record a song I had been writing, "Salvation Song," which could only be done with a band (and has the lyric, "If Jesus had a rock band / Would they play on Friday nights?" basically asking if Jesus was kosher).
Their "recording facility" was in a warehouse filled with books. They could only record after hours. Bob Cox came up for that session. (Bob is in a new L.A. band called The Galaxies).
The song turned up on a CD called "Crispy Taste of Hell." I guess I was in the band! For the next project, "Trout Supershow," I contributed a disco fantasy called "Franco Ate The Paperwork" written on a dare that no one could write a song called "Franco Ate The Paperwork." The CD was in celebration of the fact that the new recording studio has been built -- in a garage, complete with kids and dogs and barbeque and beer.
Preoccupied Pipers have a twist of psychotic pop madness in the core creative team of KC Bowman and Ned Sykes AKA Vinnie's Vipers. This is a seriously hard rockin' band complete with sax section and a couple of dangerously great soloists, none of whom fight for the spotlight. But watch out when they get it.
Anyway, that's a long way of saying that, until we got our extension, there was no way I was going to be able to participate in the International Pop Overthrow concert here in San Francisco. It was after our scheduled run. But now that we're staying until August 26, I will be joining the band for the gig at 11pm at the Red Devil Lounge on Polk on Wednesday, August 22 to sing "Cool By Default."
I'll be holding the video camera.
Sunday, August 12, 2007
We knew that Bob was a very shy man, rarely, if ever, interviewed -- and never one to run around seeking attention for himself. So when friends of his, who saw the show in New York, told him about us, we were put in contact and he said he'd like to see the show, but that he would come on his own, without fanfare. We wouldn't know he was out there when he did come and, frankly, weren't even sure IF he would come. Still, we had great hopes and he did say he really did want to come.
So, this past Saturday night, as we were standing in the lobby greeting the audience members, as we usually do, this one man was hanging back until the crowd had mostly cleared. Jimmy saw him first. It was Bob.
He fell into Jimmy's arms, full of praise for the show, thanking us for treating his mother with such dignity and respect, and even weeping a bit. It was a glorious moment for us. And I said to him how proud we were to reintroduce Ethel to a new generation of theatergoers, and, unlike so many others, without treating her as a big gay joke or a loudmouth pseudo-drag queen. As the three of us stood in the lobby, hugging and talking, it felt like we were all old friends -- and for Jimmy, who has loved Ethel his entire life, we felt like we were giving the world, and Bob, the gift of the real woman with the larger than life heart.
We also posed for a picture together. And I had every intention of honoring his privacy, keeping the photo as a personal keepsake, and allowing the moment to be just something between the three of us if that was what he wanted. Still, I wanted to take a chance. I wanted to share this moment with you, dear reader. So, we asked him if we could post the photo.
Not only did he say yes, but he wrote the most beautiful letter I could ever imagine. AND he said that if the letter meant something to us (!), I could share that too. So, here it is:
Your show is certainly a happying experience, and meeting you and Steve was a heart's pleasure for me too.
I've never been one to create, much less circulate, photos that herald my 'Son of Ethel Merman' identity, but at this time and in this artful and special case, I'm happy to do it. Please give Steve my permission to post our photo on his blog.
I'd like to share one realm of my after-show, driving-home-over-the-mountain thoughts with you. If Steve feels that these are appropriate to share with his readers, he has my permission and appreciation for doing that.
For me, your show evokes a new, heart and soul perspective on the 'adoring' that so many gay men have experienced for Judy and Ethel. Your own particular story - your own adoring of my own mother, Ethel -came comfortably into my heart, laugh by laugh, poignant moment after poignant moment, all the way from its unfolding to its fulfillment. And now, there it rests.
But there's something more resting with it - another story that you and Steve have created for your audience. Within the artful weave of your Ethel Merman story and the larger story of your union with Steve, I thrilled to the how and why story of Ethel and Judy adoring gay men. Yes, I have a unique, lifetime's perspective on the truth of that, but your show is its own beautiful showing of the many layered truth in why my mother befriended, respected, companioned, and adored gay men.
A gay friend once called me a "straight homophile" and when I asked him what he meant by that he said, "Simple, you're straight and you love gay men." We laughed deeply over the truth of how that came about: "exposure to good, loving people and my proper upbringing".
THE BIG VOICE: GOD or MERMAN is clearly an informing, affirming delight for a gay audience. But so it is for anyone open hearted and straight too. Within the weave of its wonderful stories, we get to see the unique and human-precious qualities of two gay men, artful, courageous, and honest, and, through you, we can better understand - and celebrate - why Judy and Ethel adored gay men. And that's a wonderful thing.
Thanks for the wonderful show ! I'll be in touch when I return. All the best, Bob
There is a WONDERFUL new website on the net called Trailers From Hell! featuring movie trailers from all these old classic movies, most of them grindhouse or horror flicks. But along with the original trailers, they have commentary from some of today's most celebrated directors and other movie insiders talking about both the movies and the trailers.
This is popcorn viewing at its finest. (You can watch the trailers with or without commentary).
Here's an example featuring "The Attack of the 50 Foot Woman" with commentary by Joe Dante.
I also love this commentary by John Landis on a music concert movie called "The T.A.M.I. Show" where Lesli Gore is the biggest star on a bill with The Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, James Brown and Smokey Robinson.
Saturday, August 11, 2007
And the word of mouth. People go to see shows because their friends tell them to do so. But word of mouth means nothing if that media visibility is not there. So, even though it's only our second week, the houses are full and the reactions are off the chart.
Wednesday night, they were a slightly older crowd. A bit more subdued right at first. But then, at the point in the first act where we meet on board the ship, they were rockin' and rollin' with us. Act two was explosive. Thursday's crowd was with us from the very start. Loud, rollicking and vocal, they were talking back to us and having a ball. So were we.
Friday night was about the same. They didn't talk back to us, but they were present and loud and energetic, staying with us all the way. I just love playing this room. I love San Francisco.
Next door, in the theatre right by ours, the New Conservatory is opening a new production of "Greater Tuna." We've been having a blast joking with the cast and crew. We have adjoining dressing rooms, so we've all been going back and forth, in and out of each others' spaces.
The two actors, Markham Miller and Richard Ryan, are absolutely hilarious and my only regret is that we have the same playing schedule so we won't get to see them. Their opening night is this week. But last night was the first night they played a dress rehearsal. At intermission, they came in wearing full costumes. Naturally, we HAD to pose.
After the show, we were taken out to dinner by two online friends of mine. I've known Chris for quite some time. We met through my brother, Scott. He was moderating a discussion board filled with extremely conservative religious types, many of whom were hideously anti-gay. Chris decided to shake things up by inviting me in.
And talk about cockroaches scattering out of the light! Many of them were so right wing, they couldn't even stand to be in a ROOM with a gay guy much less enter into conversation. You know, if my religious beliefs were so weak and fragile that I couldn't even stand to be in a room with people who disagreed with me, I'd rethink my religious beliefs. Maybe they're built upon the sinking sand of fear. Chris withstood a massive amount of criticism, sticking up for me.
Well, finally, this was our chance to meet face to face. He and his beautiful wife, Claudine who I totally fell in love with from the first moment we met. Both of them are adorable, sexy people.
Have I mentioned I love San Francisco?
Friday, August 10, 2007
The Big Voice: God or Merman? is an Entertaining and Entirely Beguiling Evening of Musical Theatre
by Richard Connema
Steven Schalchlin and Jim Brochu have finally brought their charming and hilarious The Big Voice: God or Merman? to San Francisco. I first saw the show at the 2004 New York Musical Theatre Festival on a rainy night in Manhattan and I thought it would be perfect for our city by the bay.
The Big Voice: God or Merman? is entertaining full houses at the Decker Theatre in the New Conservatory Theatre Center through August 19th. This fast-paced comedy is full of indisputable zingers, with Steve and Jim telling their stories with self-belittling humor. Jim Brochu tells of how as a staunch Catholic growing up in the Bronx he wanted to become a Pope but found out later he was better suited to being like Ethel Merman. The audience learns how Steve Schalchlin grew up in a small Arkansas town with strong minded, God-fearing Baptist parents; students at the redneck high school called him a faggot. However, there also is a certain amount of humor in his telling of these stories.
Jim Brochu and Steve Schalchlin met on the cruise ship Galileo (the sister ship of the Andrea Dora) in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle. Steve was playing piano in the Fantasy Lounge, and the story of their meeting is hilarious. Things become more serious when Steve discovers he has developed AIDS. He thinks of suicide until Jim gets him out of his negative feelings. The pair go on to write a musical, The Last Session, in 1997 which becomes an Off-Broadway success.
These are two very talented men who keep the audience entertained for two hours and five minutes. They talk about the sacred and therapeutic powers of their lives in the showbiz world. Their words are inspirational not only for homosexuals but for anyone who has had problems with identity. This is a totally entertaining show.
Most of the fourteen songs by Steve Schalchlin with additional lyrics by Marie Cain are wonderfully diverse and contemporary. Steve is very moving when singing "Where is God?" after he has been diagnosed with AIDS in 1994. The two sum up their comical courtship with the melodious ballad "Near You," which is beautifully performed.
The Big Voice: God or Merman?plays at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness, San Francisco through August 26th. For tickets call 415-861-8972 or on line at www.nctcsf.org.
This show is more hilarious than I can relay on paper. You have to see it to believe it. I’m not usually an out-loud laugher. I usually just smile. But, this time I was absolutely doubled over with laughter. I could hardly catch my breath at times. It’s the freshest, most honest show I’ve seen in many a year. There are touches of “The Smothers Brothers” now and then. Especially remindful of that is the low-key Steve, who just drifts off into his music making, and talks softly. The whole evening was a beguiling celebration of love and storytelling. It’s wonderful, uplifting and fabulous fun. You’ll love it!
RATING: FOUR GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!!! (Highest Rating)
Also, Jim will be performing a one night only special benefit performance of ZERO HOUR, his one man show about Zero Mostel on August 21st.
Thursday, August 09, 2007
There is a website called Gold Star Events where members can get discounts to area theater events. Then, the people who see it, report back and write their own reviews of what they've seen. Well, this week we are the highest rated show on Gold Star Events receiving the Roar of the Crowd Award. Above is a screen shot of how our page appears on their site.