Jim and I arrive in a very hot and humid DC. This video is from our first day of tech rehearsal, which went very quickly, thanks to the efficient and talented designers and staff of Theater J.
BRIEF BLOG INTRO:
I'm a man on a mission. A mission to convince everyone I meet that life is worth living, no matter how many obstacles are placed in your way.
I'm a singer/songwriter and actor from Texas "Living in the Bonus Round" in New York City. That 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 played 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].
Monday, August 31, 2009
Sunday, August 30, 2009
We’re not a theater that’s big on Standing O’s. Maybe cause our ticket prices aren’t expensive enough (there often seems to be a direct correlation between the amount of money an audience has paid for a ticket and the extent to which they wish to congratulate themselves — and the performance — when it’s done, as if to say, “thank God it was worth it!),
If you read theatre sites like Talkin' Broadway, the regulars there constantly bemoan the fact that "standing o's" in Broadway houses are so constant that they've become mundane -- as if the audience feels obliged to stand (usually without energy) -- in order to, as Ari points out, to justify paying over $100 a ticket, as if trying to "prove" how good the show is by applauding madly at the end, even when the show is a crushing bore, as so many of them can be.
I noticed when we got here that Theater J does have uncommonly reasonable prices for their shows. And considering the world class talent Ari manages to attract to the venue, this was a great and welcome surprise. I think theatre needs to be seen, and I feel it should be populist in its reach, while challenging in its subject matter. He continues:
...what becomes a standing ovation most is the recognition that we’re in the presence of a legend — or a legendary performance in the making. Recent standing ovations on a nightly basis at Theater J have gone to Sandra Bernhard, Theodore Bikel, and Robert Prosky; though by no means the only hits we’ve had, the ovation has gone to bravura perfomers who come with a history.His point is that the Theater J audience is discerning. If they're going to stand and applaud, it's because the performer EARNED it. It's because they feel they've seen something "legendary" and worthy, not just because the show is over.
Last night was the first DC performance of ZERO HOUR. It clocked in at an hour and twenty four minutes of bravura performance (not including the 15 minute intermission) and audiences LEPT to their feet at the conclusion.They sure did. And they almost wouldn't let Jim leave the stage. In spite of this being a new work for them, they treated Jim as if he were a returning champion.
Which legend were they congratulating? Zero Mostel, with whom we thought we were in the presence of over the course of the evening, or was it the larger than life performance of Jim Brochu who offers a marathon tour de force? Or was it the inevitable fusion of both, as we paid respect to Zero’s legend and legacy and Jim Brochu’s stunning feat of recreation?I believe Ari's point, which he puts in the form of an academic question, is that you can't really have one without the other. Perhaps like Meryl Streep "recreating" Julia Child, Jim doesn't so much imitate Zero as embody him. Or, as the great theatre legend, Theo Bikel put it, Jim "brings back a volcano we thought was extinct."
Audiences never feel for one moment that they're watching someone "try" to pretend to be someone they're very familiar with from stage and screen. It's as if the spirit of Zero descends from the hereafter and, perhaps out of sheer stubbornness and anger and will and humor, possesses Jim.
Last night, after the performance, Seth, the stage manager, asked Jim about his stage exit, questioning him which side into which he'd be going off, and how he wanted to handle the technical aspects of this moment.
And Jim looked up at him and said, "I don't even remember the last 10 minutes of the show. I have no idea where I exited or how far I went. All I know is the applause wouldn't stop, so I came back out and took another bow."
And that's when you know you're in the zone. Zero Mostel's story, no matter how hilarious he could tell it, is not a "light entertainment." Zero was a feisty, angry, sophisticated man whose baggy pants comedic fulminations belied his intelligence and his well-read involvement in politics and social issues. Yeah, he could make you laugh. But he could have you weeping like a child, too. The pain of being rejected by his parents, the ten years he spent almost penniless because of the blacklist, the suicide of his best friend, Phil Loeb, and his agony at being rejected for the film version of "Fiddler on the Roof," a role he created, inform his every punchline and funny face.
Jim lives these things every single night. By the time the night is over, he doesn't know where he is or even who he is. He needs at least 15 minutes to just sit in the dressing room and recover.
Ari finishes his observations:
Zero was a great admirer of Franklin Roosevelt ("One of the greatest Jewish minds in the history of the world"), who he felt brought compassion and humanity and justice (highest of Jewish ideals) to the office of the president.
There certainly wasn’t anything cynical or self-serving about this standing ovation. It came from the heart. It came because people laughed and marveled, and were deeply affected by the tale of a genius artist put out to pasture prematurely by a government-initiated hysteria, and how Zero recovered after his blacklist ordeal and pushed his career to new heights.
Inspiration abounds here. As does political relevance. How glad I am that we waited until now — until this very moment — to bring Jim Brochu’s important play — and his stunning recreation of an American-Jewish genius — to our stage.
As the health care debate rages here in Washington, I don't think any play more capably addresses the issues right here, right now. And it's done with a laugh and more than a few explosions.
We appreciate Ari Roth's visionary leadership, and marvel at the timing. Funny and amazing how the past can tell us so much about the present.
Hi Steve. My name is Amy Wentzel - I am the fund raising director for a small rescue in North western Pennsylvania (The Lyons Den Rescue, Inc.). We will be holding our 7th annual Canine Carnival on September 12th. This event brings area rescues together with dog clubs and vendors of animal products to network with each other, educate the public on spay/neuter, promote adoptions, and to raise funds for our rescue. Would it be possible for us to use your song, "Rescue" at our event? If we can use it, can you send me a copy? I came across your site while searching for songs to be played by our DJ during the event. Thank you for your help.Amy WentzelOur website:
(We know this because we checked with the lady who watches the door of the DC Jewish Community Center. "They loved it. They loved it," she said. "I overheard one man saying it was one of the best plays he's ever seen. Another just kept going on and on, saying how great it was to be treated to such a satisfying entertainment.")
Today, he has two shows, so we'll see how well he holds up. But, you know, old theatre pros like Jim, he could swim the Potomac, cook a ten course meal and run and marathon, and still have energy left to do a show. All he needs is a little greasepaint, a stage and an audience.
And he really did have them in the palm of his hand. They were laughing sometimes uncontrollably and applauding wildly. This is a great relief, for sure. No matter how tested a piece might be, a new city and a new audience always brings a new dynamic.
It also looks like ticket sales are starting to fly. In this economy, theatregoers are being reticent about buying anything in advance until they feel they're going to get something worth their time. The difference between the pre-sold yesterday morning and after we got home last night were quite startling.
I'm also enjoying my role as caregiver here. Jim is expending a lot of energy. And, like I said, because of the heavy atmosphere, and him with his asthma, I'm being like a mother hen. But, so is little Seth Finkle, the stage manager, who's doing a terrific job of looking out for him, making sure he has everything he needs.
The official opening night is Wednesday. Piper Laurie will be flying in soon to join us. It's really quite a special time. Once we get fully open and settled in, we'll start touring around the city, doing some videos and generally being silly.
For now, our focus is strictly on getting the show right, getting some audiences in, and working out any last minute kinks. And I'm making sure he sleeps good, and remembers to eat and drink lots of water.
What an exciting time!
Saturday, August 29, 2009
EDIT (courtesy of Delia, the production manager): The set seen here was designed by Luciana Stecconi with props by HannaH Crowell (she likes to stress the palindrome of her first name) and lighting by Jason Arnold.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Friday, August 28, 2009
When writer and actor Jim Brochu picks up the phone at his home in Los Angeles, he is eager to share some good news.
He has just learned that "Zero Hour," his one-man play about the late, larger-than-life actor Zero Mostel, which opens Saturday at Theater J, has been picked up for an off-Broadway run in the fall.
But there's bad news, too: Brochu has picked up something else -- an annoying cold.
Yet even the misfortune has an upside. "I think I caught the cold from Topol!" he says gleefully.
Brochu explains that he met Chaim Topol after a recent performance of "Fiddler on the Roof," the musical in which Topol has toured extensively in the decades since winning the role of Tevye -- originated by Mostel on Broadway in 1964 -- when the hit show was adapted for the screen.
Given Mostel's choice zingers at his rival's expense in "Zero Hour," in which Brochu portrays Mostel giving a no-holds-barred interview shortly before his death in 1977, the cold could be interpreted as a bit of cosmic justice.
But cold and all, Brochu, 63, is happy to have another slice of life with which to flesh out his connection to Mostel, who survived the McCarthy-era blacklist, achieved Broadway superstardom in 1962's "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" and "Fiddler," and secured his film legacy alongside Gene Wilder in the 1968 Mel Brooks comedy "The Producers."
It's the blacklist, in fact, that drives much of the conflict in "Zero Hour," more so than Mostel's having been upstaged by Topol. And the conflict comes to a head when Mostel faces the prospect of working in "Forum" under the guidance of famed director-choreographer Jerome Robbins, who, like Mostel, was called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s but who, unlike Mostel, named names in hopes of saving his career.
Onstage, Brochu re-creates a portion of Mostel's testimony, emphasizing his indignation at the proceedings but also eliciting laughter and defusing some of the intensity of the situation.
In a larger sense, "his sense of humor saved him," says Brochu, whose lifelong admiration for Mostel deepened with research into the adversity he faced beyond the blacklist, including a harsh reaction from his Jewish parents over his marriage to a Catholic woman and a devastating leg injury he sustained in 1960 when he was struck by a New York City bus.
Brochu tapped his friend Piper Laurie, the Oscar-nominated, Emmy-winning actress, to help shape "Zero Hour," which marks her debut as a stage director.
Mostel "wasn't just a clown, he was an intellectual," Laurie, 77, says by phone from Los Angeles.
Brochu "doesn't need very much from a director," she says. "I saw their common personality traits . . . and I know how to encourage things that need encouraging."
Ultimately, Brochu says, "Zero Hour" has done more than merely allow him to inhabit Mostel as a character:
"Sometimes he really inhabits me."
Zero Hour Theater J, D.C. Jewish Community Center, 1529 16th St. NW. 800-494-8497. http:/
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Can the nation's capital handle Zero Mostel and Jim Brochu?
We'll find out when "Zero Hour" starts previews on Aug. 29th, just three days from now.
And, of course, look for the video blogs. I'll be right there capturing all the excitement (and the laughs) with my little camcorder.
See you in Washington!
Monday, August 24, 2009
Marc has now done a studio recording of the song. It's rich, filled with some Beatlesque guitars -- just enough to give the song a little 60s texture, entirely appropriate to the theme. Some of my best pals are in this: Berington Van Campen, Paul McCarty, Lisa Turner, Deanna Pino and Thomas Hornig, all excellent singers and songwriters themselves.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
I am happy to report that we raised a lot of money for New Conservatory Theatre Center this past weekend. The house was packed, the singers I invited from the SFGMC to sing with me totally kicked ass on their numbers, and Jimmy brought down the house. (Comedian Jim David, who's there doing "South Pathetic" also contributed 10 side-splitting minutes).
Because this was in support of a challenge matching grant, people made pledges at intermission and now the theatre is very close to meeting their goal, the deadline of which is August 31.
So, that's the headline. Here are some photos taken at the rehearsal.
Behind the scenes, I spent most of Saturday putting together ring binders full of music. I had invited KC and Ned from Preoccupied Pipers to join me on bass and drums, but the timing didn't work out. Happily, we were able to use the binders for the chorus members (joining me were Stephen Camarota, John J. Sims, Sanford Smith, Gregory Sandritter, Frank Federico, Marc Savitt and David Jenkins).
All day Monday, we had a tech rehearsal where John Kelly lit the show. That was exhausting. The more of these I do, the more I have to learn to lay back during these rehearsals. The problem is that when I sing, I sing. I don't don't do "halfway." It's just not in my blood. By the time the show came around, I was ready for bed.
However, once I stepped into the bright lights, it was like a shot of adrenalin. Before I even knew it, the first act (which finished with Jim and me doing some Big Voice stuff) was over.
Act two would be songs from "New World Waking." I think I scared a couple of the chorus members because we didn't exactly use the chorus arrangements, so what I told the singers to do was to follow me and just sing whatever felt right using the chorus arrangements as the base idea. And they were great!
(Just for the record, few of the chorus members are professional singers. They do it because they love it. For me, I'd rather have 10 people there with the heart than 100 "professionals" who are only making a paycheck, though it goes without saying most professionals I've worked with are professionals precisely because they sing with heart. But the point stands. The audience knows when a singer is singing from the soul -- and these guys sang with electricity and precision.)
Friday, August 14, 2009
Here is the video they made.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
He also was an early pioneer in multi-track recording, which made it possible to not have to sit in a room all together while making a recording. He and his wife, Mary had a number of hit records as "Les Paul & Mary Ford."
Read the Rolling Stone obit.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Be sure to listen to the wonderful crackle of the bread when we finally get down to eat it. Mmmmmm.
Saturday, August 08, 2009
A song that attempts to express how it feels to lose that close connection to someone you really love, "You Are A Stranger" from "The Big Voice: God or Merman?" is usually sung by Jim. The song means a lot to me and it's so emotional, I almost can't get through it.
EDIT: I had been wanting to sing it for the open mic for a very long time, just to see how the non-theatre crowd would respond. Many of the performers here in the L.A. acoustic scene have commented that my songs seem sophisticated. I honestly don't see it. I think my songs are very simple. I wrote it originally this for a "sequel" to The Last Session which I knew we were never going to write, but which gave me inspiration beyond its story. In TLS, the character of "Buddy" talks about his mother, Emma. I always thought Emma might sing this song.
So, the song sat around for a long time until The Big Voice happened, and it fit perfectly into the section where "Jim" and "Steve" have broken up, temporarily. Several friends have said it reminded them of what it feels like to lose a friend, lover or family member to drug addiction.
Thursday, August 06, 2009
So, congrats to Amy, who's kicking ass!
We'll be joining you in New York soon, Amy.
The exgays will come back with "proof" that people have "changed," but it's always the same handful with the same stories. And when pressed, they will confess that they're still attracted to the same sex, but somehow, have managed to bond with a person of the opposite sex. I have never met an "exgay" who has actually turned into a heterosexual the way you and I think of heterosexuals.
Does this mean that people shouldn't be allowed to seek this kind of therapy if it's what they wish? No. I think people should do whatever they want. But no therapist should ever tell a client that they'll actually turn non-gay. It doesn't happen.
Listen to the witnesses who attend these exgay camps or shelters or homes, and you'll find that the failure rate is the same as the entrance rate.
The real victims, aside from the innocent ones who enter these therapies, are the families and friends who think their gay sons, daughters or cousins are going to hell because they're gay -- and that "Jesus" can change them. That's why they parade around with these lavish dog and pony shows, trotting out supposed "success stories," almost all of whom eventually revert back to being gay.
And, that, to me, is the most heinous crime of all. To deceive grandmothers and parents into thinking that the only reason their kid is not straight is because of something either the parent did, or the kid did (or failed to do).
But the plain facts are this: No one changes sexual orientation, unless it's something that simply happens as a natural course of this person's own orientation. It can't be "force-changed."
From the release:
The American Psychological Association adopted a resolution Wednesday stating that mental health professionals should avoid telling clients that they can change their sexual orientation through therapy or other treatments.
The "Resolution on Appropriate Affirmative Responses to Sexual Orientation Distress and Change Efforts" also advises that parents, guardians, young people and their families avoid sexual orientation treatments that portray homosexuality as a mental illness or developmental disorder and instead seek psychotherapy, social support and educational services "that provide accurate information on sexual orientation and sexuality, increase family and school support and reduce rejection of sexual minority youth."
The approval, by APA's governing Council of Representatives, came at APA's annual convention, during which a task force presented a report that in part examined the efficacy of so-called "reparative therapy," or sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE).
"Contrary to claims of sexual orientation change advocates and practitioners, there is insufficient evidence to support the use of psychological interventions to change sexual orientation," said Judith M. Glassgold, PsyD, chair of the task force. "Scientifically rigorous older studies in this area found that sexual orientation was unlikely to change due to efforts designed for this purpose. Contrary to the claims of SOCE practitioners and advocates, recent research studies do not provide evidence of sexual orientation change as the research methods are inadequate to determine the effectiveness of these interventions." Glassgold added: "At most, certain studies suggested that some individuals learned how to ignore or not act on their homosexual attractions. Yet, these studies did not indicate for whom this was possible, how long it lasted or its long-term mental health effects. Also, this result was much less likely to be true for people who started out only attracted to people of the same sex."
Based on this review, the task force recommended that mental health professionals avoid misrepresenting the efficacy of sexual orientation change efforts when providing assistance to people distressed about their own or others' sexual orientation.
Tuesday, August 04, 2009
National Equality March
On October 10-11, 2009, we will gather in Washington DC from all across America to let our elected leaders know that now is the time for full equal rights for LGBT people. We will gather. We will march. And we will leave energized and empowered to do the work that needs to be done in every community across the nation.
Our single demand: Equal protection in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states.
Our philosophy: As members of every race, class, faith, and community, we see the struggle for LGBT equality as part of a larger movement for peace and social justice.
Our strategy: Decentralized organizing for this march in every one of the 435 Congressional districts will build a network to continue organizing beyond October.