BRIEF BLOG INTRO: I'm a man on 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-- having cheated death from AIDS. (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.
In 2013, I turned 60 and I created 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 (while getting great reviews). Now I'm out to redefine theater and cabaret. 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.
Saturday, January 30, 2010
Last three performances at St. Clement's and the houses this week have been filled with laughing, applauding, cheering people who are giving Jim the ride of his life. It's just so wonderful to experience.
But, as sad as we are to be leaving this wonderful historic building, we're equally thrilled that Jim will get a couple of weeks off, then he's back at it again on Feb 24. So, if you have a chance to see him here, do come. If not, we'll see you at the DR2!
Friday, January 29, 2010
Today, someone directed me to this site. I believe that it's notes on a class about literary styles, specifically blogging and online diaries -- and a quote of mine is at the top of the page:
"It's like a real life serial, being played out before your eyes
with the author making it up as he goes along." --Steve Schalchlin
I think I remember saying that. It was from the early days, when writing a diary on the net was new, and people couldn't quite figure out what it was for, or what it meant to do something like this.
And look at these notes:
main point: confounds traditional distinctions between public and private
entails reconceptualizing/reformatting of diary genre BECAUSE of
the "consensual hallucination" of the Internet, that "global autobiography project"
paradoxical enchantment: combination of anonymity and intimacy
w/ an illusion of anonymity necessary for full self-exposure
expectations of authenticity: promise of total, unmediated honesty
(less manipulative?--yet possibilities for identity deception on the internet...?)
and the reverse, as text shapes lived life:
both producer and product of autobiographical narrative
Schalchlin's "Living in the Bonus Round": "living autobiography, performing it in daily life"
"I could look for some foreshadowing...but then, I don't exactly know what's coming."
interstitial status of unsettling narrative territory:
hard to distinguish represented from real
I could look for some foreshadowing but I don't know what's coming next.
I think that's a funny line. In fact, in a diary, you can't even look backward to find unintentional foreshadowing because foreshadowing is something done by an author -- unless you want to get really metaphysical about it and assume you're being Guided from Above.
An online diary can't be completely truthful. It's impossible. For instance, I can't share negative thoughts about other people in my daily life, or expose things about them that they don't wish to share. That would be cruel and it would end up with me having fewer friends.
But I can write what I feel, and I can observe what's around me, and I can hope, and I can plan, and I can tell stories.
What living life online does is it makes you realize the truism that you make your life up as you go along. You can be blown around by forces unknown, but, even then, how you deal with those unexpected let-downs is your choice, too.
I couldn't know, when I started this in 1996, that this broken, down songwriter, barely alive, hooked up to tubes and food bags, would eventually accomplish what I've accomplished, musically and theatrically. (And I'm still not that famous. I still haven't actually made a fully produced album or had a big budget musical on the stage. But, hey, I'm not dead yet. Rock stars come in all sizes and ages and shapes these days.)
Those people reading this diary back then, only knew that I was almost dead and careening toward the cliff.
What's nice is the cliff keeps pulling away, farther away in the distance. And this Sunday, I get to sing again. How great is that?
Don told me there might be one at the St. Clement's second hand store around the corner, or at an old watch repair/pawn shop on 43rd.
I left St. Clement's walking west toward 10 ave.
A few blocks down I saw, on someone's stoop, two lighted candles and a spray of flowers. I almost took a picture of it, but something told me not to. I don't know why.
Then, Tuesday night, Dan Wackerman, one of our associate producers, told me that there had been a murder on the block. I think I even saw something about it on one of the gay blogs. But still, with everything going on with the show, it wasn't registering with me.
Then, yesterday, I had sent a note to Rev. DeChamplain about the Sunday morning service, asking her what she wanted from me, i.e. song titles, etc. And, strangely, I didn't hear anything from her. "Strange" because she's usually very prompt.
Last night, during act one, I checked my email using the box office computer when I saw that the flowers, the memorial, the murder, the young man, was named John Lea. That he was a very beloved person. Mitties had been asked if she would help conduct a memorial for him, something non-denominational.
So, out of respect for their feelings and their painful mourning, she spent the day learning about him, and then wrote up a memorial which was held in a big room in an office building, which she described as packed.
I did a search and found the story on Towleroad. The story is that John Lea was a very generous person, and he was allowing an ex, who was "down on his luck," to stay at his place for a week, which turned into a month until, a friend of his said, he was going to ask him, that night, that he'd have to leave.
I see now that the man they believe to be the murderer has been picked up in Vermont and charged. He stupidly stole John's bank card and used it to hire himself a car for the getaway.
My knee is doing a bit better, but I still have to take it really easy on the stairs. I didn't find a cane. I wish, though, I had taken that picture of the flowers and candles.
The audience not only laughed at all the insults, quips and jokes that dot the opening sequences (which establish Zero's personality), but the individual set pieces, which detail his history, each got lengthy applause, almost as if he had just finished singing a song.
This is very unusual. In my experience, every time you stick a camera in a live theater, the audience goes totally dead, as if they resent the intrusion. For instance, last week, we shot some B-roll. Audience? Quiet.
Maybe it's that New York audiences who really love theater are finally finding us after the very short time we've been running. Perhaps those who loved it before are coming again, knowing that the end of this run, at St. Clement's, is nearly over. I saw several familiar faces.
Also in the audience was a group of college kids. They were knocked out by it.
I have a theory that this has something to do with the fact that Jim's performance is so raw, so real, and totally acoustic. The human voice, no matter how you dress it up, amplify it, detune it or electronify it, you can't improve the visceral impact of the voice by itself, filling a great house.
You just can't.
There's a reason for this. It's because all of those fancy electronics? They were created with the specific goal of trying to duplicate the thing itself, the voice. The closer they get, the more impactful it becomes.
But the thing itself, the voice, is the perfection they're seeking.
Combine that with a great stage actor, like Jim Brochu, who knows how to use his body and his voice -- for the two are intertwined -- and you have the experience of a lifetime. Seriously.
This is from the stage manager's report. And remember, Don Myer is not writing for the press. It might even be confidential, but I'm going to quote from it anyway until someone tells me to take it down. This is what he wrote to the production team. This is not a press release.
Jim gave a mind blowing performance tonight and audience could not have been more exuberant in all of their responses to his performance. Truly a phenomenal night of theatre for everyone privileged enough to be involved in this production and for everyone fortunate enough to be sitting in the audience. Jim received a rousing standing ovation during the curtain call that brought him out for a second call after he had already closed the door of the set and left the stage.And now it's preserved forever.
The line of people who came back to the dressing room after the show stretched all the way down the hall and out the door into the lobby. Old friends of Jim's, old friends of Zero. One man last night worked with Zero during Ulysses in Night Town in the original production, where you had to go up a rickity staircase. (Jim talks about it in Zero Hour).
Another was the group of college students. (He gave them the painting he created that night).
I would have taped all of this last night, but the battery on my camera was out, due to the fact that he had made an appearance earlier in the day at St. Francis College, his alma mater. (A video blog to come).
So, Sunday matinee is the last performance until we re-open down in Union Square at the DR2. We're gonna stay in New York, try to see some museums, and just give him a break. He even suggested last night that he might do a little tinkering with the script. Our stay here has brought new insight into Zero's life, more stories we never knew.
There's so much I want to say -- and will -- but, for now, I just wanted to mark this night. Jim was on fire. The audience was on fire. I even had hot wings at the burger joint across 46th street, so I was on fire. (I hear Union Square has some good food, too. Must investigate.)
But what a thrill be going out on this high note. In the dead of winter when all the other shows are in their "winter slump." It feels appropriate that I'll be performing New World Waking on the morning of the last show. More on that later, too.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
As one-man shows go, Jim Brochu’s Zero Hour is as traditional as they come: a tribute to a famous person—in this case, the great comic actor Zero Mostel, who died in 1977—in which the subject, near the end of his or her days, looks back at a life both well and nearly spent. Full Gallop, Thurgood, Tru, Occupant and many other plays have traveled this dramatic path before. But not every solo show need be an aesthetic innovator, and Brochu’s tribute to Mostel, directed by Piper Laurie, does exactly what it sets out to do: Brochu’s explosive performance makes the most of Mostel, and proves wildly engaging even as it educates the audience about the trials and triumphs of the outsize showman. We were swept up in Brochu’s merry wake when we reviewed the show in its current incarnation at the Theatre at St. Clement’s, where it closes on Sunday, January 31, and are delighted with the news this week that Zero Hour will transfer to the DR2 Theatre in Union Square for an open-ended run, starting February 24. If you haven’t seen the show yet, head to Telecharge soon—tickets for the DR2 run are scheduled to go on sale later today—and make a date with a Broadway legend.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Last night, an alumni group from the University of Rochester sponsored a live auction of the painting Jim created during the evening's performance of "Zero Hour" and raised $1,550 for the theater arts department.
The auction began and the painting was bid up to $800. The winner then donated the painting back where it fetched an additional $750 to the second highest bidder. Jim then took the painting from the previous night's performance and gave it to the first bidder, thus giving both a chance to take home an original Brochu/Mostel painting.
Each night, Jim paints an original painting during the live performance. Each one is carefully numbered and dated, then donated to charity. This sets a record for the most money collected during one of these auctions.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
War By Default (vocals by Jeramiah Peay)
I Enter This Battle Gravely (with John Fitzgerald)
Lazarus Come Out
My Thanksgiving Prayer (with John Fitzgerald)
My Rising Up
And we're gonna try to sneak "Rescue" in there, too.
Service starts at 11am.
Monday, January 25, 2010
When you look at the list, you can see what he's up against. All four of the other productions are from the Kennedy Center. They're huge, famous, first class touring productions of Broadway hits or international star productions. August: Osage County, Spring Awakening, Jersey Boys and A Streetcar Named Desire (with Kate Blanchett).
That the nominating committee also found and nominated our little Theater J production is high praise and an even higher honor. Those productions cost millions and millions of dollars. Ours, uh, didn't.
That this news came on the same day as the news of our transfer to the DR2 Theater makes this a wonderful week, indeed. And it helps bring always-needed (free) publicity.
After Stephen realized who he was, he came back to the room after visiting, went up to him and said, "You're Jack Aaron. I just wanted to tell you that many years ago I was an apprentice at this theater and you were very kind to me. I want to thank you for that. It meant a great deal to me."
I don't think Jack realized, at first, who was telling him this.
He said something like, "I'm trying to remember your face."
"I'm Stephen Schwartz and I was just an apprentice and you were very, very kind to me. I never forgot it, and it taught me a lesson. And I want to thank you."
It was really touching. Stephen was both sincere and humble in the exchange. And I thought people who are fans of his would enjoy hearing this.
Jim and Stephen posing:
When you open in New York, you hope for a couple of things, the biggest one being some great reviews. The second one is word of mouth. (Third one being theater parties and groups. But, because theater parties go to bigger shows, especially during the holiday season, and St. Clement's has a lot of stairs and is not accessible.)
Word of mouth, according to Ed Gaynes, takes three months minimum for a new play. We started off back at the end of November with some awareness and a little curiosity about Zero Mostel, got our reviews, struggled a little during New Years, but now we're exploding. Houses are packed. The winter slump? Not here. I expect this final week to be sold out. So, if you're my friend, no, I can't sneak you in.
I wrote this at All That Chat:
Jim is getting lines of people coming backstage to the dressing room. I stand there each night and the feedback is extraordinary. Old stage hands who worked with Zero. Songwriters. Actresses.
Sophisticated audiences are also coming who keep asking, "Where has he been all this time?" meaning Jim. (Answer: Los Angeles).
Though it might seem like Jim Brochu is a new face in New York, he grew up backstage at Fiddler and Forum and Dolly, selling orange drink.
The producers have maintained a policy of keeping some seats available at TKTS because, while Zero Hour does have a natural audience for those who saw him on the stage, younger theater fans are turning up and sitting in the front row like it's a rock concert.
The natural wood acoustics, vaulted ceiling and depression-era naturalism of St. Clement's gives Jim's voice an immediacy that's really impactful, even up to the last row, which is still right there almost in his face.
I sit downstairs in the dressing room each night reading, and I can literally hear the building shake as "Zero" rants and raves, pounds and screams, echoing the description of when Zero would shake the foundations of the "tenement building" during Ulysses in Night Town.
I can also hear the dead silences of the play, interrupted only by the radiators in the old building. Over to my right, as I sit reading, there's a full machine shop where they cut wood and build sets.
But the area is meticulous.
The Peccadillo Theater Company has really cleaned St. Clement's up and have restored it into a little wooden jewel box again. And, to brag on our backstage crew, Don Myers and Jeramy Peay, there's not a speck of dust or dirt anywhere to be found.
We really tried to respect and honor the space. It's as much a part of the history of New York as Zero Mostel is.
The vicar of the parish is also an amazing woman and I encourage all visiting theater companies who rent the space to go out of your way to meet Dr. Mitties DeChamplain. Like any great fan, she LOVES theater and sees it as being just as much a religious experience as any church service.
We get so caught up in the business side of it -- who's up, who's down, who's selling, etc. -- that we forget that what we do can and does have a profound effect on peoples' lives.
She is also aware that many people in the theatrical community have a troubled relationship to religion. As we wrote in The Big Voice, Jim and I got into theater in order to get AWAY from religion. EEEK!! A COLLAR!!!!
I told her flat out, when we met, that my "religious beliefs" are purely secular. That my religion is music.
From that starting point, all of us, actors, crew and producers alike, formed a little bond and performed a benefit for the church's free vet clinic and food pantry.
If you google her name, by the way, you will learn some very interesting and surprising facts about this very bold and courageous woman. I would do it for you, but she is sincerely uncomfortable about drawing attention to herself.
I hope theatergoers will continue to reward St. Clement's with good audiences, support Dan and Kevin who run the Peccadillo Theater, and I hope theater companies who rent there will continue to respect the space.
Our last week is going to promise some tearful goodbyes. I've been making backstage videos very casually during this time, if anyone's interested. You can see how cute Don and Jeramy are.
Saturday, January 23, 2010
In this case, though, the underlying plot model is Frankenstein, not Pocahontas.
And also, unlike Avatar, this one is chock full of ideas and characters whose motivations one can only guess at as everything began to unfold, because they are complex instead of simple-minded.
Religiously, unlike Avatar's simplistic innocent native and magic tree v. mean ol' corporate militaristic greed template, we have a fully functioning modern world that kinda reflects ours, but where the religion of the day is polytheistic, and the underground "monotheists," who may or may not be the good guys, are also terrorists who blow up trains.
The main character is a scientist who is trying to create a robot soldier but can't seem to cross the line where the robot can think for itself. So, it's slow and clumsy and helpless in combat trials. And, worse, a corporation from a competing world seems to have created a piece of hardware that claims to have solved this problem.
Meanwhile, our scientist's daughter has secretly become a monotheist, but in the opening scenes, is blown to bits by her fanatical monotheistic best friend when they get on that fated train. (She wasn't a part of this conspiracy.)
However, she's not completely gone. It turns out that all the kids have been going online and having virtual sex and violence together using our scientist's invented device which fits around the head and sends you to a Star Trek holodeck-type place. Only, what they have created is a huge bar with areas to indulge your every fancy: a sex pit, a fighting room ("where you're allowed to hit anyone you want"), a human sacrifice room, etc. -- all of it set to a big disco beat.
Scientist's daughter has created a copy of herself and watches it interact with said bar (watching from above, but in the same rooms), and is annoyed that the new avatar of herself loathes all this violence and butchery. ("I see what human beings are.")
Plot starts to thicken, beautifully, after daughter is blown up and the scientist discovers the holo world, goes there and meets the avatar of his dead daughter. First he rejects her as a fake copy until the avatar says, "But it doesn't feel like it to me." (A perfect line of dialogue, neither claiming to the his real daughter nor claiming not to be. Whether or not she's really his daughter is irrelevant if she feels as if she were his daughter.)
The avatar's fully functioning "persona" is explained as having been created by the daughter. The scientist never knew this about her. She was just a rebellious youth who yelled at mom and dad a lot for being too rich and too complacent about the real world.
The real worlds, actually. Multiple worlds. I'm not up on all the B:G mythology, but I think there are 12 worlds and that they all correspond to our own ancient Greek mythology. There is a Taurus equivalent that's described as all dirt. They have a mafia/criminal mentality, wear dark suits and owe each other "favors." The main Tauron we're concerned with is a lawyer who owes his schooling to a "mob boss." (And who will become the father of the Adama, the commander in BSG).
Back to the scientist.
His big war robot project is failing. He comes home to find his daughter's best friend using the holo-thing, demands to know what's up and discovers the underground world and runs into his daughter. She's done it! She's created a virtual person by harnessing all their brain data (supposedly).
He has mafia guy steal the hardware owned by the competing planet -- it seems like all the planets hate each other -- and he puts his daughter into it, and loads it into the war robot.
Epic fail. He's lost his daughter forever.
EPISODE ENDING SPOILER.
Or did he?
"Caprica," the pilot, was a big, unwieldy concoction of plotlines, backstory -- most of which I'm vague about -- and sci fi terms. So, I think a lot of people are going to just say, "Ick. Too much. Can't follow it." Jim would. This is not his bag.
But I think this is good, meaty stuff. It has the potential of rivaling BSG as the most thoughtful and intelligent SF series ever made. The fact that it arrives with all this history and future makes it all the more compelling, even if it will take some time to unpack it all. (The pulp elements -- a brutal knifing, for instance, perpetrated by a muscly tattooed guy with his shirt off in true Dan Brown form -- are kept to a minimum and used to remind us that these are brutal worlds.)
It has great details. The first thing you see when it comes on is "56 Years Before the Fall." All the money is in "cubits."
I think I love this show. I hope it stays this smart and this engaging.
The thing is that even though I didn't know most of the series mythology, I didn't need to know it. The writers intelligently focused on the Frankenstein plotline, propelling us to the end, until we end up with this:
Daddy makes a big monster. Monster is not particularly fond of daddy. Monster is also a monotheist and a pacifist. Monster is in a big, bad robot body with a swirly red light. And monster is a girl.
Not bad at all.
Here's another, more specific, and knowing, review.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
out of 4 stars
Jim Brochu is Broadway Star Zero Mostel in Zero Hour
This week's New York winner is Zero Hour, starring Jim Brochu as stage and screen star Zero Mostel. Kathleen W. says, "Jim Brochu is funny, poignant, dramatic and most importantly, he is Zero Mostel." One member says, "Brochu is flawless in portraying the many emotional and intellectual facets of the volatile star." Another member says, "Well paced, poignant, dramatic, and funny. The performance was powerfully delivered." Learn More
The American Foundation for Equal Rights is providing transcripts.
Yesterday, a boy testified about how his family forced him into "exgay" therapy in order to ungay him. And, as every professional psychological and psychiatric group will tell you, this is more than harmful, leading to severe depression and even suicide. Happily, he survived, but there are many more who do not.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Updated 5:00 AM
Time Out Theater Review: "Zero Hour"
By: David Cote - Time Out New York
What a shame "The Producers" closed back in 2007. I’ve found the perfect actor to play Max Bialystock: Jim Brochu. He’s chubby, funny, and has killer comic timing. Okay, I admit this casting idea is a no-brainer. In "Zero Hour," Brochu does an uncanny impersonation of legendary comedian Zero Mostel, the original Max Bialystock.
In this solo bioplay directed by Hollywood veteran Piper Laurie, writer and performer Brochu is freakishly convincing as the blustery, brilliant Mostel. It’s more than just the ridiculous comb-over, the bug eyes and the Tevye beard. Brochu seems to have captured the soul of the bombastic clown who could wring laughs out of an audience with a bit of mime or a booming punch line.
The framing device is that it’s 1977 and Zero is being interviewed in his 28th Street art studio by a reporter from The New York Times. Gradually Zero recounts his life up to that point: Growing up Jewish in Brooklyn, his early years as a comic, his lifelong love affair with painting, his marriage to a Gentile which causes his parents to disown him, and his years on the blacklist due to McCarthyism in the 50s. In fact, Zero’s run-in with the House on Un-American Activities takes up a large chunk of Zero Hour, as he draws implicit and provocative parallels between the communist witch hunts and the Holocaust. There may be surprises for some, such as learning that "Fiddler on the Roof" choreographer and director Jerome Robbins named people suspected of being communist, thus ruining their lives. Sounds dark, but Brochu always insures that Zero deflates even the darkest moment with a raucous, absurdist joke.
For those who want to hear the big man dish about Mel Brooks, "The Producers" or give us inside dope on Stephen Sondheim, well, Zero Hour doesn’t have much of that. It’s a more idiosyncratic, personal work, a funny tribute to a funny man.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Here's the text of the citation.
Later in the dressing room, they pose again.
January 14, 2010
Letter to Editor by Lily Coyle
Dear Pat Robertson,
I know that you know that all press is good press, so I appreciate the shout-out. And you make God look like a big mean bully who kicks people when they are down, so I'm all over that action. But when you say that Haiti has made a pact with me, it is totally humiliating. I may be evil incarnate, but I'm no welcher.
The way you put it, making a deal with me leaves folks desperate and impoverished. Sure, in the afterlife, but when I strike bargains with people, they first get something here on earth -- glamour, beauty, talent, wealth, fame, glory, a golden fiddle. Those Haitians have nothing, and I mean nothing. And that was before the earthquake. Haven't you seen "Crossroads"? Or "Damn Yankees"?
If I had a thing going with Haiti, there'd be lots of banks, skyscrapers, SUVs, exclusive night clubs, Botox -- that kind of thing. An 80 percent poverty rate is so not my style. Nothing against it -- I'm just saying: Not how I roll.
You're doing great work, Pat, and I don't want to clip your wings -- just, come on, you're making me look bad. And not the good kind of bad. Keep blaming God. That's working. But leave me out of it, please.
Or we may need to renegotiate your own contract.
Monday, January 18, 2010
s Friend." I don't think she's ever been caught on tape doing this. And this night, she was on fire.
Then, Maisey, Amy and I sang "The Group."
Lastly, I have Stephen Bienskie and myself singing "Going It Alone."
Special thanks to Dan Koehler for taping a vocal track, which I combined with the live mic sound from the video camera. Jim is holding the camera.
If you're in the area, go. And word has it that they're going to include "William's Song," which I linked to just the other day, and "My Rising Up," a rousing gospel anthem.
CALIFORNIA FREEDOM TOUR BEGINS THIS MONTH!
The passage of Prop 8 showed that there is still a great deal of work to be done in our own backyard when it comes to acceptance of the LGBT community. The Chorus changes hearts and minds in places where our voices need to be heard. We believe that to accept us, you must know us. It is by telling our stories, and through our culture, that this happens. In 2010, SFGMC will embark on a tour of five California cities: Redding, Chico, Fresno, Bakersfield, and Tracy. The tour is in three trips with the first leg in Chico and Redding later this month; the second will take us to Fresno and Bakersfield in May. The final leg will be Tracy in July.
Approximately 100 chorus members will travel by bus to each destination. Funds are still being sought to underwrite the trip. If you feel inclined to make a contribution, please contact the SFGMC office: 415-865-3650; email@example.com
The tour is being co-presented by Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbian & Gays. 50% of the proceeds from the concerts will be going to PFLAG, and the other 50% to local LGBT-friendly organizations.
Sunday, January 17, 2010
Saturday, January 16, 2010
In the thirties, he [Zero Mostel] was hired by the WPA (Works Progress Administration, for those who don’t’ know history) – along with such painters as Jackson Pollack and Moses Sawyer. Later, he gave art lectures filled with jokes. That led him in 1941 to appearances at the night club, Café Society, in Greenwich Village. He was wildly funny, on stage and off. He was manic. He got people helpless with laughter. Some of that comes through in Brochu’s performance.
But most of the stage story is political. Zero was a Marxist. Brochu/Zero says that “Anybody with half a brain was, because of what was going on in Europe: fascism.”
That made him a target of the House Un-American Activities Committee’s crusade against free speech in 1955. “Are you a communist?” he was asked at a hearing. “Well, you certainly don’t beat around the borscht belt, do you? No, I am not a communist, ” Zero replied.
“Are you in favor of the violent overthrow of the government?,” he was asked, in a question that violated the First Amendment protection of free speech, not to mention thought.
Zero replied, and the text is from his testimony, “Well, sir, as our fourth president, James Madison, for whom they named a lovely hotel on Collins Avenue in Miami Beach once said, “I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by silent and gradual encroachments by those in power rather than by violent and sudden usurpations.”
Zero tells the appalling story of Phil Loeb, the actor who played Jake on the TV serial, “The Goldbergs.” He recounts, “He lived his life practicing the greatest principal of America – that all people were created equal and should be treated that way. Even actors.
Outrageous! Do you know what his “Un-American activities” were? He was fighting for black actors to be able to use the same stage door as white actors, he was fighting for equal pay for men and women, , paid rehearsal time, hot running water in dressing rooms. Horrible! Despicable!”
“So the Committee subpoenaed him and they blacklisted him and they destroyed him and then all of America sat back and said, “Of course he shouldn’t work. He’s evil. He’s the Jewish devil!” And the man lost everything. And Kate and I took him in and he lived with us. We cared for him. We fed him and we clothed him and then we watched him disintegrate.”
This is a fascinating and important play, not only for its dramatic heft, but for the story it tells about America’s dark days of ideological repression.
Justice Department Intervenes In Gay Rights Suit
by Ari Shapiro
January 15, 2010
For the first time in a decade, Justice Department lawyers have moved to intervene in a lawsuit on behalf of a gay high school student who was beaten up for being effeminate.
The case marks a novel interpretation of the Title IX statute, which prohibits discrimination against students on the basis of gender.
Gay and lesbian groups see it as a bold statement about the Obama administration's priorities.
The case centers around a 15-year-old named Jacob who lives in the town of Mohawk in upstate New York. His family requested that Jacob be identified only by his first name.
"He is one of the greatest, loving, timid kids you could meet," says Jacob's father, Robbie Sullivan, who does not share his son's last name. "I love him to death, and he doesn't give me a bit of problem at all."
Long before Jacob came out of the closet at age 14, he was harassed for being effeminate. According to court papers, kids threw food at him and told him to get a sex change. One student pulled out a knife and threatened to string Jacob up the flagpole. A teacher allegedly told Jacob to "hate himself every day until he changed."
One day, Jacob came home from school limping. That evening, he called his father from a party and said he had sprained his ankle at the party.
Sullivan described taking his son to the hospital: "It was a really bad sprain. They put a cast on it, gave him crutches. And shortly after that, I found out that it didn't happen at the party. It happened at the school, because somebody had pushed him down the stairs."
Over two years, Sullivan went to his son's school three or four times a week to talk with the principal. According to court papers, officials did nothing. The harassment became so bad that Jacob changed school districts. With the help of the New York Civil Liberties Union, Sullivan eventually sued.
"A parent can only do so much against an entire school," he said. "I can't go to the school and grab the students and investigate it myself. I have to rely on the school to hopefully do what they're supposed to do."
School superintendent Joyce Caputo was at a conference Friday and was unavailable for comment. In August, she told the local newspaper, "Our district has not and will not knowingly tolerate discrimination or harassment of its students by anybody."
Is He Protected Under Title IX?
Now the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division has asked a judge for permission to intervene on Jacob's behalf.
"We haven't seen this kind of involvement in quite some time," says Hayley Gorenberg of Lambda Legal, a national gay rights legal organization. "It's a long time coming, and we really need it."
Republicans who worked in the Civil Rights Division under previous administrations agree that this is a case conservatives generally would not make.
The Justice Department's argument hinges on a broad reading of the law known as Title IX. Title IX is typically used to protect students from gender discrimination, but in this case, Obama administration lawyers argue that the law also covers discrimination based on gender stereotypes — that is to say, boys who are beaten up for being effeminate.
"They are making up a legal violation where there hasn't been one," says Roger Clegg of the Center for Equal Opportunity, who worked in the Civil Rights Division under President Reagan and the first President Bush. While he condemns bullying and harassment, Clegg disagrees with the Obama administration's interpretation of federal law in this case.
"If the Civil Rights Division and the Obama administration want to propose that Title IX be amended to include sexual orientation, that's something they can do and that can be debated in Congress," Clegg says. "But Congress has not passed a law that deals with discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation."
Not so, says Gorenberg of Lambda Legal.
"We have clear interpretations out of many federal courts that clearly set forth that Title IX protects against sex stereotyping," she says.
While some courts have ruled that Title IX covers gender expression and sexual orientation, the law remains murky in this area. Gay and lesbian advocates hope this will be the case that establishes the principle more firmly.
I just wanted to acknowledge your generosity to Saint Clement's Episcopal Church by organizing and performing in Living in the Bonus Round as a benefit for the church's Food Pantry and free Vet Clinic. In additional to thanking you, however, I wanted to say how impressed I was by your music, your skill as a singer and master of ceremonies and the quality of the talent you assembled for this event.
All of the music struck me as polished and professional, both as written and as performed by the ensemble. A few of the numbers I think I will remember for a very long time. Lazarus Come Out was an anthem of personal liberation with deep spiritual overtones as was My Thanksgiving Prayer, performed with the utmost tenderness by you and John Fitzgerald. How Do You Fall Back in Love?, sung by you and Jim Brochu, was simultaneously witty and poignant as it described the process of reuniting with an "ex."
But the songs from The Last Session really blew me away. How can it be that music this tuneful, this rocking with such clever, relevant, funny and sad lyrics isn't better known? This is "popular music" in the best sense of the term. In other words, you know how to write that endangered species in American musical theater- a "song": an unforgettable melody supported by lyrics that really mean something. And when music this good is performed by the likes of Michele Mais and Amy Coleman... wow!
Michele is an R&B powerhouse who really "took us to church" with The Preacher and the Nurse. Amy Coleman is that rare combination- a great actor with an equally great singing voice. I was completely captivated by her performance of Somebody's Friend , an angry, heart-wrenching ballad about "miracles cures" for HIV. Amy's rendition was exactly my idea of a great musical theater moment- the distillation of character through song.
Anyway, I just wanted to say "bravo." And please light a fire under your agent so that more people get to experience what I heard on Wednesday night!
The Peccadillo Theater Company
[Note from Steve: I don't have an agent. Or a manager, for that matter. Anyone interested?]
Friday, January 15, 2010
There, we met.. well, I'll let Jim tell the story:
Tonight, at The Paley Center event, I met an incredible woman who was at the filming of "The World of Sholom Aleichem, the film we intoduced. She became a writer like her grandfather and wrote the book, "Up The Down Staircase." When she was small, her grandfather would say, "If you hold my hand tighter, I will write better." Her grandfather was Sholom Aleichem, her name is Bel Kaufman and, oh yes, she is 99 years young.
(from Rev. Mitties DeChamplain, vicar of St. Clement's)
Living in the Bonus Round 2010 to the Rescue!
On Wednesday night, I witnessed a remarkable and life-giving event. The sight and sound and sense of Steve Schalchlin’s music and lyrics—performed with his partner, Jim Brochu, and some of his brilliantly talented friends—filled the sanctuary theater at St. Clement’s with electricity, and from start to finish it was a sublime experience.
When Steve opened with his gripping song, “Connected,” I realized I was being drawn into holy union and relationship with everyone present—performers and audience alike.
The whole evening was a profoundly loving display of the truth in the opening song: It’s good to be connected with each other.
I am sure that Steve decided to open with that number in light of the fact that the Bonus Round concert, as it turned out, happened just a day after our sisters and brothers in Haiti were suffering terribly from the catastrophic earthquake that happened late on Tuesday.
[She is correct. -Steve]And so, on the day of the show, the scope of the benefit—originally conceived and dedicated to help fund the Food Pantry and Free Vet Clinic at St. Clement’s—was widened to embrace the acute and urgent need in Haiti. 50% of the proceeds from the evening have been dedicated by St. Clement’s to the relief efforts in Haiti.
The concert rescued and redeemed a day of great sadness in the world, and the music from start to finish was brimming with hope and confidence that the world and our own lives can be made new.
Even though Steve (raised Southern Baptist) and Jim (raised Roman Catholic) do not regard themselves as particularly religious, I am convinced that their music is God-haunted—theologically loaded through and through.
When they sang to each other from The Big Voice: God or Merman?, I could see and feel how much they love each other—deeply enough to tell the whole truth about relationships—the glory and the grief that can happen when you truly love somebody.
The whole evening raised us up and drew us closer to the light, so that we who were there could see everything in a new light. The music made me want to be more faithful and steadfast and true in my vocation as a priest—and in all of my relationships.
I am a vicar of an Episcopal Church that houses an Off-Broadway theater, but Wednesday night I stood on the threshold of the kingdom of heaven, thanks to Steve Schalchlin and company. The splendid sounds of Jim Brochu, Stephen Bienskie, Amy Coleman, Michele Mais, Jennifer Wren, and John Fitzgerald made the whole concert a little bit of heaven right here and now. Who could ask for anything more?
Rev. Mitties DeChamplain
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Zero Hour is an informed, absorbing, highly entertaining one-person play written by and also starring Jim Brochu. It happily serves not only as a showcase for the actor but also as a delectably insightful homage to the great comic/dramatic actor Zero Mostel. It is often meant as a compliment to say that an actor has gotten the essence of the real-life character that he may be impersonating. It is with a particular, if almost uncanny, distinction that Brochu does much more than that — just short of bringing Mostel back to life.
First of all. The reunion of TLS members -- Amy Coleman, Stephen Bienskie and Michele Mais -- was a triumph of the first order. We sounded like we'd never been apart. It was thrilling to just be on that stage, but I think the moment that crystallized it was when Maisey, noting that the microphones were a bit too far apart, told everyone to pull together.
Suddenly, the verisimilitude of the event came together in a way that cannot be described. TLS is about a band reuniting. So, for us to reunite after 10 years and to bond and blend and blow the roof off while singing "When You Care" created a dynamic tension that can only happen when something is 10 years in the making.
Another moment was "Going It Alone."
I never got to perform this show with Stephen Bienskie. So, when our eyes met at "the moment" in the song where the two characters from the play first really SEE each other -- it was pure magic.
It was also a moment of absolute, unqualified love. Me for him. Him for me.
Dan Wackerman, the artistic director of the Peccadillo Theatre Company, who helped sponsor the night -- and who never saw "The Last Session" said that, for him, the bleeding edge intensity of Amy Coleman tearing through "Somebody's Friend" was one of those "feel the hair raising on your body" moments.
He said, "It's so rare when you see a singer acting through a song."
And then there was Maisey, whose powerful voice was raising roof.
I mean, kids, it was transcendent. Jim had the video camera on. Amy Lynn took a little, too, but none of it can really match the energy in the room.
It began when Rev. Mitties announced, at the top, that not only would the donations from the evening go toward the food pantry and vet clinic there, but also we would split the take with the Haitian relief efforts from the earthquake yesterday.
I then decided to open the show with "Connected." It just felt right. And we were all connected last night.
John Fitzgerald joined me on a beautiful rendition of "My Thanksgiving Prayer," Jennifer Wren helped us break the seriousness a bit with "Triple Threat," the comedy song from the upcoming "Manhattan Clam Chowder" by coming out of the audience pretending to be auditioning for the new piece.
Then, Jimmy came up and, as always, stole the show right out from under me by being hilarious and heartbreaking on "Why" and on "You Are A Stranger."
So, we were all on cloud nine before we ever got to The Last Session, which I scheduled as the finale of the evening.
And what a finale.
From "Preacher and the Nurse" to "Somebody's Friend" to "The Group" to "Going It Alone" and, finally, "When You Care."
Behind the scenes, the people who really made it happen, though, were Jeramy Peay, Don Myers, Taylor Milne and Jeramy's friend, Daniel Koehler, who brought in sound equipment. I didn't even ask. They just volunteered and made it happen seamlessly.
The whole thing could have been taped for broadcast, it was so beautiful.
My heart this morning is literally overflowing. After the show last night, Jim and I were so high from the emotions of the night, we walked and walked the frosty streets of the city, just blowing off energy, trying to remember every detail.
I'll talk more about it, but what an incredible gift last night was. To me. To all of us.
And now all I want is a revival of The Last Session. It's time has come. It really has. 12 years ago, Broadway didn't really know what to do with this show. It was so different and so cutting edge in its own peculiar and powerful way.
But now it's time. Whatever I have to do, I'm going to make it my life's mission to bring it back. It deserves another chance. It has earned it. We all have.
I have so many people to thank for last night, I know I'm leaving people out. So, just take this as the initial word. I wish all of you could have been there. Magic. It was pure magic.
I am the most grateful human being alive.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
So, now, there's a lawsuit happening even as we speak. You can follow it by live-blog here.
The suit is being brought by a conservative icon Ted Olson and liberal David Boies, here interviewed by Rachel Maddow. Do watch it.
Here is the opening statement. READ IT.
Today, Playbill Radio will interview Jim. The live stream will be repeated throughout the week.
|Wednesday, January 13|
|2:00 AM||Jim Brochu|
|11:00 PM||Jim Brochu|
|Thursday, January 14|
|2:00 PM||Jim Brochu|
|Saturday, January 16|
|11:00 AM||Jim Brochu|
|Sunday, January 17|
|4:00 PM||Jim Brochu|
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
His friend said, "I remember seeing a show a couple of years ago where the songs had that same effect. It was something about God and Merman."
Did you get that?
She recognized my songs, not from hearing them, but from merely hearing a description of them.
That might be the greatest compliment I've ever received, and I had to share it. She didn't even hear the song he was describing! She only heard the effect of the song.
I was completely taken aback.
Amy Coleman and I were sitting together yesterday, as we were waiting for the rest of the TLS cast to rehearse -- IT SOUNDS FANTASTIC, BTW -- and I was telling her about Amy Lynn Shapiro, and how much I've enjoyed mentoring her as a songwriter.
I said, "I obviously cannot take credit for Amy's amazing talent, but, since she had never written songs before, I discovered, for myself, what I look for in a well-written song, and what I demand from myself in terms of good songwriting. Without knowing it, I was shaping and molding her to think like I think so that, when I started putting music to them, it felt as if it were my own voice."
It's an awesome responsibility, of course. I'm not trying to turn Amy into a clone of myself. I couldn't do that even if I wanted to. Amy has her own distinct voice and point of view, but by helping her look for the guideposts that I, again, demand from my own self, singing her lyrics feels as honest as singing my own.
Amy Coleman said, "You know, you could make a lot of money giving master classes in songwriting."
I looked at her and said, "Perhaps. But, it's not like I have a syllabus or would even know how to academically create a program for writing songs. It's purely instinctive."
I received a note from an aspiring songwriter recently asking me if I would give her "a lesson in songwriting."
A lesson? One?
I responded by saying I wouldn't know how to give one lesson in songwriting. I don't think you can learn songwriting in one lesson. And some people can never learn songwriting -- at least, not the way I write songs, where the point is to dig so deeply into your heart that you leave the room exhausted and drained.
In the case of Amy Lynn, it was a case of mentoring over a period of time. She is like this word and idea factory. I felt more like a person riding a bucking bronco. The strength and power of what she brought to the table (the ring?) was already there. It was just a matter of giving it focus and discipline.
At the workshops in Los Angeles, where I've been volunteering as a facilitator, it's completely different situation. We don't even start with song structure or form, which you can learn from a book.
Sometimes I just sit and listen to the "student" talk, taking notes and writing down their own words. Then, I rhyme the words, look for the central emotional point, and give them back a lyric that is essentially theirs, meaning, every word on that page came from them.
They were sitting there writing a song without even knowing it.
It still remains a mystery to me, this artform. The more I write, the less I feel I know about it.
The woman I described above, who wanted "a lesson" in songwriting, told me her goal was to write for theater. Well, the truth is that I'm baffled about theater writing, even though I've written three musicals. I've taken courses and learned what's "supposed" to go into a musical, but I've never actually taken a "property"and converted it into a musical.
I just write from the heart, and somehow, it seems to work. Jim writes a book, and we have a show.
On Wednesday, Jennifer Wren will sing two of the songs that Amy and I have written. If you come to the concert, you can see for yourself whether or not I'm a good mentor. I love helping people find their "voice." I enjoy the artform of songwriting.
Could I make a "ton" of money teaching it? I don't know. I've never met an aspiring songwriter who actually had any money. Hell, I'm a supposedly "accomplished" songwriter and I certainly don't have any money.
But, to know that someone could identify my songwriting by a mere description of the effect my songs have? Wow. That's about the highest compliment any songwriter could ever receive.
Monday, January 11, 2010
Sunday, January 10, 2010
SUNDAY JANUARY 10, 2010
17 years ago they said I had one year to live.
17 years in the bonus round.
I have rehearsal today at St. Clement's with Stephen Bienskie, who, in my estimation, is one of the most talented actor singers working today. He was in the original cast of THE LAST SESSION. It's hard to believe it's really happening, that we are getting together after all these years.
Yesterday, I met with Michele Mais. She had indicated last month that she wasn't sure she would remember the songs completely. She seemed almost apologetic. But, it's been at least 10 years. She needn't have worried. Without even referencing the sheet music, she remembered almost every word and note.
So did Amy Coleman yesterday.
Maisey and I talked about the exciting time she's having in the hit Broadway musical, Rock of Ages. Jim and I saw the show back when it was in Los Angeles, when they were just beginning to see if audiences would respond to a big, dopey, fun, jukebox musical featuring all the big-hair, stretch pant rock songs from the 80s that most of us cringe at now. Songs by Slayer and Journey and a dozen others.
Jeramy, our ASA, said he and his friends loved it because it was their childhood music. They all went out and got pleasantly drunk, and then treated the show like a rock concert, which it kind of is. (I think you can drink beer at your seat, in fact).
"Rock of Ages," in a way, is like a special episode of American Idol, where they might take all the singers from that season and give them a plot. It even, now, have Constantine Maroulis in it, who was a contestant. I understand he's very good in the part.
She said she loves being in the show, and that she has played the role of Justice from the very beginning -- and that she loves it every night.
"But, Steve," she said, looking right into my eyes as we sat together at the piano, which is situated behind the set of Zero Hour, "The Last Session will always be my favorite musical."
I beamed. It'll always be mine, too.
We were between shows this day, the matinees having just let out. Jim was sleeping downstairs in the dressing room.
She continued, "And I've been in thousands of shows. Great shows."
Maisey looks as young and vibrant today as she did 10 years ago when she breezed into the Los Angeles auditions, long braided hair flying. At the time, I described it as something like the sun rising. She radiates light, and I'm not saying that in a spooky religious way. It's visceral. And it hasn't changed.
Our two shows are only a few blocks apart.
Jim and I have a routine each night before his show. We go to the Polish Tea Room (Cafe Edison) on 47th street for a bowl of matzo ball soup, then exit, walk past Rock of Ages, hoping to run into Maisey, turn south on 8th avenue to 46th street and then walk over two blocks to St. Clement's, which is between 9th and 10th. By then, Don and Jeramy are usually there.
I had met with Amy Coleman the day before. She and her husband, David, are two of our favorite people. Amy, also, seems not to have aged. David... well. David has a gray beard and looks like Zero Mostel. His grin is infectious.
They run a studio over on the east side, which has a performance space/piano, etc.
They also produce Yiddish theatre.
David handed me a card announcing, "The Big Bupkis! A Gentile's Guide to Yiddish Vaudeville Theatre," complete with rubber chicken. It looked hilarious. (Click image to enlarge).
Maisey remembered when we met. Laguna Playhouse. 1998. "And you with your video camera! I was like, what is this? But I'm so glad you caught it all."
I didn't turn on the camera today, just as I didn't turn it on when Amy was there. And it was laying right there on the piano.
No matter what anyone says, real life happens off-camera. I didn't want a performance. I wanted it to be the two of us.
However, I will be taping stuff as we go along. We have an all-day group rehearsal on Monday down at Amy's studio. That's gonna be a blast.
And, of course, we'll meet after Jim's show on Wednesday, the day of the concert.
Anyway, must get ready and get down to the theatre.
Time to meet up with Binky.
Saturday, January 09, 2010
First, Jim was caricatured by nationally recognized illustrator Ken Fallin at BroadwayWorld.com. The two previous caricatures were of Stephen Sondheim and, before that, Angela Lansbury. So, Jim is very honored.
He and I was standing at the entrance to the restaurant, when he started telling me a joke about how it's better to be short than tall because, when you're 90 years old, you get more years per square inch.
Then, we got the word that Zero Hour was awarded by Ken Noh an Agnes Moorehead Award for excellence in theatre in the magazine Chelsea Now as one of the ten best live performances of the year.
He was also profiled in the blog, Deep Dish.
“Zero Hour”: Jim Brochu gave a protean performance as protean Zero Mostel in this extraordinarily researched and executed profile. It was one wild, rewarding rollercoaster ride, punctuated by Mostel’s explosive, over-the-top humor as well as an unflinching expose of the demonic Blacklist Era, which should never, ever be forgotten.
As you can see, a busy week!
Friday, January 08, 2010
She's a stunningly beautiful woman, but even more, she sings with such passion and presence, you never want her to stop. I wish I had dragged out my video camera and just taped the rehearsal, but I didn't. Bringing in a camera makes rehearsing difficult because now it's not a rehearsal, but a performance, and sometimes you need to just rehearse.
When you hear her sing "Nobody Leaves New York" on Wednesday night -- hopefully, we'll be able to tape some of the show -- just be prepared. She will kill you.
While we were sitting there, we got to know each other a little better. Like me, she's been dealing with some awful health issues, which nearly took her down. But she seems indomitable. And when she applies all that life to my music, it almost feels like we were made for each other.
The thing about singing is that many people have great voices. In fact, in a town like New York, great voices are a dime a dozen. The key is not so much having a great voice, but having something else, an ineffable quality that you have to hear to understand. It can't be described properly, but, especially for my music, there has to be some kind of edge of pain, rooted way down deep that you don't so much hear as feel.
John Fitzgerald has this same quality. As the press release says, they're just two people I stumbled across, though I think Amy Shapiro gets credit for keeping Jennifer in our reach. (Jennifer has been singing the song Amy has been writing for her BMI workshop).
John nailed me a few weeks ago when I was sitting, attending the Sunday morning services, at St. Clement's. I've become so fond of the vicar, that, even though I don't relate at all to the high church type of liturgy, being raised Missionary Baptist, I can't help but want to be there.
Anyway, John was singing with the choir, and when he started on his solos, I thought I had been transported out of the room. He has that same quality I was talking about with Jennifer. How I love great singing. He and I are planning to sing "My Thanksgiving Prayer." But who knows? I gave a new song to Jennifer last night right on the spot. And she just nailed it.
This evening I'm meeting with Amy Coleman. Our first time together in years and years. I think we did TLS back in Rochester at the Downstairs Cabaret Theater.
Wow. This concert is becoming real. And the best thing is that we have no idea how many people are gonna show up. We've already raised $300 for the church just by people coming to Jim after the show asking to buy the painting that night. (He paints an original portrait every single night during the show.)
Oh, and speaking of that... well, I can't tell it yet. Remind me. A gift someone very talented gave to Jim.
Anyway, it's kind of exciting to wonder who's going to show. The concert is "just show up at the door." No reservations. We don't know if 10 people are gonna show or if 100 or 1000. We have seats for less than 200. So, what do you think? Mob scene or crickets?
Wednesday, January 06, 2010
The Theater at St. Clement's (423 West 46th Street) will host LIVING IN THE BONUS ROUND 2010, a "pay what you can" benefit concert featuring GLAAD and LA Ovation Award-winning composer/lyricist Steve Schalchlin and Friends, including playwright/actor Jim Brochu (currently starring in the Off-Broadway hit Zero Hour), plus original cast members of their acclaimed Off-Broadway musical The Last Session - Stephen Bienskie, Amy Coleman and Michele Mais (currently on Broadway in Rock of Ages), as well as singers Jennifer Wren and John Fitzgerald, plus many more to be announced.
The one-night-only event on Wednesday, January 13th at 7PM, will benefit St. Clement's weekly food pantry and monthly free veterinary clinic for low-income families in Hell's Kitchen. (Well-behaved pets are welcome at the concert.)
LIVING IN THE BONUS ROUND 2010 will feature Schalchlin at the piano, along with special guests performing songs from Schalchlin & Brochu's critically acclaimed musicals The Last Session; The Big Voice - God or Merman? and their upcoming Manhattan Clam Chowder, along with songs from Schalchlin's song cycle for peace, New World Waking.
Steve Schalchlin explains, "When Jim and I arrived at St. Clement's this past November with Zero Hour, I saw a line of people outside the building that stretched down the block. I thought, ‘Oh, great! We're a hit and we haven't even opened yet! Upon closer inspection, we saw they were waiting for bags of groceries being given out by a team of teenagers, volunteering community service for the day. And I thought, ‘How great is that? A theater that gives out food to the poor.'"
For Schalchlin, it's personal: "My father was a Baptist minister in southeast Texas. I watched his tiny congregations of paper mill workers and subsistence farmers always reaching out to people with barely enough to survive. Also, for several years, AIDS put me in that position of going from service to service, begging for help just to get through another month. When I attended the Sunday morning service at St. Clement's, I witnessed what I saw growing up, a small congregation devoted to providing basic services to people (and their pets!) in need. And I wanted to help. Plus, they let people bring their pets to church with them. So we decided to make the show open to people and pets. As admission, bring what you can, pay what you can afford."
Steve Schalchlin received an L.A. Theater Ovation Award nomination for Best Actor in a Musical for his performance in The Big Voice: God or Merman? but he primarily sees himself as a songwriter. He has been a performer all his life, first in his hometown Texas church, chorus and ensemble work in college, band gigs, and now the stage. He currently lives in Los Angeles and regularly appears on the nationally broadcast "Kulak's Woodshed" in North Hollywood, both as on air host and performer.
Jim Brochu is currently starring in the critically acclaimed Zero Hour as theatre legend Zero Mostel at Theater at St. Clement's, which won the Ovation Award for Best Play. He and Schalchlin wrote and performed The Big Voice: God or Merman? Off-Broadway.
Stephen Bienskie, who originated the role of Buddy in the original Off-Broadway production of The Last Session, has gone on to much acclaim, winning the Helen Hayes Award in Washington, DC for his leading role in The Fix. He also appeared Off-Broadway in Zombie Prom and on Broadway in Cats.
Michele Mais performed the role of Tryshia in the LA production of The Last Session and is currently featured in the Broadway smash Rock of Ages playing Justice and Mother. She also appeared in Roza and Zoot Suit.
Amy Coleman also appeared in the original The Last Session. She recently toured Italy with her Italian blues band Amy Coleman and Texaco Jive. With Valerie Smaldone, she wrote Spit It Out, a play with music (Midtown InterNational Theatre Festival). Coleman sang with Peter Frampton in the British Rock Symphony and portrayed Janis Joplin in the original production of Beehive.
Jennifer Wren is a New York singer discovered by Schalchlin and Brochu at Mark Janas' Salon, currently at Etcetera Etcetera. She performed "Nobody Leaves New York" from Manhattan Clam Chowder that night and they immediately invited her to join them for this benefit.
Jonathan Fitzgerald is also a popular singer in Manhattan nightclubs. Schalchlin first heard him singing at the Sunday morning service at St. Clement's.
Recently cited by The New York Times as creator of one of (if not THE first) AIDS diary, Steve Schalchlin's website, Living in the Bonus Round, was created in March of 1996, long before the word "blog" was even conceived. It was an experiment to help him and his doctor keep track of his disease, and to keep his family informed about the state of his health. Living in the Bonus Round inadvertently became the first "blog" of a musical in progress as The Last Session went through its workshop phase in Los Angeles. The blog exposure led to funding for the New York production, which led to features in People Magazine and Entertainment Weekly, among others.
The Last Session was created from songs written as healing therapy by Mr. Schalchlin (book by Jim Brochu) during his struggle with AIDS. The writing of the songs kept him alive just long enough for the new HIV drugs to come on the market.
This Off-Broadway production, which opened to near-unanimous raves in 1997 at the 47th Street Theatre, went on to win multiple theater awards around the country, including L.A. Critics Circle awards for Best Musical, Best Supporting Actress (Michele Mais) and Best Musical Score, an award Mr. Schalchlin also received for The Big Voice: God or Merman?, their subsequent autobiographical musical.
After playing New York for nine months, a Los Angeles production was put together using three of the five of the New York cast, Bob Stillman, Stephen Bienskie, and Amy Coleman, opening to rave reviews.
Says Mr. Schalchlin, "I'm excited about the music we're going to make on January 13. It will be a deeply emotional evening."