I'm a man on a mission. A mission to convince you 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 "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, December 18, 2014

Jim & Steve on Guiness World Records Official Attempt, Jan. 1 at Metropolitan Room

I'm at 9:30-9:45pm and Jim sings from 10:15 - 10:30pm on Jan. 1st. We are very excited to be given anchor positions at this "official attempt" at "The Longest Variety Show" at the Metropolitan Room in NYC from 7pm on the 1st to 1am on January 4th.

There are tickets available for One Day Passes and a Four Day Pass, which lets you in anytime during the festival.

Don't miss it!

Monday, December 08, 2014

New World Waking to a Sold Out House.

It was such a relief to look out into the house from behind the curtain this past Saturday night and see a house full of people. I knew we were making money for the kids in the summer theater program.

Even more gratifying was how many people said how relevant they found the piece, especially in this era where violence is celebrated even more than in the past.

I will have photos and video soon, but I wanted to thank everyone who sang in the show and everyone who braved the cold rain to be in the audience.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Busy Week Preparing New World Waking.

In response to questions about "how do I get a show produced?"

This past Saturday, director Andy Gale, Jim Brochu and I took the M11 bus down 9th avenue to 30th street and walked east to Urban Stages. If that sounds scary to anyone, you haven't been in New York. This is a thriving, bustling midtown/Chelsea area just a block from Broadway.

I had all these ideas about staging, which I had been dreaming up during my morning piano sessions.

And Andy said no to every single one. And Jim agreed.

It was the best day of my life.

To be in the hands of professionals is the greatest feeling of all. And he was right about every idea. But at least I had some. And yesterday, one of the wackier ones, he loved, so it's going into the show. I tried it out in class yesterday, where we also rehearsed two of the singers, Eileen Tepper and Cindy Marchionda.

This week, also, I wrote up press materials, finalized the casting, rehearsed people at all hours of the day, created the logo (while Jim created the poster), I'm also rewriting the script, rewriting all the arrangements to the songs, promoting the show to all my friends, begging them to come so that we don't face an empty house -- it's happened before -- and am communicating with the tech team and the PR agent (our old pal David Gersten) for the whole Winter Rhythms cabaret and theater festival (of which we are a part),

Oh, how did I get this production? Well, after Jim did so well at Urban Stages with his "Character Man" show, and after I got such great notices for my "Tales from the Bonus Round" show, I had heard about Winter Rhythms, so I told Peter Napolitano I'd take one of the slots this year if he would have me.

And the secret, I suppose, is a deadline.

I could have been working this material over from now until eternity, but it ain't real until it goes onto the stage.

The other aspect, as I've discussed before, was that this was an experiment. Could we fashion a "new musical" without ever needing a big group rehearsal? I've done it before in smaller situations, such as when we did it in Olympia, Washington with their summer theater class.

But this is New York! No just flopping people onto the stage.

Welcome to the glamorous world of how to get a show on.

From the outside, you'd think there would be producers and artists and designers and a press team (and a playwright and composer), all putting on a show. But, in fact, this is a do-it-yourself production, filled with volunteers. And, as creator of this show, who doesn't have a lot of money or "people," I have to do the lion's share of our part.

I'm not complaining. I'm explaining. The reality.

Nobody comes and just whizzes you away and gives you a career. You are the CEO and you have to do it or it doesn't get done.

I suspect this is true, to a large extent for all writers and artists -- at least until they have a fortune and can hire people to do it for you.

No, kids. It's all in your hands. That's the reality.

Stop waiting for someone to give you permission. No, wait.

I now give you permission.

There. Done. Now, go do it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Monday, November 17, 2014

We Are Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made On...

"...and our little lives are rounded with a sleep."

I sat in Andy Gale's class yesterday, after having done Prospero's speech on my feet, loudly and bitterly saying these words, and circling around. A step or two I'll take to still my beating mind.

My beating mind.

With the rehearsals of New World Waking beginning -- soloists coming over to our apartment, the songs are springing to new life, even as I've written new ones to insert.

And it's like magic. With each new singer, the songs are reshaped by their bodies, their minds, their experiences, and now, thanks to being in the middle of a city filled with dreamers and students and magnificently trained voices, the songs are reaching moments of profundity even I couldn't bring to them as writer.

Andy said, "Now just sit and say the words." He said more and I heard, but I don't remember. What I do remember is taking time.

Taking time.

All my life, worried that I wasn't good enough, I've rushed through almost everything I've ever done. I have this persistent fear that whoever is out there listening to me would rather be somewhere else, and that they're giving me a few minutes just as a favor.

Poor guy. He tries so hard. We should let him sing a few tunes.

And that's how I was going after Prospero. A man who's lived his entire life on an island taking care of his beloved daughter, but mitreating his servants -- a misshapen "monster" and a magical sprite he'd saved from imprisonment in a tree.

But then, he realizes how pointless it is when you live your life angry and needing to get revenge. (He causes a storm to trap his abusers onto the island with him, after many years and now they're at his mercy). He survived but his humanity had not. He was so focused on power and control, he suddenly has this moment where he realizes how short life is.

Round with a sleep. We wake from a sleep. We go back to sleep.

"Just sit and let us hear you say the words."

All week long, I have been saying these words. This speech. Each morning, I rise at around 3. And walk down to another little island. Except this one is quite a bit more industrial than Prospero's.

It is, aside from having Jim in my life, the greatest place on earth. Alone with a piano for endless hours of quiet time. It is a luxury beyond all description.

As I approach the door, I actually get a little zing in my belly. The same kind I felt in my more, shall we say, sexually robust days, when knowing I opening a door with a lover inside. I still feel that way when I think of seeing Jim, after even a few hours apart from each other. That excitement that something really fun is going to happen behind that door.

Ever since this became available to me, just a few months ago, I first decided to learn a Chopin Etude. The reason was simple. It gives me a goal that is attainable, but only with hours of repetition -- especially for someone with my particular skills, which aren't that much. I can accompany myself, but the sight of, for instance, a score of a musical, that doesn't have guitar chords written over the top, leaves me terrified.

Chopin doesn't write chord names over his music.

I also bring with me a folder filled with song titles and other ideas. I have been writing scenes for a play, for instance. And it's funny. We've done some of it in class. I don't know if it's great writing. These actors have skills that make everything sound good. But in their hands, the scenes were really funny.

And I have written a lot away from the piano. But the first time, I had a piano like this, while we were working the ships, I wrote "How Do You Fall Back In Love" and the whole score to New World Waking.

Oh, god! New World Waking is suddenly upon us! I have no idea if anyone will be in the audience. Maybe it sounds like a boring night of theater. New World Waking. Ugh. I don't know. Doesn't matter. I'll give it a new name if that one doesn't work.

Flu season. I bought this and brought it down here. Lots of people play this piano. They should have easy access to sanitation.

The thing about New York that sets it apart from most cities, is that it's not only filled with the greatest talent in the world -- whether they live here or are passing through doing a show -- but that everyone wants to do things!

So, the clubs are beginning to put together theme nights, where they celebrate something, but what makes it great is that you can fill the stage with great singers. Because they want to sing!

A play isn't a play until it has actors saying the words. Without the performers, it's a stack of paper on the table.

So, you don't know what's going to happen once great singers start singing your songs.

In LA, I couldn't get anyone to sing my songs.

I love LA. But it was either I have to become a superstar performer or I don't exist.

Don't exist.

Unless I am Kim Kardashian, I am nothing.

Like Richard II alone in that cell at the end of his life. If I am not king, I am nothing.

But Prospero goes the other way. If I am not a human, then I am nothing.

Being a king is nothing. Being a magical wizard is nothing.

Prospero breaks his magic wand. Throws away his magic books and is standing alone.

He realizes that all of this was to attain that: A life well loved, in my own sentimental interpretation.

Billy Block, now in Nashville, used to tell me, as I was producing The Acoustic Underground shows with Paul Zollo and Blythe Newlon, When it comes to your music, turn your back and make something really interesting, and make them look over your shoulder.

Stop telling them how good you are and let them find you. If what you have is worthy of attention, then it will stand like a rock, outside the boundaries of time and space, the time and space being claimed by media. They don't exist.

"The great globe itself, yeah, all that it inherit, shall dissolve
And leave not a rack behind.":

Which is why living in the bonus round takes all that into account.

I know when I finish my Chopin, that if nothing else happens in my life, I am going to be able to play that etude.

And if I write a song or spin a tale or inspire someone else to push on, no matter what, no matter who, doing it for themselves, but always with an eye remembering that none of it matters,

I saw this thing about self-help gurus. I don't want to be that, though I never turn down a chance to sing and tell my story, What I want is more connection to the humans that made me. The ones who have always loved me.

And I see through the eyes of what I call the bonus round.

I had to almost die of AIDS for it to get hammered into my head for real. Some of us are stubborn.

I don't do that part well, for some reason. I think it's partly because I felt I had to leave home to survive my sanity, as a gay man, but also partly because I'm just selfish and self-centered. But at least I'm aware of it and I don't celebrate it. I, instead, try to catch myself being like that and then stopping it.

I'll be performing at the LA Lab School for their AIDS Awareness Day. Last year, we were introduced and this year some of the students will be joining in with me.

Oh, and New World Waking on December 6. Kids from their summer theater program are also going to be on stage with us.

What started this whole thing?

Oh, I got a note from someone who has just started reading the bonus round diary from the beginning.


If I sound like I'm bragging when talking about all this, I apologize. For me, it's like, "Can you believe all this is happening to me? That great singers are lined up wanting to dig into my songs?

And that almost every performance is a show-stopper. You know, it's only an hour long. I'm sure someone will think that it sucks, which is totally fine,

But I've been jumping around the apartment all week with excitement.

So, unlike Prospero, I am not done yet. I am not going to throw away my magic wand yet.

The bonus Round clock is ticking! Must reach for everything!

And on that note, I finally made a logo. That came from the University of Steve in New York Graphics Arts classes. Some day, he will be able to afford a professional. But, for now, this will do.

I know this blog makes no sense, but I'm too rushed to rewrite it and make it more professional. The piano doth call.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Photos from TRU Benefit

Yesterday, I joined a group that consisted of cast members from several companies of "The Last Session" to sing "When You Care" honoring one of our New York producer, Michael Alden.

Danette Sheppard, Stephen Bienskie, Amy Coleman & Gary Bankston.

Emcee Valerie Smaldone, Jim Brochu, Nancy Nagel Gibbs, Michael Alden.

Broadway stars Cady Huffman, Lee Roy Reams, Anita Gillette and myself.

Tickets for Dec. 6 New World Waking now on sale.

I am very excited about the new benefit production of New World Waking at Urban Stages. The cast is AMAZING and it's only $25. 

Additional lyrics by Rev. Peter J. Carman, Paul Zollo, & Avril Roy-Smith

 CAST Jeremy Abram, Maria Fernanda Brea, Jim Brochu, Natalie Dixon, Brian Dorais, Danika Dorais, Stephen Elkins, David Fuller, Bill Goffi, Kimberly Faye Greenberg, Cindy Marchionda, Steve Schalchlin, Jake Wesley Stewart, Lucia Spina, Eileen Tepper, Clayton G. Williams.

Get tickets here: 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

New World Waking at Urban Stages December 6.


New World Waking, my ongoing experimental theater/concert project, at this stage, is an idea more than it is a set piece because each iteration has been in a different form, though the songlist has remained the same. It's been done several different ways.

At Urban Stages, it will be a benefit for their Summer Youth Program, which is perfect because it begins and ends with the stories of two real life gay kids and their PFLAG moms -- one, a tragedy that ended in death. And one, a victory that transformed a school system.

 Anyway, the date is set. December 6. And now I start "casting" it,

But you know what that also means, don't you? Yes. I have to design a new logo.

The problem is that I don't know how to tag the piece.

It used to be New World Waking, a song cycle for peace. But that sounds meh. Then it became something else, and then something else. I don't remember. Or, I have them but I don't want to look at them because it's hard to describe this.

In a way, I wish I could call it a community sing. A concert and community sing. Because I do want the audience singing at the end. New World Waking, in its own way, is a call to action. A bit of theatrical agitprop, so to speak.

But community sing connotes handing out little booklets with old folk songs. Doesn't it? Does anyone actually do that anymore? Did they ever?

But there is an audience involvement I would love to implement without it seeming corny or coercive. We did it when I presented it with an acting class in Olympia, Washington. And it played beautifully.

But titles. What to call something you consider to unique. And is it a tie and tuxedo piece or is it a folks sittin' around the campfire piece?

I suppose it can be both. Which is the point.

I could also use the term "crowd source," since I've been inviting all my friends, and whoever else wants to, to join me on the stage. (Urban Stages has a lot of extra stage space for a small theater, which is why I love it, along with loving their staff and programming.)

So, we'll see. With Andy Gale, Mark Janas and Jim Brochu involved, it will not lack for entertainment value.

Maybe that's it! New World Waking, An Entertainment Value.

Gahhhh. I hate marketing. But it's what we have to do. If you don't tell someone what you have, they can't know until they see it. But they won't see it, until they know what it is.

I love show business. Either way, we're supporting a great program for youth. And that's worth it all.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Catch up!

Had a great birthday party. Sheldon Harnick and Jim sang "Do You Love Me" from Fidder On the Roof with Jim singing the Golda part. Too hilarious.

Also, because our new building has a rehearsal room, I'm able to have access to a piano in the middle of the night, like on the cruise ships. So, it's exciting to be playing at 3am all through the morning.

I've been learning a Chopin Etude to increase my pianistic abilities. (Opus 10, number 1). I've been learning it for several months and finally have it memorized, but I play it at about 1/10 the speed it actually requires.

We love our new apartment. We finally feel like we have a home.

Also been singing at St. Clement's Church once a month.

And on December 6th, we'll be presenting New World Waking as part of Urban Stages' Winter Rhythms Cabaret Festival.

More soon!