BRIEF BLOG INTRO: 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.

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.

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.

Friday, March 13, 2015

New World Waking, Boston Conservatory.

Joey Harrell, musical director of EarthStone Theater Company's production of
New World Waking.
I don't want to insult producer/director and performer Blake Zolfo by saying he reminds me of me. But he reminds me of me. In the sense that he seems to instinctively be living in the Bonus Round without ever having almost died of a disease.


Blake Zolfo and I with the poster. Artwork by Carolina Gaviola, conceived by Blake and Carolina.
Meaning, as a student at Boston Conservatory, he started his own theater company and put on a season of shows, grabbing whatever space was available, and just going of for it. In the case of New World Waking, they took over a rehearsal hall at the school. (One of the premises behind his founding EarthStone is that one doesn't need a theater to make theatre).


When he discovered my New World Waking School Challenge, he and musical director Joey Harrell were especially eager because the show is still, in a way, unformed -- or without form -- and thus, subject to being stretched and changed and reformed to whatever artistic vision they wanted.

As a teaching opportunity, it was perfect. As composer, I gave them permission to cast it any way they wished, including changing keys, changing genders of the singers, changing songs from solos to group songs or vice versa. And since the "characters" are more archetypes associated with the songs than fully fleshed out characters, they had my permission to absolutely do anything they wanted.

They couldn't do a lot in terms of production, plus they had a severely limited rehearsal period, but what a privilege it was to sit out front and see the songs re-imagined in new ways. (Here in New York, I had to cast myself in the show because, also, of time limitations so I couldn't watch the show.)

But, from the beginning, I have envisioned this piece as a learning exercise that can be thrown into a season. The point of it is to do it quickly, down and dirty. So, for the students at Boston Conservatory, it was a chance to, essentially, create a new show from scratch. And there's no better or faster way to learn.

At the beginning of the night, Blake announced that, except for one, these were all underclassmen.

Bransen Gates sang "Brilliant Masquerade" and "War By Default."
He's a very "alive" performer on stage, totally present.

Isaiah Reynolds lent an expert hand to such diverse songs as
Franco Ate The Paperwork, Kelly & Sinatra, My Thanksgiving Prayer, and My Rising Up.
When I showed Jim his picture, he said, "This kid is gonna get a lot of work with that smiling face."

Gabi Carruba's harmonies were gorgeous on "He's Coming Back" and she totally raised the roof on "Lazarus Come Out."

Aaron Badilla has a warm,  melodic voice.
He also had the two most diverse songs, "Vacationing in Syria," which had the audience laughing out loud,
and "Holy Dirt," which benefitted from his quiet gravitas.

Lauren Kidwell was brought in to handle "Sanctus," which requires a more trained operatic voice.

Jackie Chylinski was celebrating because this would be her first college show.
She expertly handled "He's Coming Back," "I Enter This Battle Gravely" and "William's Song."
The endlessly adorable and warm Dani Apple fully embodied the pathos of
"Gabi's Song," "I Enter This Battle Gravely" and "He's Coming Back."


Seriously, how adorable is Isaiah Reynolds?






Adam Bokunewicz bravely stepped in at the last minute to handle the piano chores.
It was not easy, and he gracefully pulled it off. Great musician!

Joey Harrell, the musical director, stayed up almost all night and morning
rewriting the charts for Adam. Welcome to the glamorous world of show biz!

The entire company and creative team.
Adam Bedilla, Joey Harrell, Dani Apple, Blake Zolfo, Jackie Chylinski, Steve Schalchlin
Adam Bokunewicz, Isaiah Reynolds, Bransen Gates, Gabi Carruba, Lauren Kidwell.
Despite all the limitations, the show was great. People around me were both crying and laughing and greatly moved by the material and by the expert performances.

I composed New World Waking with the express goal of providing a work that would both be deeply meaningful and easy to produce -- but it takes a visionary to pull it off. A visionary like Blake Zolfo.

It doesn't matter how old you are or how inexperienced, what it takes to make it in this profession is courage to step out on your own and MAKE something happen.

New World Waking was a triumph because these young people made it happen. They didn't wait for others, they didn't wait for permission. They created their own show and they moved a lot of hearts with it. And that's what Living in the Bonus Round is truly all about.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Writing A Song A Week.

I've joined the Jack Hardy Songwriter Exchange, the rules of which are that we must write a song a week. So, just to prove that I can, I have been writing, almost exclusively, love songs -- and I will probably make those love songs my next album.

Why love songs? Because everyone keeps accusing me of writing only "issue" songs. So, I'm gonna prove myself! So far, I'm not doing so badly. We'll see how it goes.

I've been learning my new studio recording software -- Pro Logic X! -- so I'll start posting the demo recordings soon for your judgment.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Boston New World Waking moved to March 10.

New World Waking will perform on March 10 (one night only!) at 8pm in 132 Ipswich, Room 306.  Tickets are $5 and can be reserved by emailing Blake_Zolfo@bostonconservatory.edu.  A portion of the proceeds will be donated to The Trevor Project.

The show features a group of incredible singers from The Boston Conservatory, and the response from the performers to this material has been so encouraging as we continue to put this show together. It is also a unique opportunity for this group of pre-professionals to be able to work on a show with the composer being an active part of the process.  They have improvised many of the harmony lines and bring a fresh new look at this very pointed piece of theatre.

EarthStone Theatre Company's Cast for New World Waking

Gabi Carrubba*
Jackie Chylinski
Dani Apple
Bransen Gates
Aaron Badilla
Isaiah Reynolds

*Member of Actor's Equity Association (AEA), the union of professional actors and stage managers in the United States.
 
EarthStone Theatre Company is a brand new theatre company which operates in Boston, Massachusetts, bringing four shows annually to the Back Bay/Cambridge area.  The mission statement of EarthStone is four pronged: 
  • Breaking down the assumption that theatre can only happen in places designated as "theaters"
  • Breaking down preconceptions that specific shows need to be performed in a particular manner
  • Breaking down social barriers by using art as activism
  • Breaking down artistic barriers by connecting composers/playwrights with actors and vice versa.
     Our current season included a completely re-imagined Little Shop of Horrors, a workshop of a new musical called The Greatest Musical Ever, performances of Paul Downs Colaizzo's Really Reallywhich raised money for the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, and the weekend of March we will be putting up a dynamic production of Shakespeare's Macbeth.  New World Waking fits into our mission statement because it sparks strong conversation about LGBT issues.  

The executive board of EarthStone is comprised of current students and alumni from The Boston Conservatory, which has about a 30% population that identifies as "other than straight". (The national average is around 14% for a college campus).  So we decided to include this powerful song cycle in our season, feeling that it would resonate within such a diverse community.  

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Lucia and I perform "William's Song" at the BroadwayWorld Cabaret Awards


It was thrilling to receive the "Editor's Choice for Excellence in Songwriting" at the 2015 BroadwayWorld Cabaret Awards.

In the picture, taken by Russ Weatherford, you see Lucia Spina singing "William's Song."

I am very honored to receive this award and I thank the BroadwayWorld editors, especially Stephen Hanks. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Boston New World Waking logo

New World Waking will perform on March 10, 2015 (one night only!) at 8pm in 132 Ipswich, Room 306. Tickets are $5 and can be reserved by emailing Blake_Zolfo@bostonconservatory.edu. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to The Trevor Project.


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Pics of Drama Class, Jacksonville TX.


The Jacksonville College Drama Department. Mary Lewish, teacher.

I was honored to speak to the students in this class. I basically just told them my story, and about how I found life and truth in musical theater. And I told them to quit acting. (That's always the first rule of acting is to stop acting).

Now, I ask you, how adorable are these faces? 


Yes. That's me lecturing, as if I had even a remote clue about what I was doing.

For Valentine's Day.

For Valentine's Day,

I am asking my girlfriend from college -- with whom I recently reconnected -- Brenda Bateman​, to be my Valentine.

I just called her "Hatley" and she was my best friend and the one who believed in me the most, among a lot of great close pals. But she is a very special person and I caused her and a lot of other people a great deal of pain.

She is responsible for my return home to Jacksonville after 40 years. It was both the best and worst time of my life because I had a secret I could never share. Not back then. And not there. In not being able to deal with it, or talk about it, I hurt everyone in my life -- especially when I left them, driving out of town and never looking back.



She married a wonderful man and had a great marriage until he recently passed away and she found me on Facebook. (And then hounded me to return. There is so much to tell, I don't know where to begin. I haven't even begun to examine my feelings).

We were driving through downtown Houston yesterday and I saw all these tall gleaming towers named after wealthy men. And I thought how nice if someone of wealth built towers and named them after people like Brenda, who is presently a youth pastor in a Chinese church near Dallas. A woman living a quiet but fierce life of love, creating healing through direct action and not taking "no" for an answer -- and believe me, I resisted.

Brenda, will you be my Valentine today?

(Jim​ won't mind one bit, and I hope you get to meet him one day. He's very much taken to calling everyone "darlin'," now that he's been in Texas for a month. You two will "darlin'" each other to death.)

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Singing at Jacksonville College.

I was, frankly, terrified to come back to Jacksonville College, remembering how much gay people were hated and denounced back in the 70s by conservative Christians. I didn't want to put them on the spot and I didn't want to have to defend myself. But, my classmates wanted me to come, so I went and was even invited to speak to the drama department and sing a concert for my old classmates.

And it was fantastic. We all wept together, sang together and many of them shared with me about their own gay relatives, proudly talking about how much they loved and accepted them. I even said that if anyone doesn't agree about homosexuality, that I was perfectly willing to accept them, however they are, whatever they believe, because I cannot ask for acceptance unless I'm willing to be accepting.

I feel a little silly, in retrospect, fearing this day that I would come "home."


How wonderful it is when people hearts are open and we all just accept each other for what and who we are.

Color me grateful and happy and filled with joy.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Presenting at Manhattan School of Music.


Mark Janas teaches a program for the vocal students at the prestigious Manhattan School of Music. It's a special class of students who do community outreach to both elementary schools, to teach them about opera; and to senior centers, singing a special cabaret show.

This entails showing them how to approach singing the American Songbook, which can be tricky and sometimes difficult for operatic singers. Many simply cannot make that transition. But when they can -- when they can "bring it down," so to speak, and sing conversationally, they then have that reserve of training to draw on when they need it. And this can be spectacular!

With Andy Gale as an acting/performing coach, these students are getting the best of the best. And my purpose there was to sing my own songs and, as Mark would put it, show them, in real life terms, how powerful music can be in the lives of those who hear it, when its sung as if life itself depended on it, which mine absolutely does.

I'm honored to be able to do this kind of outreach. I don't come from an operatic background, so a part of me always feels inadequate. Most of these singers can, technically, sing rings around me.

But, somehow, whatever I bring to the party, it seems to be enough. Mark gave me over an hour to work with them and all of us were drenched in tears by the time it was over.

Now, they'll work on their own shows. I'm excited to see what develops.

Monday, January 19, 2015

New World Waking in Boston.

Last week, I offered to let any group perform New World Waking, and the challenge has been accepted by the EarthStone Theater Company, which is run by some students at Boston Conservatory.

So, today, in honor of MLK Day, I want to present this number from the recent New York staging.

Borrowing from my Mass, I brought in the Sanctus, sung here by Maria Fernanda Brea, a student at Manhattan School of Music, the opera program. I promise she will some day be on the stage at the Met.

But, you'll see that the narrator begins the moment with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King -- about how violence only breeds more violence -- pairing that quote with "Holy Dirt," about how some religions care more about their ideology than they do the people they say their deity or prophet loves.

It's like a contest to see who can kill them most people to defend the honor of some holy object or person -- and whoever kills the most, wins.


In class yesterday...

In class yesterday, one of my new songs got ripped to shreds. Well, not really. They loved the melody and concept, but felt they were mismatched -- and that the "story" in the song was unclear. I hated hearing that, of course.

 Except, today, I love having heard it. Because now I know how to approach a rewrite.

Being a songwriter is such a pain. When an idea is new, it's THE GREATEST IDEA ON EARTH, and then you start singing it and the fresh new car starts getting dings and bumps and scratches. Or, they were there but you just didn't see them because NEW IS ALWAYS GREAT!

But, how valuable to have informed, honest reactions. You cannot grow without it. You have to suck it up and look at what you've got and then fix it. And fix it again.

That's a metaphor for life, btw.

It never gets easy. It only becomes familiar. But if your life is easy, you're either dead or you've lost the meaning of life.

OTOH, the two other songs got a splendid reaction. I still think there's work to do, but at least I feel I can see the runway and can land pretty smoothly.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

You can perform New World Waking.

If you're a student or non-profit group looking for an hour-long piece for a fundraiser or a social action meeting, I am allowing, for a limited time, a free license to perform it. All the material is online, fully downloadable for no charge.

Write me at steveshack@gmail.com