Friday, August 03, 2007

SF Preview Number 2

If the crowded sold out house for our second preview is any indication of what's to come during our run here in San Francisco, I think we are headed for a lot of fun in this town. Just like the first preview, the laughs started right at the opening line and got bigger and bigger as we plowed through act one.

But it was in the silences! This theater is acoustically perfect for our show. Even with the air conditioning running, it's perfectly and totally silent. You can't hear any machinery. No whoosh. No humm. I wish more theaters understood how important this kind of thing is. We live in a world full of background noise. Everything around us is whirring and beeping and clicking and roaring. We're so used to having white noise pervading all our spaces.

But being in this theater, when the lights are low and the emotional moments begin to happen, it's almost like being out in the middle of the country where you can hear and feel the silence close in on your ears. How often do you actually experience total quiet and stillness?

Last night, I first detected this magical awareness when we began to go into "Where Is God?" Once again, this song stopped the show. I've been trying to put my finger on why. It comes right after the scene where I'm trying to quit my "Baptist rock and roll band" -- where I shout out of desperation, "I'm an atheist!" Then I cross over, berating myself for being unable to tell them the truth. But it's the follow-up lines that seem to cut like a knife here, when I shout, "I was so angry. Angry that I had been lied to my whole life!"

That's when I first felt it.

The ambient lighting is just enough that I could see row after row of same sex couples, both male and female looking at me, eyes wide in total recognition.

You see, for straight audiences, this is an observable moment. They see a gay guy up there and they're LEARNING our journey of self-discovery -- out of a religion that teaches you to hate what you are into the world of not-knowing, but feeling so liberated that you can finally just scream your truth to the heavens. And whether you go through an "atheist moment" or not, it's the same thing. YOU FEEL YOU'VE BEEN LIED TO YOUR WHOLE LIFE. (Not intentionally, of course. But it's the same thing. It's a LIE that gay and lesbian people need to change who they are in order to be at peace with God. It's a LIE that only heterosexuals are worthy of a spiritual life. All of it. Lie after lie after lie. And you live with it your whole life. And then one day, if you're lucky, if you don't put a bullet in your head, you finally break free and SCREAM at God or the church or the world or yourself or whomever, but it's the moment of true liberation when you finally tell the Reverend Righteouses of the world to go to hell.)

And here, in San Francisco, where gay people go to find refuge from those who think we're some kind of freaks of nature who need to get "fixed," I stood there on that stage and, without warning, seeing those faces full of understanding, I was suddenly filled with RAGE. The same rage I felt the day I stood out on my front lawn, fist raised to heaven screaming, "I DON'T BELIEVE ANYMORE!"

The words came out of me, "ANGRY THAT I HAD BEEN LIED TO MY WHOLE LIFE." And the SILENCE.

The silence.

That palpable, unbelievably powerful silence hung in the air. These people weren't observing a teachable moment. They were living it with me. They had been there. They knew EXACTLY what I was feeling. The funny, silly, comedy that they had been laughing at and hooting over suddenly turned on a dime and now we had raised the stakes. This wasn't just a funny little play about two big queens. This was a show that was dealing with demonstrably heavy subjects, some of which were probably still twisting and turning in the guts of the people watching.

Yeah. Where the hell IS God?

And by the time Jimmy joined in with Marie Cain's awesome lyrics, "If he can send tornadoes and the fatal flood / bury whole cities in a wall of mud / Put a deadly virus in a baby's blood..." the tension was so thick you could cut it with cat's whisker.

The ovation was thunderous. You know, one of the greatest things about having an audience trust you is that when you deliver something they've been thirsty for, they are most appreciative. And the thing about our show is that it's not a political screed. We are not agitprop theatre. This is a personal story. A true story. It's just us telling the truth. If they trust us enough to finally get aboard our craft even knowing that we will be going through some stormy seas, we believe it's our sacred duty to take them through safely. Yes, kids. This is going to be a harrowing ride. But you will be safe in our arms.

During act two, I could hear sobbing all over the audience as Jimmy sang (beautifully, I might add), "You Are A Stranger." And it's fun to sing the words, "Indian summer in San Francisco / I can feel the approaching winter / When the skies will all turn gray / And that's just how they'll stay" here IN San Francisco.

The other moment that really got to me was at the end, just before, "Sower and Scarecrow." They laughed as Jimmy, as the anger-filled homophobic evangelist says...

You know what? I'm not going to write any more here. There are people reading this blog who have not seen the show and I don't want to give away too much. All I can tell you is that, once again, the silence. The utter stillness of the next moment almost killed me. The last line I say just before this song never meant so much.

I don't want to take anything away from the experience of doing the show in New York. It was truly wonderful. But nothing in my experience in life equals what's happening right now on that stage in San Francisco. I wrote the producer, Ed Decker, and just thanked him over and over and over again for this opportunity. This experience.

And the beautiful, stunning silence.


Katie. said...

Steve (and Jim, if he reads these comments)--

I'm so thrilled that the San Francisco preview is going so well. I'm also thrilled that it's happening a mere four hours away from me, and I've almost completely convinced my husband to come up to the City next weekend to see "Big Voice!" (I'm coming up to see it regardless but Devin is not sure if he can get away from a side-job of his that he does on Saturdays but I know his boss, and he's a really nice guy, so I'm sure he'll let Devin off the hook next Saturday.)

I'm so excited! I can't wait to see your undoubtedly fabulous show and catch up with you and Jim. Is there any chance that I could have the honor of taking you two out to lunch/dinner/late dinner/drinks, if you have some free time next weekend? I realize that you've got a relatively short run and are probably insanely busy but I would love, love, LOVE to hang out with you two if you have the time.

I also want Devin (my hubby) to meet the two of you, as well. I've shown him the tape of "The Last Session" that was taped, I believe, while it was at the Laguna Playhouse. He doesn't really like musicals all that much (I'm sure that it's only a matter of time before I turn him into a groundling) but even he realized how amazing TLS is, and he knows how much the show, and you and Jim, mean to me.

This is way to long for a comment, so I'd better wrap it up. I haven't bought our tickets, yet, but I'm probably going to buy them today before they sell out. I'm so excited about seeing you two again, and getting to see the show.

(Although... Get This! I actually had to tell my husband who Ethel Merman was! I'm pretty sure that he thought "The Big Voice: God or Merman?" was some odd reference to men who live in the sea.)

Steve Schalchlin said...

Katie, send me an email to and let's definitely get together. We would LOVE to see you again, and would also love to meet your husband.

JoyZeeBoy said...

Great post, Songboy. I'm so glad that the gay audience is there for you. The show deserves it.

I have to admit that the night I saw you guys in New York I was well aware that the vast majority of the audience, as theater savvy as they may have been, was still going to be fairly clueless.

I especially related to your SF moment when you realized that the audience totally grokked the anger at your realization that in your whole religious life you'd been lied to again and again.

I grokked it, too. What a demoralizing moment that was --- when I knew, in my soul, that God and I were right --- and that the so-called clergy were wrong. Dead wrong.

Steve Schalchlin said...

I love the way you put that:

"I knew, in my soul, that God and I were right --- and that the so-called clergy were wrong. Dead wrong."

Gabi Clayton said...

You know what? I'm not going to write any more here. There are people reading this blog who have not seen the show and I don't want to give away too much.

That's us. I don't know if Alec and I will ever see it, but thanks for the great blogging so at least we can live it vicariously.

Love you,

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