Friday, February 28, 2014

Snapshots After Character Man.

Donna McKechnie, Jim Brochu, Rick Stockwell, Pamela Myers.
Ira Denmark, Character Man Director Robert Bartley, Rick Stockwell, Richard Bell.
When Jim called Donna McKechnie, legendary Broadway performer, to come to the tiny Urban Stages to see the dress rehearsal of "Character Man" last night -- the first time we'd see the show up on its feet -- it reminded me that she had once invited him to a tiny little stage to see an experimental musical she was working on called "A Chorus Line." He hadn't even heard of it before going through that door. He just remembered crying for a hour afterward.

"Character Man" is not designed to be that intense a show, but it does have a poignant moment that brings most people to tears and, like "A Chorus Line," it's a true story of the theater.  

Also present, because she was in town from her home in Cincinnati, was Pam Myers, who Jim did a show with -- was it Oklahoma? -- back "in the stone age." Theatrical families are nomadic. Long times apart after intense personal interactions. When you see each other after a long time, all the love comes back, even if it's people you hated. Who cares. Life is short. 

She forever memorialized New York life when she debuted "Another Hundred People" from Company.

Because our production schedule was limited -- there were still little glitches here and there, but it was finally up on its feet and it felt really good. Jim was very alive and present. To which he would reply, "If you can fake that, you got it made."

At this point, you just want everything working right, establishing a rhythm. All the new production elements seemed to add dimensions to the storytelling, using the deliciously large stage to dramatic effect, if it's called for.

Everyone was so happy afterwards, I asked them, along with a few other friends, to pose on the stage for some pics.

All actors! Ira Denmark, Donna McKechnie, Jim Brochu, Rick Stockwell, Pamela Myers,
Richard Bell & Uncle Johny Pool, an old pal who is
now a big morning radio personality on the Elvis Duran Show.

Donna McKechnie, Jim Brochu, Pamela Myers.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Character Man Rehearsal Pics

Yesterday was the first day of tech rehearsals for Character Man. We were also visited by the talented and beauteous theater reporter, Frank DiLella, came by to interview Jim for "On Stage," the theater show on NY1, here in New York.

Jim Brochu performing while his mentor, David Burns, looks on.

Jim Brochu interviewed by Frank DiLella.

Jim Brochu with NY1 reporter, Frank DiLella.

Jim and Frank. I love this picture.
Here is a picture of Jim and me with Francis Hill, the artistic director:

Steve Schalchlin, Francis Hill, Jim Brochu.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Behind the Scenes Photos from Character Man.

Important phone call!
I'm lookin' at the man in the window.
Artistic Director Francis Hill, Jim Brochu, Producer Peter Napolitano.

Director Robert Bartley.

Music Director and Conductor Carl Haan.
Set and Video Designer Patrick Brennan.

Technical Director Sean Hagerty
Production Stage Manager Don Myers.

The production meeting went really smoothly. Meanwhile, in the theater...

Lighting Designer Meghan Santelli was overseeing the hanging and focusing of lights.

Then, on our way home, we run into a statue of one of the "stars" of Character Man, Jackie Gleason.

Getting a little blessing from Ralph Cramden.
But where's the artistic consultant??

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Theater Fun!

Yesterday, we went down to Urban Stages to do a preliminary walk-through for the lighting designer of Jim Brochu's "Character Man," Meghan Santelli. I purposely did not bring a camera because it can be a distraction when someone is concentrating.  It needed to be just a private creative session. (I'm, officially, the Artistic Consultant, which mean I don't have to do anything, but they ask my my opinion, anyway.)

We are blessed with a nice big stage, tall ceiling and a full lighting package. For a theater person, if you can get these things, it's like having a mountain of gold. It even has balcony railing on the back wall and big steam pipes. Fabulous!

Also, since "Character Man" is a kind of memory play (memory musical?), and utilizes a lot of personal photographs, we have video and set designer, Patrick Brennan to create a three-screen projection. Previously, Jim had just edited them together himself. And they worked, but also felt a bit homemade. He always wanted an actual designer with more professional equipment. Patrick was involved in Mark Nadler's brilliant production at The York.
Robert Bartley, our very creative (and handsome) and well prepared director, was there. Also Don Myers, our beloved stage manager, who had, this past weekend, overseen a complete ceiling to floor cleaning of the whole space, including the back stage, dressing room, lighting booth and audience areas -- it smells so good in there! He also inserted our little show secrets and traditions, which I'll show you after it's all up and ready.


Jim stood and walked around the stage and moved from area to area, while everyone made (or took) notes.

The group is really friendly and professional. For a small budget off-Broadway show in a house that seats 70 or so, with the planned production values, I think the $35 ticket price is the best price in town, especially considering most Broadway shows go for $200, unless you know how to sneak around and find deals. Or find rich friends who will take you. 

It's all very exciting. I'll write more as we go along. Get tickets here!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Thought From Last Night.

Last night, the "Boys from the Book" (The AIDS Generation: Stories of Survival Resilience) and I, along with the author Dr. Perry Halkitis, sat in front of some very interesting people and talked about our lives as HIV Positive older gay men at a very gay bookstore called Bureau of General Services -- Queer Division, which was upstairs on a very dark street in Chinatown, or near it.

It was our second or third time to do this, so we never know what we're going to talk about.

For instance, one of the guys felt a little angry and "left behind" by gay culture. One talked of depression. All talked about how we feel like survivors of a war. The PTSD stays in the background and never goes away. And that goes, as everyone agreed, for those who were not HIV positive.

An entire generation of really bright and handsome and meaningful men all died, and we stand battling on against the side effects of the medications. 

One man from the audience said he worried about getting older, that his parents went through -- or are going through -- hell. He said, "At 54, I wonder if I should decide when and where to end it. I don't want to die like them." 

One of our guys said he totally understood the feeling, but that it almost angers him to hear someone who is healthy talk about ending their perfectly healthy life when he fights every single day to stay alive.

The smile of "I get it" was amazing. Yes. Sometimes the best way out of your own head is to get out of your own head. 

As I recounted the time in 1995 when I "knew" I was going to die -- and how it energized me so much to run for the tape, finish the songs, put a show on a stage -- I said I realize how often, now, I try to put my head back into the space. Even though I was there, I don't think I live my life now as if it's the last one I'm going to get to have. 

But when I do, when I remember that energy and see that curtain coming down, feeling the approach of the end of something, it makes me very happy. It means I have accomplished something and that something bigger is on the horizon.

I met a young man afterward who asked me about all this positiveness, etc. He asked me, as a young musician, what should he do next? Since I don't know what to do next, I have no idea what to tell anyone else what to do except to realize that you're alone in this process, meaning it's not like school, where you know where to go and what to do, you have to figure it out for yourself, which begins with realizing that you have to figure it out for yourself.

I told him I was the University of Steve at New York. I had to find my faculty. But to get my faculty, I had to be of service. Happily, the service is to a music program. 

It was fun seeing the Boys from the Book again. That's not an official title, by the way. But it's kinda catchy.

How amazing it is to be alive. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Reminder: AIDS Panel Tonight in New York.

Information here.

Join us at the Bureau of General Service -- Queer Division for a presentation by Perry Halkitis of his new book The AIDS Generation: Stories of Survival and Resilience. Halkitis will be joined by five of the men he interviewed for this book: Jim Alba, Erik Bartley, Sean McKenna, Lee Raines, and Steve Schalchlin. After the presentation, the author and the five interviewees will engage the audience in discussion.

The AIDS Generation: Stories of Survival and Resilience examines the strategies for survival and coping employed by these HIV-positive gay men, who together constitute the first generation of long-term survivors of the disease. Through interviews conducted by the author, it narrates the stories of gay men who have survived since the early days of the epidemic; documents and delineates the strategies and behaviors enacted by men of this generation to survive it; and examines the extent to which these approaches to survival inform and are informed by the broad body of literature on resilience and health.

The stories and strategies detailed here, all used to combat the profound physical, emotional, and social challenges faced by those in the crosshairs of the AIDS epidemic, provide a gateway for understanding how individuals cope with chronic and life-threatening diseases. Halkitis takes readers on a journey of first-hand data collection (the interviews themselves), the popular culture representations of these phenomena, and his own experiences as one of the men of the AIDS generation.

This riveting account will be of interest to health practitioners and historians throughout the clinical and social sciences — or to anyone with an interest in this important chapter in social history.

The AIDS Generation: Stories of Survival and Resilience is available at the Bureau.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Bryan Cranston, LBJ and Louann.

I just posted on "All That Chat" this personal review of Bryan Cranston in "All the Way," a new Broadway play about LBJ and the inside process of passing civil rights legislation. I put it here because it refers to Louan Gideon, who I had just written about this past week.


A stunning, masterful performance in an intricate large cast play about the machinations of getting civil rights legislation passed, while simultaneously trying to get nominated and then elected to his first actual term in office after JFK's death. Cranston disappears into the bombastic, profane, warrior persona of LBJ completely and naturally.

It's also a concise and illuminating history lesson by the playwright, Robert Shenkkan. Balancing many simultaneous stories, the writing was crystal clear and easy to follow as it bounced back and forth between Washington and Missisippi.

MLK (Brandon J. Dirdan, calmly convincing) fights to hang on, squeezed between radical young Blacks and the establishment NAACP, getting backstabbed by Johnson and eventually demanding blacks be seated at the Democratic Convention to represent Mississippi. Also, lurking around the edges is J. Edgar Hoover, in a very realistic, non-winking and yet comical without being camp performance by Michael McKean, taping everyone and trying to forward his own power agenda.

People warned me that play was long, but it seemed to fly by, and I felt as energized at the ending as I did when I walked in. It also reminded me of 1776 in that we knew the historical outcome, but were kept hanging in suspense wondering how the election was going to turn out, as he kept losing points the South.(Spoiler: LBJ wins.)

The whole company is richly human and believable, down to the last small part, and Bill Rauch's direction was imaginative and smart in its use of the design elements, sometimes allowing three scenes in three locations to happen at once, without losing any momentum or focus in the narrative.

And also an effective use of onstage actors sitting in what could be a jury or a choir loft or a committee meeting room, with LBJ's big roller chair front and center.

The play also makes a larger point, quoted by LBJ about politics: That politics is not "war by another means. It's just war."

Having personally participated in a non-violent resistance march against the hatemongering of Jerry Falwell, I was especially drawn to the arguments in the MLK camp, as their anger pushed them to rebel against the use of "love and non-violence" and to get into the streets with fists.

LBJ didn't just play. He played to win. Cranston stomps and storms and cuddles and coos and threatens and rails and laughs -- so much bull-bodied laughing in this play from the audience and from the actor.

And if a little bit of Walter White creeped in around the edges in moments, it was only deepened rather than detracted from the character because people addicted to power play by a set rules that the rest of us avoid, and the central one is ruthlessness.

A bit of a personal note: When I looked in the program I was startled, in reading Cranston's bio that he has dedicated his performance to a friend of mine, Louan Gideon, who suddenly and unexpectedly died of cancer, though she had been doing well for a very long time. I had just written a blog entry about her this past week.(Back in the late 70s, I was Louan's musical director for a Vegas style act she was doing with her then boyfriend. It wasn't a great act but it was a three year gig and it got us out of Texas -- and me to New York.)

Louann, you are missed and will always be missed.

Steve Schalchlin

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Pre-Announcement for Missa Appassionata, The Bay Ridge Mass, June 7

After I write something -- or even during or before -- I like to see it visually, so I make a logo. And there it is.

After four years, I am finally ready to present the Mass I've been composing for Christ Church Bay Ridge. The world premiere will be June 7th there in Brooklyn.

I'll have more to say on the subject soon. But I wanted to let my own fans know first. There will be limited seating. Whether or not we'll record it is still something we're discussing. Hopefully, we will.

But we now have a date and I'm very excited. This is the most ambitious composing I've done in my life. I hope it exceeds expectations. (Which means, come without them).

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Another Angel Dies. RIP Louan Gideon.

I mentioned, a few posts ago, that First Angel Don Kirkpatrick, had died. A couple of days ago, I learned that Louan Gideon had also died. Louan got short fame on a soap opera, Search For Tomorrow, thanklessly coming in to play a role that had been the property of another actress for a very long time -- in a story where they ended the series by flooding the town.
At this point and time, I think I wanted to both
Daryl Hall AND John Oates.
Louan was amazingly beautiful and guileless.

In a way, I didn't know Louan that well when we worked together, even though I was serving as musical director for her and her then boyfriend, Chris, in an act they called Taylor and Cole, a kind of girlfiriend/boyfriend Donny and Marie act. I didn't really lead the band. Chris did. All the arrangements and show ideas were his. The money was his, though I don't recall we were paid all that much. We lived on the road.

We being the band, consisting of myself plus four teenage boys -- I was in my late-20s about then. Even at my age, I was still new to the world, so we kind of discovered partying on the road together. I only gave them one rule. No getting high before going on stage.

We kinda thought the Vegas thing they were going for was stupid, but, as musicians, we liked having a gig, and were really communicating and learning how to play together. I was never one to learn "parts." I'm a jam musician. It's rare that I ever play a song the same way twice, so I probably held us up when it came to playing top ten hits and stuff, which we usually had to do between shows (that featured "Loren," which is what Louan called herself back then, and Chris).

We were just the hired hands with rock and roll dreams in our eyes, the boys and I.

We even made up band names and recorded demos of songs I wrote, only a few of which exist. It was long before I found my own musical voice, so the results are kind of lame. No two songs are in the same genre. I was probably trying to sound like whatever was on the charts. Looking back, I can see me teaching myself how to write, through each successive demo. But, at that time, I'm not sure I had that much to say.

And that's the thing about songwriting. It's good to have a point of view and something to say. Me, I was lost. I had no idea where my life was going, or what I was going to do, but I could play music. And I could do some living. It was an adventure and we created our own little community.

I think I drew this.
This was the early 80s. AIDS was not on my radar at the time. Living on the road -- pre-Internet -- I had very little contact with the gay world except for me and boys ( all straight) hitting the gay clubs after the gig. (Easier to pick up girls at a gay club).

We lived separate lives, though we shared hotel rooms. They weren't interested in the rock musician life style. And, frankly, that arrangement suited us, too. Gave us some privacy.

But, because of them, I met Ozzy Ozbourne and smoked a joint with Randy Rhoads because we were the lounge band in the hotel in Beaumont, Texas where they were staying. One week before he died in a plane crash. (Spooky story involving a hotel burning down. I've told it before, but I can't find it).

One thing I loved about Louan, she never stopped trying to learn new things. One week, it would be the banjo. The next week, the drums.

Long after the band had broken up, she found me again when she saw the marquee for The Last Session on Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles -- with Jim's and my name plastered all over it. She was, at the time, learning to tune pianos. So she came over and tried to tune mine. Not that successfully, but it didn't matter. I knew she'd be on to something new.

She caught up with me again on Facebook a few years ago. She had had breast cancer and, after chemo, had written an Amazon Kindle book showing women how to make different wraps when you've lost your hair.

I didn't know she had gotten sick again. Suddenly, in my inbox this past week was a notice: Check Louan's Facebook page. She has passed.

I was shocked and saddened by the news. It brought back a flood of memories of a difficult but very happy time in my life. I loved being in a band. And I love making music with other musicians.

Here's to you and your indomitable spirit, Louan Gideon. I'm gonna miss ya.

"Loren and Chris" on the far upper right.
Me and the band surrounding two people I don't know.
Steve, Dave, Chris and Bob.