The title of the show, Steve: A Docu-Musical, caught my interest the moment I first read the words on the Neo's website. First of all, a Docu-Musical? What was that supposed to be, just a musical that's based on a true story? Or perhaps it had to do with a series of interviews conducted entirely in song, where I guess this mysterious Steve would be the interviewee. My curiosity prompted me to attend the show's very first preview.
The theatre staff encouraged the audience to sit as closely to the stage as possible, given that the show was very intimate in nature. They didn't have to tell me twice-Intimate theatre is my favorite theatre. And so naturally I speed-walked my way to a front row seat.
A gangly young man sporting a mustache introduced himself as Colin, before launching into a story he claimed was 100% true. He spoke about a business he started with his friend Andrew, called poetrytomusic.com, where people sent poetry that (for a reasonable fee) he and/or Andrew turned into music. I was overcome with a mixture of admiration and jealousy for Colin and Andrew and their genius idea. How had nobody come up with that before? More importantly, how had I not come up with it? But Colin soon pointed out that although people were quick to congratulate him and Andrew on their original business, they were not so quick to actually write poetry and send it to them. Business was far from booming. In fact, pretty much the extent of the business received was from a person named Steve, who in the first six days of poetrytomusic.com's existence had requested a new song a day.
Steve's poetry was...interesting to say the least. An example of Steve's lyrics: "Turn on my computer, Windows starts normally every time, and shows me everything I can see about other countries and lots of neat things."
Nevertheless, his material was arriving at an incredible pace and was delivered with such enthusiasm and always a hope that the next song would be the big hit he'd been waiting for.
One of Steve's songs which Colin hilariously performed was called "Frog," and in addition to containing an opening verse that literally went "There was a girl who kissed a frog, she told her friends blog blog blog that he would turn into a prince," the song incorporated a number of ribbit sound effects, which Colin invited us to sing for him.
Colin was fascinated by the mystery that Steve presented. Who was this guy? Some research (mild stalking?) revealed that he had several YouTube accounts, each with a different stock photo for a profile picture. He also was the author of several books, one of which was available for purchase on Amazon and titled How to Fail at College. Colin ordered the book and quickly discovered the text to be contradictory, full of grammatical errors, and almost completely unintelligible. He held up the book in question on stage for all of us to see, (Steve's last name carefully blacked out for what I can only assume are privacy reasons), and then turned to me and asked me if I wanted to take a look at it and then pass it down.
I couldn't believe I was actually holding Steve's book. Based on what I'd gathered from his song lyrics, his writing was not something I'd ever seek out.
The blurb read,
"Keep it simple stupid. That's what they taught me at college. Simplify the problem. Complicate the problem. Draw an obscure diagram. Simple advice but good advice.
But you don't believe you are stupid. You are angry that somebody called you stupid. You may be just the right person for this book. Because a smart man acknowledges that he really knows very little. Because he wants to read every book in the library. And there is so little time. So you are like that. You don't really need this book.
It is the guy who doesn't want to be called stupid that will need it. You will learn how smart kids think about college and the tricks they use. And the ones they don't. It is all about college in the 1980's before the Internet. Because study is something you can learn without complicating it by using a computer. Learn all the mistakes you could possibly make and how to avoid making them."
Jesus. How was this published? Struck speechless, I passed the book to my right.
Although Colin attempted to maintain a strictly professional relationship with Steve, Steve did his best to push that boundary. Steve continued to flood Colin's inbox with song requests to the point where Colin created a separate email address for Steve alone. And Steve wasn't just sending Colin poetry, he was having lengthy, often one sided conversations with him.
He wrote to Colin about the music, yes, but also
- about his luck with women (or lack thereof),
- about how he most definitely wasn't gay,
- about his struggles with mental illness (schizophrenia),
- about the many creative projects he pursued in spite of his adversity.
Colin wasn't mocking Steve, who grew less puzzling to him the longer they communicated and made music together. Steve was a middle aged, likely homophobic, mentally ill, lonely man, with seemingly endless creative energy, and Colin couldn't look at him with anything but affection.
I felt the same way.
It was hard to view Steve without pity once I knew more about his personal life, although Steve wasn't the type of person who'd want pity. Steve was eternally convinced that he and Colin were making art, the stuff of legends. And while I thought most of his lyrics left something to be desired, his confidence in his creations was not only remarkable, but was in fact inspiration for a docu-musical.
When I got home from the show, I immediately checked out poetrytomusic.com, semi-not believing-it-was-a-real-thing. It was. And I couldn't resist splurging on a song, so I sent over a rather bleak poem I wrote last year. Colin got back to me and the finished product, titled Alone, is below.