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CABARET HOTLINE ONLINE TIPS
MORE COMMON MISTAKES TO AVOID
WHEN PLANNING YOUR CABARET SHOW

The great thing about performing in cabaret is that you can create your own show. You can include stories and songs of your own choosing, and tell or sing them in any style you wish. But this same flexibility also gives rise to the possibility of error. Over the past 11 years I have attended more than 5,000 cabaret shows, and again and again I see performers making the same mistakes. I thought it would be a good idea to make a list of at least some of the biggest mistakes and pass them along to you here. By the way, most of these items refer to vocal performances, whereas cabaret shows might at times take the form of monologue, skits, characterizations and even simple stand-up comedy. However, several of my comments refer to any type of cabaret performance.

BOOKING THE ROOM BEFORE YOU HAVE A SHOW

I realize that booking a cabaret room is not always an easy thing to do. Even in New York City there are a limited number of rooms that will book a performer who is not one of the top names in the business. Getting bookings can be a daunting task. There are times that you are forced to take a less desirable time or night of the week in order to schedule your show in certain "cabaret preferred" seasons. But an easy and often disastrous mistake is to first book the room, and then try to build the show. Again and again I have attended shows on "opening night" only to discover that what I am seeing is really a "dress rehearsal."

Unless you are able to secure the room at least 4 to 6 months in advance, and are able to keep to a tight schedule of planning and rehearsing, don't box yourself in with definite performance dates until you feel comfortable with how the show is developing. There are so many details that have to be taken care of, so setting your show dates too close in the future will many times lead to disaster.

By the way, many experienced performers do not invite press reviewers to their opening night show. They have discovered that even with careful advance planning and rehearsing, often several changes have to be made in the order and structure of the show after they have played it for the first time before a "live" audience.

MAKING THE SHOW TOO STRUCTURED

Always keep in mind that a cabaret show is by its very nature and informal event. It is not theater, and a show that seems scripted and tightly structured is simply not good cabaret. You see this type of thing happening quite often in shows that are better suited as "lounge acts." In the "lounge" setting (think Las Vegas or Atlantic City) the audience rotates as the evening goes on and the patter is recycled again and again throughout the evening, night after night. As a result, the show is bland and loses spontaneity.

But the same type of thing can happen in cabaret, too. I recently attended a show that had been performed in several cities around the country before coming to New York. The song choices were superb, the vocals were delightful, the patter was witty and informative. But the show was so tightly structured and so scripted, it was like I was watching a video tape of a performance done a month before! This also seems to happen when a performer has contracted with an outside writer to provide the "patter." I am all in favor of seeking the advice of an expert in cabaret to assist in organizing a show, but the words must sound like your own, and certainly the thoughts you express must be your own.

By the way, another big error is presenting a show that has no structure at all. I am sick and tired of hearing a performer open show with the announcement that "there is no theme, just a bunch of songs that I enjoy singing." That in itself is a theme, and we certainly expect to hear the reasons why the songs were chosen - and that is patter. Most times these types of shows have actually been carefully structured, mixing ballads and up-tunes, arranging medleys and instrumental bridges, and including carefully rehearsed patter. But there have been times that I have attended shows that are simply a bunch of songs, sung in hodgepodge order, with no rhyme or reason. That's not cabaret, that's just plain laziness.

INCLUDING TOO MUCH PATTER

In cabaret, the performer is expected to interrupt the songs from time to time and connect with the audience through "patter," which most often amounts to simply creating a setting for the next musical number, or commenting on the number just sung. But there are times when a performer simply allows the patter to get out of control. In fact, a few performers are well known for their "stream of consciousness" style of patter, going far afield of the subject at hand, sometimes to the point where they have to ask the accompanist to remind them the name of the next song!

Patter should be brief and to the point, and accurately create the setting for the next number. It might just consist of the title and composer of the next song, with a one or two sentence introduction. There are other times where a short monologue is called for - a childhood memory, a favorite anecdote, or personal reflection, or simply a brief synopsis of the musical or movie that the next or previous song was from. But the patter should follow the "through line" of the show, and should never become a "stand-up comedy" routine or a lengthy self confession. I was at one show where the performer described in detail being molested as a child by a relative. It was simply much more than the audience needed to know. At another show, the performer insisted on telling a joke that he had downloaded from the internet that afternoon. It was a funny joke, but had absolutely no connection to the rest of his material.

The converse of too much patter is too little, or no patter. Please remember, this is cabaret, not the concert stage or a jazz club. In cabaret, the performer is expected to make a personal connection with the audience and with the material. The performer who minimizes patter, or skips it nearly completely, does not understand the concept of cabaret.

TRYING TO WIN AN AWARD OR GOOD REVIEW

Let's face it, in cabaret, except at the very top level in the most expensive rooms, there is not much in the way of financial income to be expected. For the most part, cabaret recognizes its performers through awards and reviews in the press. Everyone should strive to put on as good a show as possible, but to structure a show simply to win an award or garner a good review is missing the point of it all.

For example, there are performers who sing in a style not their own in the belief that it is a style preferred by an important critic, or because it might make it easier to win a cabaret award in a particular category. I have often been approached by performers asking advice on how to win a MAC (Manhattan Association of Cabarets & Clubs) award. The male and female vocalist categories are most difficult to win, so performers try instead for the musical comedy vocalist, pop vocalist or jazz vocalist categories instead.

Some folks will only perform in certain venues where they believe they stand a better chance of being reviewed by an important critic. Others read reviews of other performers and attempt to structure their shows on the basis of the preferences of the reviewers rather than what is in their heart. Still others spend a fortune on hiring certain publicists, often cutting back on rehearsal and other expenses, simply because the publicist has promised to deliver certain critics.

I know of one case where a performer extended his run at a club simply to accommodate a certain important reviewer. After the critic saw the show and gave a bad review, the rest of the extended run was suddenly cancelled!

Concentrate on putting on the best show possible, and the good reviews and awards will follow.

TOO MUCH HYPE

An interesting phenomenon has developed recently in the area of cabaret. It is the concept of "super hype." Some performers are spending thousands of dollars on publicists, advertising, promotional mailings and other methods to "sell" their show or CD. But this type of promotion has a hidden danger. If you can't deliver what the hype promises, all your spending is wasted.

Take for example the hype surrounding a certain 17-year old performer who was a featured singer on opening night at the 2000 Cabaret Convention in NYC, and was booked, sight unseen, to perform at the FireBird Cafe. Folks from all over the world would give their right arm in return for the privilege of performing in either place, and this lad, from out of nowhere (he admitted that the FireBird Cafe show was only the second time in his life that he had performed in a cabaret!), got both bookings. Well, he didn't deliver, much to the embarrassment of the managers of both the cabaret convention and the FireBird. It will be extremely difficult for this young man to get such an opportunity again.

There have been several other performers in recent months who have attempted through advertising and other promotional methods, to become immediate stars in cabaret. Unfortunately, oft times they are then held to a higher standard by both the critics and the cabaret community. Their lack of skill and experience receives as much attention as the hype that proceeded their performance.

There is no short-cut in cabaret. It is a medium that demands honesty, talent, experience and hard work.

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