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"
MAKING THE SHOW TOO
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
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
INCLUDING TOO MUCH
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
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
There is no short-cut
in cabaret. It is a medium that demands honesty, talent, experience
and hard work.
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