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CABARET HOTLINE ONLINE TIPS
THE ART OF THE SMALL GESTURE

One of the most difficult things for a cabaret performer to learn, it seems, is perfecting the art of the small gesture. Actually, for some folks this is difficult in real life as well. Cabaret is an "intimate" medium - and by that I don't mean size of room or audience. I mean it a cabaret performance is a "conversation" rather than an "oration."

If you really want to see the art of the small gesture done best, go to a performance of Wesla Whitfield, who because of an unfortunate incident several years ago is confined to a wheelchair, and for her cabaret performances is seated on a high stool the entire time. She does not need to climb atop the piano (a very common cabaret move, lately) or move all over the stage to "sell her song." Just a simple turn of the head, the arching of an eyebrow, or the warmth of a smile is all that is needed.

In fact, the fewer and smaller the gestures, the more attention is paid to the lyric and the song. I recently attended a cabaret show where the performer had previously only worked as a piano bar entertainer. In a piano bar folks are oft times not paying attention to the performer. So performers in that medium use several flamboyant techniques to get the audience's consideration. In the cabaret room, these actions became a distraction.

Performers who move from live theater to the cabaret often make the same mistake. They at times feel they must play to "the second balcony," with extreme facial expressions, body movement and gesturing. I understand that theater performers have the same difficulty when making the move to film or TV. Everything has to be toned back, since the camera is up close much of the time.

One time I saw Karen Saunders change the mood of a song completely with just the simple turn of one ankle! That simple change of posture was just on target for the song. Judy Kreston is another practitioner of the art of the small gesture. Watch what she does to a song to bring home its story with the simple lifting of a shoulder, or a sidewards glance towards her accompanist, her husband David Lahm. Charles Cermele can do things with his eyebrows, and Tom Andersen can simply lift his elbows slightly to make a song take on a new dimension. I have never seen any of the above move very far from center stage, or climb atop a piano.

Another mistake many new cabaret performers make is the feeling that somehow they must use the entire cabaret stage in their show. Many directors mistakenly advise them that some songs must be sung at the far left, others far right, and then that special ballad must be sung on a stool at the very back wall of the stage area. In an attempt to be "theatrical" the whole point of the art of cabaret gets muddled and unfocused.

I have seen folks like Steve Ross, Julie Gold, Steven Lutvak, Tim DiPasqua, Rick Jensen and other singer/pianists do fantastic cabaret shows while seated at the piano, hardly moving at all from the keyboard! They all have perfected the art of communication, where nothing said or done distracts from the lyric or the song. And most important, they know the technique of eye contact - the old saying is that the eye is the window to the soul. Don't close that window to your audience.

Now this does not mean that there is no movement in your show. There should be as much animation as you normally use when conversing with a friend. But the flamboyant gesture should be reserved for the climactic moments in your cabaret show. They should only be used to bring special attention to a special thought.

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