Cabaret might look easy, but it’s a sophisticated, finely-tuned art. Here’s some tips for new artists and music theater performers on what to look out for..
Lots of artists look at a cabaret show, and think, “I could do that!” Unfortunately, the cabaret genre is more complicated than it looks, and many newbie performers fall into the same old amateur traps. Here’s some tips on what to avoid…
1. Reject Trite Concepts
Let me stop you now. If you’ve already planned a show based on your love life, or your rise to fame as a performer that culminates in this cabaret? – give it up immediately. These are, undoubtedly, the two most overused, poorly done, and incredibly dull cabaret concepts ever. Unless you’re famous, these are not viable options. Get more creative!
2. Avoid Cliched Song Choices
I’ll grant you – cabaret is all about reworking and reimagining songs. But unless you’re doing a tribute show, the point is to either take an unusual new song, or a tired old song and reuse it in an original and innovative way. If you’re just singing something exactly like your favourite recording simply because you enjoy it, this is self-indulgent and self-aggrandizing: check out the Top 10 Songs NOT To use In Cabaret. Get some respect for your paying audience! – they came for something new and creative. Give them new material, or give it up.
3. Audience Interaction
Cabaret is about intimacy and involvement. That doesn’t mean people are prepared to come along to a cabaret show and be belittled or berated like they might expected from a stand-up comedy routine. Nor are they willing to fill in most of the show material for you with their participation. Connect with and engage your audience, but as they pay your way, you should keep them involved with you, while always doing the bulk of the work yourself.
4. Accompanist Interaction
Who are you kidding? There’s no such thing as a one-man cabaret unless you’re eschewing the charm of live music for the convenience of cheesy karaoke. Moreover, if you do perform with proper musicians, the audience can obviously see you’re not alone up there anyway! At the very least, be polite enough to publicly acknowledge your fellow artists so they’ll consider working with you again; and at best, utilize their presence and make them an integral part of your script.
5. Showcase Yourself
Yes, I know you’ve always wanted to sing that one song that your singing teacher or vocal coach said was out of your reach and beyond your capabilities. But guess what? It’s probably out of your reach and beyond your capabilities! For now… Seriously though – always choose material that going to make you sound and look good. Keep the ambitious stuff for the time when you really know you can pull it off successfully.
6. Keep It Simple
Cabaret is about intimacy and interaction. If you need multiple costume and set changes, and armfuls of props, and a big cast, and a band, and backing singers, and a huge lighting rig, and a massive sound system, and a… then you’re not making cabaret. You’re creating theatre. Which is fine. Just stop calling it ‘cabaret’.
7. Improv This
Any performance art that involves audience response demands a level of personal and spontaneous interaction from the artist. However, we’re not paying for material you haven’t scripted, rehearsed or developed to a performance level. Don’t give our art form a bad name – learn your scripted stuff thoroughly, practise your improv for in between (as any good improv performer does), and give a professional and slick performance on the night.
8. Get Fit
Generally, a cabaret show is likely to run an hour to an hour and a half. If your show concept is really only thin enough to fill ten minutes, or actually bulky enough that you could perform for days on end? – you need to reconsider. Fit your theme to your time limit so a) the audience feels satisfied and b) you are sure to have plenty of material.
9. It’s Your Show
If you created it, you gotta sell it. Unlike theatre or band gigs with bigger casts and vested interests, it’s up to you. You can’t expect the musicians you’ve hired, the venue you’re borrowing, or the production team assisting you to provide your audience. Network, self-promote, and utilize any possible publicity connections to get a supportive audience along to a debut show – if you’ve put in the work, they’ll tell their friends, and the next show will start filling itself!
10. Life is a Cabaret
How do you know what’s good or trite, or successful or dismal, unless you’re out there seeing other people’s shows? Easiest way to learn about creating good cabaret, improving your art, making useful networking connections, and getting known in the cabaret community is to go along and support other performances. Don’t kid yourself – this is not an option. This is a creative necessity.