Want to put on a good cabaret successfully? Consider who you’ll need to invest in when you’re planning, scripting, rehearsing, and performing your show…
Solo’ cabaret is really a misnomer: if you’re going to put on a cabaret show that is engaging, professional and popular, you need to create a support network of creative and enthusiastic people on your production team. Depending on the size and scope of your cabaret act and your own production or musical skills, not everyone on this might be necessary to you, but most of the really successful performances depend significantly on the talents of these useful and important people.
Unless you’re planning on playing for your own performance, or willing to go the scary karaoke-style route, you’ll need an accompanist. The sense of immediacy and intimacy of live music and interaction between artists is a defining feature of cabaret, so this first person on your list is really essential.
Establish exactly what kind of accompanist you need for your show. Will they need to sing? Will they need to deliver dialogue/improvise/be funny? How much interaction will you have with them? A good accompanist is worth their weight in gold, and while their fees may not be quite that high, make sure you invest in someone of a calibre who will help make you look and sound great.
Professional and constructive critique about a show is paramount in improving yourself as a performer, and during the conception, development and rehearsal process when getting a successful cabaret show on stage. A good cabaret director should be able to recognise the possibilities for a show concept, help you develop and edit script and song choices, and give valuable direction for blocking, character development, and crafting audience reaction.
Moreover, they can cast an impartial critical eye, but they offer supportive opinions and advice on how successfully your show is working before it hits the box office, and before reviewers and critics engage with it.
Unless composing, transposing, arranging, and charting music is your forte, or you’re working with an accompanist who you’re also paying to do these things for you, having a musical director or arranger is extremely beneficial in cabaret. Moreover, an MD provides another valuable source of feedback and advice for the music in a developing show.
Singing Teacher/Vocal Coach
An hour-long solo cabaret show with a wide variety of song styles is demanding on the voice, and establishing good vocal technique and maintaining vocal quality is crucial. You might be fortunate enough to have a vocal coach who can also be your musical director, or rehearse you through songs in lesson time rather than paying your accompanist for extra sessions. Furthermore, learning a lot of music alone can be troublesome, resources for suggesting new repertoire and finding sheet music are invaluable, and once again, an opportunity for constructive criticism on your singing is important.
Your contact at your performance venue is a wonderful asset: plus someone else is paying them to help your show to run smoothly! Don’t pester them with constant or unnecessary questions (that you could find out from your contract or venue information pack yourself) or make unreasonable demands (yours is certainly not the only show they are dealing with), but do make the most of an experienced industry professional having a vested interest in your show.
Find out initially what advice or resources they might be able to offer in setting up your show, keep in regular contact during the development period with any key focused queries, and be sure to ask for feedback and show your appreciation when the season is over.
This may well be a role you’re eager to take on yourself for reasons of budget or artistic control, but having someone else do the legwork when you’re trying to prepare as a performer can also be a boon. A producer can control budgets and expenses, liase with venues and publicity contacts, organise rehearsals, equipment and other production needs, and keep you calm!
However, their work is so encompassing and important that they can also become a pricey option: make sure you’ve clearly worked out how your respective roles and their fee structure will work.
Don’t skimp on this: a sensational image to promote your show can make all the difference in getting audience or critics along, and getting a full-page glossy article as opposed to a little box in the ‘What’s On’ section. A headshot will rarely do – hunt down a good photographer who can take a really great photo that’s relevant to and iconic for this particular show.
Posters, flyers, e-flyers: a difficult show to market can rely absolutely on an astute publicity design that catches people’s eye and makes them read on and then remember what they saw. This can be an area artists may learn to navigate themselves, but if your design skills amount to pasting a picture into Word, or posting an event on Facebook, hiring a designer is not a decision to overlook.
Like the producer, this may be a role you’d consider undertaking yourself, or your producer’s role may in fact also cover this side of the work. You need someone available, engaging, organised, and wildly excited about your specific show: real enthusiasm is infectious! They should be able to hunt up media contacts for publicity in radio, online and print, invite reviewers and other influential industry professionals, co-ordinate interviews for you, and organise distribution of posters and flyers.
If you’re hoping your debut show won’t be a one-off, arranging with reviewers to come and see your show is an important aspect. Don’t be ingratiating when inviting them along, but be aware that any kind of review not only advertises your show and gives you important professional feedback: it also provides valuable quotes to use in future publicity or media packs. Investigate relevant radio stations, related print publications and online options, as well as the big newspapers. The more the merrier!
- Be as organised, professional, easy to work with, and prepared with your material as you can before any meeting or rehearsal: success in the performing arts is often based on building relationships, and if you are an artist who is constantly punctual, reliable, courteous, grateful and hard-working from the first, the contacts who work with you will be only too happy to offer their services again in the future.
- Create a budget for your cabaret show, and work our, realistically, how much you can afford to spend on your production team. You get what you pay for, and if you want the best accompanist or director in town to take on your show, you need to find out their fees and work out how many sessions you’ll need together.
- In some areas like photography, production, or design you might be lucky enough to have contacts who’ll help you gratis or for ‘mate’s rates’ – just make sure the money issue won’t hurt the working relationship or the friendship down the track.
- Be creative in paying people for their services: explaining you’re on a budget for a debut show, and offering complimentary tickets, advertising for their company in your flyers or websites, or scripted thankyous for every performance won’t break the bank, but could still get you some of the help you need.