Thursday, August 25, 2011
WHY CABARET DOES NOT SUCCEED BEYOND ITS BORDERS
""I am interested in entertaining people, in bringing pleasure, particularly laughter, to others, rather than being concerned with 'expressing' myself with obscure creative impressions."
I hope this blog finds you being creative! I have to be very careful with today's blog because I don't want to offend anyone or upset the apple cart. Yesterday I got a suggestion for my blog for today. It may not be what she had in mind but I'm going to go for it. Here goes...She has a show tomorrow night. She said, understandably, that she flip flops over whether or not to keep doing this.
Should she hire a publicist or not? How can she utilize social media to expand her audience?
There are many layers to this onion. I would first of all ask her what her goals are with this show? If it's for the sheer fun of it, then by God, have fun!
I also want to say if there is anything else you can do, do it...unless you have a following OR are willing to work to get that following!
You mention cabaret to a anyone outside our cabaret community, and chances are, their first thought is the Liza Minnelli film.
I find that in this quick fix world, everyone wants instant success. What happened to paying your dues? I have been in and around the New York Cabaret community for years. When I first started going to DON'T TELL MAMA in the mid to late '80s, because it was a neighborhood bar, I was constantly blown away by the talent I saw there. This is where I first saw Nancy LaMott, Lina Koutrakos, Karen Mason, Celeste, Julie Sheppard, and so many others.
I wanted to do what they did. It was no surprise that when I finally did my first cabaret show, it was at DON'T TELL MAMA. I spent three months going to every show I could see. I found out who the best directors were, the best musical directors, the best photographers, etc.
That's how I found Lina Koutrakos (my first director), Jim Bassi(my first musical director), and Eric Stephen Jacobs who did my make-up AND photography!
I LOVE THE CREATIVE PROCESS! And I have loved the creativity involved on most of my shows.
I've seen lots of changes. I've seen acts come and go, some have unfortunately passed on. I've seen venues come and go. And I've seen audiences come and go. One thing is certain. The trajectory has changed drastically. If you are not ahead of the curve ball in today's world, you are going to be left behind. Up to date websites, Facebook, Twitter, Blogging, and YouTube should ALL be a part of how you are marketing and selling yourself. What three things have you done TODAY to reach an audience beyond your Friends, Family, and Friends (The 3 Fs!)? If it is a career, treat it as such. If it is a hobby, please don't ask the 3 Fs to subsidize your hobby! A tit for tat game ensues. "You come see me; I'll come see you." And many who are not around to play that game don't get an audience when they come into town.
The whole booking process has changed as far as I can see. Booking agents, please correct me if I am wrong.
When was the last time that someone actually auditioned for one of our cabaret rooms in New York? We all know that the venues no longer have a vested interest in the "entertainers" or in the acts that get booked in these rooms. And if those that are booking the acts don't get pro-actively involved with the acts they book, why should the general public? I have gone to see MANY shows where THAT person in the spotlight is not ready to be up there. However, if they are willing to pay the room charge and hopefully bring in an audience (no matter how small), they get booked!
The cabaret community in New York has gotten very incestuous. The lines are blurred as to who the audiences are, who the "entertainers" are, who the "press" is,who the "critics" are, etc...and we are all swimming in the same cess pool climbing constantly over each other for our very survival.
There are only a hand full of entertainers who are actually being booked around the country. I would venture to say that 75 percent of the people that are appearing on stages tonight in cabaret rooms in NYC will never be paid for their "art" or will ever get booked outside of New York. And that's ok. But what happened to actually paying your dues? Honing your craft. Certain rooms USED to be prestigious venues and something one aspired to. I truly am baffled by some of the acts I have seen booked in major rooms over recent months. Of course, I know it all boils down to the economy. This, of course, is not true of everyone! IF you think it is about you, chances are you are right.
The old cliche used to be, "How do I get to Carnegie Hall?" I think you all know what the answer USED to be. The answer now is, "You rent it."
Those of us that are in the "business" put up with a lot when we attend shows because we are there to support each other. But the experience for the average person going to see a show is not always the most pleasant experience. There is a sense of "family" within our community and sometimes if you are not part of that "family", you are "persona non grata".
Whenever I attend a show, I try to bring a group. My feeling is that if the show wasn't that good, at least I had good company!
I once saw an over worked and underpaid waitress snap at a person when they questioned what the two drink minimum was all about. I have seen some staff treating patrons as if they didn't want them there.
There are many issues that I have with the business end of this "business" in the 21st century. Whatever happened to customer service and/or customer satisfaction?
I question the two drink minimum! The two drink minimum was set up in the days when people would go into a nightclub and sit through several sets and nurse the same drink all night.
Asking someone to have two drinks in a 55 minute time frame is antiquated and needs to go. Nine times out of ten, the second drink is brought to the table moments before the show is over. Then you're asked to pay your bill and get the hell out of Dodge! And IF one is driving, the last thing that should be foisted upon them is two drinks.
Charge a flat fee of $25.00 to $30.00 and include one non-alcoholic drink or wine in that price. If anyone wants a cocktail, a beer, or an additional drink, they pay extra for it. Also, create incentives to keep people coming back. Have an emcee to introduce the shows and welcome the audiences. Hire me! I guarantee a change! It is getting harder and harder to get an audience beyond our cabaret borders into these rooms. There are more options then there used to be. It's not just about the cost of the show anymore, it's about all the other expenses that add up to that evening. Living in Rockland County,for example, I can tell you first hand that there is gas, tolls, and in some instances, parking expenses on top of the two drink minimum and cover charge. Also, add into that mix, the many options that are available to me. Beyond our "friendship", why should I choose one show over another? It is a blessing and a curse having so many friends in this business. I wish I could afford to see more shows...I just cannot afford to see more than I do...and I still see a considerable amount.
I want this to be a wake-up call to the owners of these venues, the ones who book these rooms, and the ones appearing on these stages, get PRO-ACTIVE in terms of building an audience beyond the current one you have or you will not survive in this economy!
I am always looking at business paradigms outside this business to see what makes a company survive or fail.
Let me share a story with you. Last year, one of Danny's clients (My partner, Danny, is a landscape architect)had an appreciation dinner for the creative team that had worked on her home. We were there along with the interior designers and all of the other people who had contributed to her home. She asked what I did and when I told her, she said, "Oh my God, I want to come see you next time you're doing a show!" Well, it just so happened that I was going to be appearing at St. Luke's in two weeks. She came...with a group of people! She then hired me to perform at her home last October.
It was INCREDIBLE! She had a room in her home set up theatre style. Her guests knew they were coming to see a show but didn't know what they were coming to see. Well, they were an incredible audience!AND it became the gauge upon which I will base all future private appearances.
She called me the next day and wanted to know if I could recommend a night out for her husband and herself and some of his clients. I suggested Terese Genecco at The Iridium. She had never heard of Terese. I guaranteed a great time or I would pick up the bill for all.
They had a blast! Became instant fan's of Terese, as we all have, and were hungry for more! She wanted to know why this "world of cabaret" was a secret! Why didn't she, in Greenwich know about this? I told her what I've been saying for years! The cabaret community spends all of its energy and resources on adverting and promoting to the community but not beyond its borders.
She wanted more! A well known entertainer friend was doing a show. We all decided to go see her. We arrived. Unfortunately, the show was poorly attended. After the show, which was wonderful, by the way, our friend said, "Oh my God! More people should know about this!" I said, "let me introduce you to the person who books this room." It was like pulling teeth to get him to our table. He couldn't be bothered. She very excitedly told him how this was her first time there, how much she loved the show, and why don't more people know about this? He said, "Beats me" AND WALKED AWAY! She said "There's your answer!" He didn't care about her because he didn't know her! She could have been a possible investor for all he knew in this room and he blew it!
My favorite restaurant in New York is Chez Josephine. Not necessarily because of the food, which I love by the way, but because of its owner and host, Jean Claude Baker.
Every single person who walks into a venue is an ambassador. They WILL go out and talk about their experience in your venue or at your show. Why not give the best experience ever.
It starts with that first phone call. Those rooms that have a reservationist just to take reservations get my vote every time! The Metropolitan Room gets major brownie points for this. But try calling some of the other venues this afternoon. Ask them who is performing tonight and to tell you something about the show. The responses will surprise you. Maybe they won't!
I continue to support cabaret but I think everyone needs to wake up to a changing world or we will see cabaret go the way of the drive-in movie theatre! I think that these issues should be addressed TODAY and NOT TOMORROW! I don't want to say I told you so!
I have asked for some comments on cabaret and this is what I've received:
Roxanne Rivera Labato Bailey wrote: "For the most part, the kind of cabaret I do is for smaller audiences. Breaking the fourth wall is fun, and once you've captured their imagination, the give and take is wonderful. What I don't like is venue owner that treat performers like third class citizens. Once I find them, I avoid performing there. Not worth the angst."
"Paying dues...LOL...I don't think you ever stop paying dues in this business...I am very proud of the body of work I've done in the theatre, it's been varied and never dull...but it's always a challenge. Of late, I've been concentrating as much on directing as on performing, but it remains a balancing act because I have to keep the acting part going to pay the bills and I have to make tough choices so I can build the directing resume. Rather than paying dues, it's more like planting seeds: some take root, others don't...they take a while to grow...sometimes something you have nurtured for a long time that seemed so promising withers and dies, while a sprout you'd given up for lost suddenly blossoms."
John Ellis wrote: "$10,000 to perform for your friends, who you comped. That is the usual cabaret show. Audiences stay home and watch "American Idol". Pity. I don't think it's a very useful venue for breaking talent now, an established star draws, maybe. Were Streisand a young talent she'd be pushing to get on "Idol" or "Glee"."
Christine Talbott Sutin wrote: "As a longtime cabaret musical director and accompanist, I have to say that my favorite aspects of this art form are: the unique gifts that the cabaret soloist has the potential to share with the audience, the occasional obscure song that I fall in love with on the spot and feel compelled to get a copy of, and the intimacy. I dislike when performers spew negativity and verbal abuse onto me (during both rehearsals and performances)and the audience members(they really don't need to see or hear that!)."
Here's to an INCREDIBLE day for ALL!
Now, GO OUT AND DO SOMETHING FOR SOMEONE ELSE TODAY!
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Richard Skipper, Richard@RichardSkipper.com