Saturday, February 14, 2015

Lennie Watts: Carrying The Torch for LIVE ENTERTAINMENT

Lennie Watts
I’ve done records where it seemed like no one listened to them. You write a poetry book that maybe, you know, 50 people read. And you just keep doing your work because you have to, because it’s your calling ... What matters is to know what you want and pursue it. And understand that it’s gonna be hard. Because life is really difficult. You’re gonna lose people you love, you’re gonna suffer heartbreak, sometimes you’ll be sick, sometimes you’ll have a really bad toothache.
But on the other end, you’ll have the most beautiful experiences. Sometimes just the sky. Sometimes, you know, a piece of work that you do that feels so wonderful, or you find somebody to love, or your children. There’s beautiful things in life. So when you’re suffering … it’s part of the package.
I say, stay strong, try to have fun but stay clean, stay healthy, because you have a lot of challenges ahead, and be happy.
- Patti Smith


First of all, my bad for being quiet on the blog front lately...
It's because I've got big things happening behind the scenes.

I have known Multi MAC (Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs) Award winner Lennie Watts for at least twenty five years. Of course I am very familiar with his many accomplishments in the world of cabaret. I also have known Lennie because of this theatrical accomplishments. We even did summer stock together MANY years ago at Theatre By The Sea in Matunick, Rhode Island. Lennie was a favorite there and did many seasons. Today, I celebrate Lennie Watts and his body of "worth".

Lenard Andrew Watts was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. He lived there all of his life until he moved to New York thirty years ago this month. He is a Capricorn and recently celebrated his birthday on January 9th.
It was thirty one years ago that a friend of Lennie's had moved to New York.She was going to AMDA (American Musical and Dramatic Academy) and she loved it. She called Lennie one day and said to him that he had to come here. "It's just like the movie, Fame." She said this is where he belonged. So, he thought about it for a couple of days and he quit his job, sold his car, packed everything he owned into eleven suitcases, got on a plane and moved to New York. Like me when I first came here, he had never been to New York, even to visit, and he had not
even auditioned for the school yet.
When he tells this story now, he feels like what an "idiot" he was! Now, he can't even decide if he's going to cross the street.
When he picked up and moved cross country, he planted his feet and he's been here ever since. Luckily, he did get into AMDA. He doesn't know what he would have done otherwise. He went to AMDA for two years. He began auditioning and a theatre career began. He did summer stock and tours and "stuff like that". He became familiar with cabaret about four or five years after arriving here. He met Randy Lester doing a show. She worked in cabaret and suggested that he come in and see some shows. He fell in love with it. He couldn't believe that there were people singing and making up their own shows. He felt that this was something that he would be interested in doing. That's how it all started. 
Although Lennie hasn't been on an audition for a while, he actually took a class with Kristine Zbornik not long ago to get his audition book back in shape.
with Randy Lester, Kim Grogg Marin
He has decided that he is going to audition for the Kentucky Fried Chicken theme.He just hasn't had a chance to use it yet. Lennie was trying to find something different. It's hard because his "want" is to go in and sing "I, Who Have Nothing" just for the sake of singing. That is not what "they" want from "somebody like me". So, Lennie was searching and searching to find a perfect "novelty" tune. There aren't many around these days. 
He had heard that some people, very successfully, have auditioned with "commercial"songs.He looked and looked and found this one. It was written by Barry Manilow whom Lennie loves. It was part of a big medley of commercials that Barry did. Lennie picked this song out thinking that it could be great because it sounded like a "legitimate" song. He is excited to actually give it a try and see if people say, "Wow! This is really great", or "He's nuts!"
The special skills that you would find on his website are that he is great at improv, hosting (MC), he is really good with different accents and character voices.
Hosting the MAC Roving Open Mic with Ricky Ritzel
When I asked Lennie if he was absolutely sure that he is doing EXACTLY what he should be doing at this point in life, he answers with an emphatic "No". He has been trying to get back into auditioning.
He loves what he does but it is not where he feels he truly should be at this particular point in his life.
In honor of the upcoming MAC Awards, I would like to focus this blog on Lennie's involvement in the cabaret community. Lennie is the current president of MAC. I asked Lennie if he could change ONE THING about the world of cabaret, what would it be?
With Tanya Holt, Tracy Stark and Lorinda Lisitza
He would change the fact that "just anybody can do it." He teaches a lot of classes and he appreciates the fact that people can get up and live their dream and stand on a stage and do their thing, but he feels that one of the problems with cabaret, as a whole, is that there is no quality control with anything. The first question they all ask is "How do I get an audience?" It is hard to get an audience when you can't control any of the "quality" that's going on. It is hard a marketing and professional standpoint, when you don't know from any given day what's going to be there.
He would like to find some way to gauge that. In the "old" days, people who were not great would never get a prime time spot. At least you knew that if you were going to see a show at a certain time, it would be at a certain level. But now, it is whoever can book a room and fill it. It helps for the club because they have to meet their bottom line, but it doesn't help cabaret in general.
What Lennie loves about MAC, and what he has ALWAYS liked about MAC even though he hasn't always been thrilled with what the board of directors were doing, is that it is an organization in which people feel that they are part of something. In a cabaret world, we don't get much. Like most people, Lennie's first dealings with MAC years ago was all about the Awards. He didn't know what MAC was when he did his first few shows and he wasn't a MAC member.
MAC people didn't come to his shows. He had his own audience made up of his own group of people. He didn't really know a lot about MAC. He seems to recall that it was Sidney Myer, booking manager at Don't Tell Mama,  who suggested Lennie getting involved. He suggested that Lennie submit his show for MAC Award consideration. What Lennie loved most was that it gave him something he could feel part of.
 Cabaret is a very singular process. When you do theatre, you're surrounded by a lot of people normally. There are also a lot of people involved in the process. In cabaret, most shows you work with a musical director,maybe a director, and that's it. Again, it is very singular. To feel part of something, Lennie felt that it was a kind of cool thing. So, that's how he got involved and that's what he liked about it.
That's what he continues to like about it. He feels that it is a great kind of a gathering place for people.
The MAC AWARDS is just a part of all that MAC does. When Lennie first became a member of MAC, the Awards seemed to be ALL that MAC did or so he thought. Now, there are so many things going on. Lennie LOVES where MAC is right now. There is a great board of directors that are all very active.
They get a lot done. They are more visible in a positive light than some previous boards have experienced. There were some "dark years" when Lennie was on the board before. The current board is not an "elitist" board. It is made up of performers and booking managers and they all have cabaret's best interest. There is no one on the current board who has an ulterior motive.
Lennie knows first hand, as do I, that was not always the case. When people get mad at "MAC", it always amazes Lennie! If people hate MAC, they are hating the cabaret community because that is what MAC is. It is not as if MAC is an office building with a
with  Eileen Fulton
secretarial pool and a president sitting up in a penthouse office laughing and plotting the demise of cabaret. That is not it at all. They are a bunch of VOLUNTEERS. There was a time when SOME on the board HAD ulterior motives. There was also a time when cabaret was a bigger deal in New York. MAC and members of the cabaret have been struggling with that for years. Back in the day,  some people got involved with MAC because they thought it was a prestige kind of a thing.They didn't really care about the membership. There was someone who will remain nameless here who actually asked, "Well, who cares about the membership? We don't care about the membership." when he served on the previous board. That was their attitude back then. Lennie has done a lot personally, as well as others on the current board, a lot to try and change that perception. When Lennie came into office, there was a lot of "stuff" that needed to be cleaned up. Now, they have money and LEGITIMATE membership. At one time, many "members" were comped to increase numbers! That is no longer the case. It is all PAID members. Not only do the members pay dues, all board members pay dues. They have taken care of all of their bills and have no outstanding debt. They have been able to use money to contribute to various causes. Lennie implemented a category for benefit shows. In the past, benefits were excluded from any kind of an award. There are so many benefits, Lennie suggested them getting their own award.
The winner of that award also gets a thousand dollar check for that charity from the board. They work with Wingspan, which is a children's after school music program. They give scholarships. As a matter of fact, at the time of this interview, they had conducted their scholarship auditions the week before.
This is MACs fourth year with them. They also have performed at the MAC Awards, a big highlight for many. There is also a monthly open Mic night around town. They have a very successful seminar series. There next seminar is scheduled for the spring. Lennie is really thrilled with what they are doing and the membership seems to be happy with the direction MAC is going. It is a very different organization from what it was when it started. It started as an advocacy organization strictly to deal with the cabaret laws in New York City. MAC doesn't really do that anymore, because those laws have been dealt with. They also can't do what a lot of people want them to which is fill their rooms with people which is the one thing that some people wish MAC to do which they really can't.
They have no control over that. Part of this goes back to what Lennie said he would change in cabaret. They can't be responsible for people's audiences. They can try and expose people as much as they can and do all that. Lennie feels that sometimes the board is working really hard to get people who have been away from MAC to come back and be a part of this NEW organization. That is changing as well. A lot of people have come back and a lot of people are being active. They left during what Lennie calls the "dark years". It has taken a long time to get back from that.
This is Lennie's fifth year as president. He has no idea how long he will stay on as president. When one is elected to the board, you are elected in "thirds", IE, three years. A third of the board is up for re-election. In the "old days", there were no elections. Then, when elections came along, the membership could re-elect the entire board, which gave the possibility of everyone serving being voted off!
That also meant you would have a bunch of people sitting in a room not knowing what's going on. Because of that, they implemented a "third" each time so if the membership decides to bring in new people, which is great, at least there are some from the previous board able to carry on that have been a part of it. Lennie's "third" year ends this upcoming autumn. If he stays on the board, which he probably will, then he will decide whether or not he will stay on as president. He doesn't know if there is someone "chomping at the bit" to take over. He'll make that decision in the autumn.
All the officers are voted upon by the board after the membership have voted them on.This includes the treasurer, vice president, and the president.
Rather than giving someone advice who would like to serve on the board, Lennie would ask them what they would desire to accomplish.
with KT Sullivan
He would warn them that it is not just a "meeting a month". The board has lost some really good board members over the years, even though they were very clear about the fact that they do a LOT of work! They put in a lot of time. This could be a full time job for somebody. Some people may think, "Oh, it's just a cabaret organization: but there is a lot to do and there are a lot of people to wrangle and deal with.People think they can be on the board and come to a once a month meeting and that's it. It is a very active board and there is a
with Carole Bufford
lot of behind the scenes work that one should be prepared to do and come up with ideas. They are always trying out things and give as much as they can towards the membership. Just be aware of what you are getting in to if you are contemplating a run for the board and just be ready to work.
This year's MAC AWARDS are March 26th, once again, at BB Kings.This is their seventh year there. They have found a great location where they can be in a cabaret environment but is also big enough to hold a larger audience. The audiences seem to love it. They can eat, they can drink, they can get up and go to the bathroom. This show is done without an intermission. However, it is not like you would be sitting in a theatre for that duration.
This is the 29th year for the MAC Awards. This year's show will be hosted by Karen Mason and musical director is Barry Levitt. They are giving Lifetime Achievement Awards to Baby Jane Dexter and Steve Ross and they are giving a Board of Director's Award to David Kenney.
They have always been part of our community. Lennie made a conscious choice not to go with a "famous" person. He feels that those choices in the past were mostly to sell tickets and to make money.
Unless you have a HUGE name,  just to offer a Lifetime Achievement Award, Lennie believes we all benefit when we stay within our community. The membership really support and like that. Baby Jane has been kicking around for a long time as has Steve Ross.They are different representations of "cabaret" so various bases are being covered. You will be hard pressed to find someone who works harder than David Kenney for the cabaret community and the Great American Songbook and people who sing and do what we do.
They have not, as I go to press with this blog, announced who they are giving the Benefit Award to. Lennie is excited to have Karen as a host.
with Tom Wopat
She is a friend and she is great and she has been a great asset to MAC and the cabaret community.
She is out there and very visible. As of this writing, they are just getting started on the planning of the show and what her participation is going to be. Peter Napolitano will be rewriting the lyrics for a song from a Broadway show that will be the opening number that will include several people.
with Julian Ovenden
In the past, they may have had someone come out to open the show with a song. Now, they are trying to shake it up a little bit.
Lennie decided a few years ago that in certain categories, the winners would perform. That has come to be one of the highlights of the awards. At the Bistro Awards, they know who has won and they are prepared to get up and sing. With the Nightlife Awards, winners sing, but don't speak. MAC has brought a combination of those two things to the forefront.
Everybody is rehearsed. Lennie, who is directing, will be meeting with Barry Levitt and all the nominees will put together should they win.
It's a lot of extra work but the payoff is great. Nobody knows if they are going to sing. Everybody's prepared. If they win, they SING! No one knows before hand who the entertainment is going to be. There is no extraneous entertainment. It truly is about the winners. It makes the Awards presentation a little more special. The audiences also get to see WHY they won. In the long run, it also benefits the performers. In most instances, several weeks after an awards show, most people don't remember who won. This way puts an indelible stamp on that win for better or for worse! It is more exciting for Lennie because "anything can happen". Go to the MAC website to purchase tickets.They use Brown Paper Tickets. You can also send a check. All of the directions are on the website.
I would need several blogs to cover all that Lennie Watts is and the contributions he makes through his body of "worth". Some people know him as a teacher. He has done a lot of classes. He has worked as a director and as a performer. A lot of people don't know that Lennie's LOVE is theatre. As mentioned earlier, Lennie went to school for musical theatre. He has done national and international tours. He has worked a lot regionally and he has done everything from straight plays to character pieces and everything in between.
There are people who ONLY know of Lennie as a director and don't even know that he sings. There are people who only know him as a singer who don't know that he teaches and directs. It's great when you wear a lot of hats, but it is also a little strange because people only see you "how they know you." It is hard to get ALL of those aspects of what you do out into the world. so that people know you can do multiple things. That is a big obstacle for Lennie. "Yes, I do THAT, but I also do THIS.Don't forget that I sing. Don't forget that I direct." It's also difficult to be known for all of the things that you do. They
pick their favorites and to them, THAT'S what you do.
In closing, whatever it is that you think that you want to do, whatever it is that you feel you want to try, you should give it your best shot and you should not let anybody or any other voices in your head or past experiences discourage you, because the last thing you want to do is have regrets. A lot of people put a lot of things on hold and then one day you wake up and you think, "Whoa! I've been in New York for thirty years and there's a lot of other stuff I could have done!" If you're thinking about it, GO FOR IT! Give it a shot. Give it a try. The last thing you want to do is wake up wishing there was something you could have done.
Thank God Lennie is out there doing it!
For more on Lennie Watts, check out Lennie Watt's Website.

Thank to ALL mentioned in this blog for the gifts you have given to the world and continue to give!
With grateful XOXOXs ,



 
Check out my site celebrating the first Fifty Years of Hello, Dolly!

NO COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT INTENDED.  FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY!


Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!    
            



Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!



Richard Skipper Celebrates Lee Roy Reams in an ON STAGE INTERVIEW to benefit The Spiral Theatre Studio at 300 West 43rd Street, 6th Floor New York, NY 10036 at 8PM! On February 25th. 

The evening with Lee Roy Reams will begin with a Wine and Cheese mixer at 7:00 PM (for VIP Patrons), and interview of Lee Roy Reams at 8 PM promptly. 845-365-0720 $30.00/ $40 VIP Tickets (Includes Cocktail reception with Lee Roy!) RESERVATIONS A MUST! Please reserve today!! SEATING IS LIMITED! You never know who you might meet!
 http://www.thespiraltheatrestudio.com

IF you like this blog, please leave a comment and share on Twitter and Facebook



Keeping Entertainment LIVE!
 
TILL TOMORROW...HERE'S TO AN ARTS FILLED DAY


Richard Skipper, Richard@RichardSkipper.com




                          Check out My Next Blog celebrating Annie Hughes!





2 comments:

  1. Richard,
    Excellent blog about the amazing Lennie Watts!
    Tym

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you Richard! You made me seem interesting! :)
    Lennie

    ReplyDelete