Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Opposites Attract...GO party at The Salon, Tudor City Greens, and Wednesday Night At The Iguana!

Affluence separates people. Poverty knits 'em together. You got some sugar and I don't; I borrow some of yours. Next month you might not have any flour; well, I'll give you some of mine.
Ray Charles

Happy Tuesday!

It is August 2nd! August 2 is the 214th day of the year (215th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 151 days remaining until the end of the year. There are also only 5 days till Elaine St. George hosts The Salon at Etc. Etc. The theme this week is Opposites Attract! I picked the above quote of Ray Charles because earlier this year, Elaine did a critically acclaimed tribute to Ray Charles called SWEET INSPI"RAY"TION! What an inspired title! Elaine has been singing "cross-gender" songs since her cabaret debut in "All I Need is the Girl" back in 1996 which I saw and first fell in Love with her.
For more information: www.elainestgeorge.com.

The word "opposite" also appears in my horoscope today and speaks loud and clear to me. Pay attention fellow Aquarians...and a lesson for others, as well:
You must expect a certain amount of resistance from those you deal with on a one-to-one basis. The Sun in your opposite sign means you must learn to co-operate openly and honestly. It's the only way you will get things done.

Carol Channing once said that in order for a show to be successful, you need people that are accountants and auditors, baggage porters and bellhops, cabinetmakers and bench carpenters, dancers, earth drillers, etc. In other words you need people from ALL walks of life. When entertainers are JUST entertaining each other, it becomes a self-masturbatory exercise in futility. I implore ALL artists who go to open mics to try and bring AT LEAST 5 people who have never experienced this before. Not only will you be building a bigger fan base for yourself (Beyond the three "f"s...friends, family, and fans) but you will also expand the audiences for those performing as well. In other words, I implore you to cast a wider net.

(This is at Duplex and you can see how much fun Lisa Woodward Lamm was having. This is when they were singing the songs from RENT. Heaven!)

When I first started going to piano bars and open mics in the early 80s, there was a great mix of both artists (professional and non) AND those that were there just to be entertained! For some reason, you don't see much of that anymore. The audiences are made up mostly of fellow "artists". Note that I don't refer to them as entertainers or performers...you will see why later in this blog!

I wrote about the Salon earlier this past month when I went there for dinner (on July 10th...the food is actually very good!) And so was everyone on the bill. I had a blast. I regret that I don't get there more often, but then, again, that may be a blessing! It makes me appreciate it all the more! I sang a mini medley in honor of Jerry Herman's birthday which was that night. It was hosted by Adam Shapiro who did a superb job.

Pardon me if I'm repeating myself, but I feel this is important.. If you are reading my thoughts for the first time, I hope that you will take something positive away with you. If you are reading my thoughts again, I hope it appears to you with new insight.
When I first came to New York, there were open mic nights EVERYWHERE! They were advertised in the Daily News and The Post, they were advertised in BACK STAGE and SHOW BUSINESS, the trade papers. They were very easy to find. Piano bars were abundant in New York (I actually miss those!.)
Karen Miller WAS the Queen Bee as far as conducting an incredible evening from start to finish. First at The ORIGINAL DUPLEX and then at EIGHTY-EIGHTS. Stanley Keeler IN DRAG at The Monster

Marie Blake at The Five Oaks, Whoever was playing at Marie's Crisis, Dick Gallagher at DON'T TELL MAMA's...there were many others, but these were the ones I frequented. I would start my Friday night at The Monster at 10PM, then depending on how much fun I was having would gauge when I would leave for Marie's Crisis, THEN to The Original Duplex, The Five Oaks, Eighty-Eights, and if I was REALLY ambitious...up to DON'T TELL MAMA!

From Age 21 till 29, that was essentially my world!
(Marie Blake at The Five Oaks)

It ALL started for me at The Piano Bar at 67th Street and Broadway! The Piano Bar was part of Beefsteak Charlie's and every Thursday night, Houston Alred, held court. It was a party and NO ONE has been able to recapture the magic of those nights. There was a free buffet (which was great for THIS struggling artist). Not only did everyone sing along together going through entire scores of musicals, but periodically Houston would pull people out of the crowd for solos. It was here that I first sang in public as Carol Channing. It was also during these nights that I learned how to ENTERTAIN! How to play off of an audience, microphone technique, etc. It was rare that I wasn't asked to get up and do a number. On those rare occasions when I wasn't asked, it didn't matter! I was learning, I was with friends, and I was having the time of my life!
I guess what I loved about these evenings was it felt like I was with family when I walked into those rooms and I was welcomed for being who and what I was ALL about. Something I NEVER experienced in 18 years of my life in South Carolina.

And none of it EVER felt competitive! At least THEN.
But something happened. The paradigm shifted. One night, Danny and I went into DON'T TELL MAMA after a show, there was no "sing along". The evening was now about the person at the piano and the wait staff. They were not entertaining; they were performing.It was no longer about the audience. It didn't matter whether Danny and I were there or not...or anyone else for that matter.

According to Wikipedia, a piano bar (also known as a piano lounge) consists of a piano or electronic keyboard played by a professional musician, located in a cocktail lounge, bar, hotel lobby, office building lobby, restaurant, or on a cruise ship. Usually the pianist receives a small salary plus tips in a jar or basket on or near the piano, especially from patrons requesting a song. Some piano bars feature a baby grand or grand piano surrounded by stools for patrons (or, somewhat humorously, an upright piano covered by a counter that makes it appear to be a grand piano). Others have a bar surrounding the piano or keyboard.

I separate those I see on stage into two categories: Those that are focused on the audience are entertainers! Those that are focused on themselves are PERFORMERS! This question is for my "artist" friends: Which category are you in?

Remember a trained seal is only interested in one thing, to get a fish! Think about it...especially next time you walk on stage.

When I co-hosted WEDNESDAY NIGHT AT THE IGUANA (with Dana Lorge), which I miss by the way, I felt at the end that I could no longer deal with some of the EGOS!
(In some cases, the egos were larger than the talent!)I have never written about my departure from the Iguana out of respect for Dana. I still have the utmost respect for her and what she continues to do EVERY week successfully!

Producing WEDNESDAY NIGHT AT THE IGUANA became a full time job! What was different as far as The Salon and Tudor City Greens and all the other similar nights at that time (I don't know if Dana maintains the same format) was that we had 24 "artists" on stage EVERY WEEK! AND we were very successful at it...winning Two MAC Awards in the process (for Outstanding Hosts and Outstanding Variety Shows/Series)We started Wednesday nights at 8:05 on the dot! Had an intermission and came down always on time. I was once told that I ran the evening like a drill sergeant. You have to when dealing with that many people! We did not have a sign-up. We had a formatted pre-set show...along with Barry Levitt and Saadi Zain (and from time to time equally talented subs.)
In order to give you a sense of a typical week...

On Thursday morning, I would begin my day between 5 and 6 AM, AFTER doing a show the night before. I would send thank you notes to those that appeared in that show while formatting the following Wednesday night's show. Lining up the talent and finding out what they were singing in order to avoid duplication. Because so many people would be upset about their placement in the show, I started to put all the names on index cards and drawing them out of a hat so that everyone was on an equal playing field. If those that appeared week after week were left off, I was chastised for it. Relentless e-mails and phone calls!!
I would receive e-mails begging to go on when they weren't in the line up...and when they were in the line-up, they complained about their placement in the show! In other words, they were never interested in the evening as a whole...or satisfied...but rather where THEY would fit into the evening. At no point during my 18 months at The Iguana, did ANYONE ever say, "What can I do to help" but rather "When do I go on"? and "Why am I following that person"? OR "Why did you put me in Act One" or "Why Am I in Act Two"...This, of course, was not true of everyone. And, for the most part, everyone else made this an incredible uplifting experience. But then there were a hand full, and especially TWO that made it unbearable week after week to continue to go on. So I CHOSE to move on, leaving WEDNESDAY NIGHT AT THE IGUANA to Dana, with my blessing! I am sure that I am not alone in my experience of hosting and producing this type of show. I am sure that ALL that produce shows where many are asked to participate deal with the same challenges. I guess in hindsight that it is all part of the process. My hat is off to Dana for keeping this show a fun night! Check it out!!

Everyone that attends these evenings, PLEASE show the utmost respect for Dana Lorge, Raissa Katona Bennett, Mark Janas, Tanya Moberly, Jenna Esposito,Jim Caruso...and any others who do this. They have a lot on their plates when they do these evenings.
AND they ALL have a lot to offer whether YOU appear on stage...or not!

Check your egos at the door and please note that nine times out of ten, it has NOTHING TO DO with YOU as to whether or not you are selected to go on or not. I have learned from ALL of you. I continue to learn...and, for that, I am grateful.

What I write about in my blogs is how I experience things. The way I have experienced these things may not necessarily be YOUR experience. I respect that. Please respect where I come from, as well.

I wrote to several people in cabaret this morning with the following: "I am writing about open mics and piano bars in my blog this morning, Do you have anything you can share with me? Pics, photos, thoughts? What is your favorite and WHY?
What you like most about them, least, and what you would like to see more of or less of?"

Here are the results of what I received: "Someone once said to me " You want to be a singer- sing any time anywhere you can. " Good advice
Piano bars and open mics help any performer practice their skills with a live audience. Always a good thing to do."

"I've had my share of open mics. Love doing them but don't like being slapped in the face with a minimum or a cover charge. I remember doing open Mics at Judy's Chelsea and after the singer was finished they actually gave the singer a free drink.
Unfortunately open mics have become a means of club owners bringing in business at the singers expense. I still love doing them and they can be a lot of fun, I only wish that club owners would value the performers more."

"Unfortunately because i live in never-never land (Long Island) i don't get much of a chance to enjoy piano bars. So my one wish would be that there were more outside of the city!"

"Open mike nights were GREAT because they gave me a sense of the "Vaudeville" that is missing in today's show biz world. It was an opportunity to be bad. To make a mistake. To hone ones craft. You feel less intimidated to perform at an open mike. I guess the closest thing to it today is Karaoke."

The Cabaret Community has its own array of stars! But take a look at these!

This is from Mark Janas' Email blast: Salon is an ongoing open entertainment event in which singers, writers and musicians share their talent with each other and audience members.
There is a $10 cash cover collected at the door and a $15 food/drink minimum (cash or credit) per person. (For more information about Etcetera, Etcetera's delicious menu: www.etcrestaurant.com.) There are no reservations; seating is on a first come/first served basis, Doors open and sign up begins at 6:15pm. The evening runs 7-10:30, with one intermission. If you would like to sign up to perform, see one the evening's 'Etceterettes' to fill out a card with your name, the name of your song, whether or not Mark will be playing for you and any upcoming events you'd like to promote. We do not present performers in order of sign-up, however, indicating requests as clearly and as early as possible as far as time restraints are concerned always makes everything much more possible. ALWAYS BRING SEVERAL SONG SELECTIONS to avoid duplication. All types of material, on or off theme are always welcome at Salon. We enthusiastically welcome instrumentalists, poets, playwrights, essayists, comics, illusionists and performance artists. Please limit your selections to three or four minutes in length (including introductions). Please also bring clear, complete charts for Mark to read. Sitting on the piano is not allowed, nor is flash photography. Please turn off all noise making devices and give performers your undivided attention.

Salon continues every Sunday (except September 4th & September 11th):
August 14th:
Theme: Black & White
Co-Host: Marianne Challis

August 21st:
Theme: Friends & Lovers
Co-Host: Carole Demas

August 28th:
Theme: The Marvelous 50's & 60's
Co-Hosts: The Wonderettes - Brittney Morello, Danielle Erin Rhodes, Lara Seibert & Morgan Smith

Visit their website at www.markjanasthesalon.com and look for us on Face Book!

Thank you to their sponsors Dr. Garrett Bennett & Father Jeffrey Hamblin, MD! Everyone else should be so lucky!

And don't forget to check out The Free Concert at Tudor City Greens this Wednesday, August 3rd (rain date August 4th) at 6:30pm. (41st St / East of Second Avenue) For more information: www.raissakatonabennett.com.

And then afterwords, keep the party going by going over to The Iguana to celebrate WEDNESDAY NIGHT AT THE IGUANA with Dana Lorge.

"If I have offended one person, I have offended one person too many" Here's to an INCREDIBLE weekend for ALL!


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Richard Skipper, Richard@RichardSkipper.com

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