The Manhattan Association Of Cabaret offered it’s 4th annual MAC to School weekend conference, September 15-16, 2018.
I first became involved with MAC to School when I was asked to co-teach a Vocal Styles workshop with Natalie Douglas and Dawn Derow. At first I was simply going to do my part and leave, as is customary. But, when the idea of Cabaret Hotspot! became a reality, I asked if I could stick around in order to bring you this report. And, indeed, I am very happy to report that MAC to School exceeded my expectations in just about every way possible.
The weekend began with “Cabaret 101 Getting Started” and “Cabaret 201 The Next Level”, 2 different panel discussions, running concurrently. Cabaret 101 covered the basics of how to get your first show up and running, and was led by an expert panel which included Sidney Meyer, Ellie Ellet, Kristopher Lowe, Lisa Yeager, Jeff Cubeta and my Cabaret Hotspot! colleague Sue Matsuki.
Cabaret 201 was led by a panel of artists who, as the flyer says, “started at the beginning and stepped up their game.” This included Natalie Douglas, Jon Burr, Celia Berk, Barry Kleinbort, and MAC President Lennie Watts. In both of these discussions there was a common thread, know yourself, trust yourself, be yourself. Whether talking about the whys and wherefore of doing your first show, or the challenges of making it to that “next level”, the theme was simple. Don’t do it for the accolades, don’t run after awards. Be true to yourself and your art. Of course there were some practical matters to discuss like “What is the next level?” My favorite answer to that question was “When you look out at the audience and don’t know anyone.” (Lenny Watts). And, “How do you know you’re ready for the next level?” “When you’re ready to step out of your comfort zone.” (Barry Kleinbort). Jon Burr was insightful regarding online marketing, social media, and brand messaging. Celia Berk encouraged the room to “Dress now for the next level.” Alex Rybeck added “Be the person you would want to go see.” And Natalie Douglas reminded us to “Be a musician, part of the team, and something greater than the sum of it’s parts.”
Next up was a Vocal Warm Up with Sterns Matthews. Now you know, I have very strong opinions about this! And, Sterns truly did a great job. His warm ups were clear, concise, and right on point for their desired purpose. This session evolved into a bit of a vocal health and hygiene Q&A, and Sterns was gracious enough to include me in the discussion.
After lunch, Natalie, Dawn and I ran a Vocal Styling workshop, which I thought went very well. Both of my colleagues in the class are award winning singers with a great grasp of stylistic variance. Great change could be heard in all the singers we worked with, and generally, a fun time was had by all.
Being part of the Vocal Styling workshop meant that I was unable to attend Lennie Watts’ Directing workshop. But by all accounts that was sensational as well.
Day one ended with a Masterclass by KT Sullivan, a multi award winning singer, and Artistic Director of the Mabel Mercer Foundation, who, among other things, produce the Cabaret Convention every October. KT, a masterful soprano herself, was able to elicit different vocal colors and emotional connections from each of the singers who got up to work, raising the stakes with key phrases like “Tell us a secret.” And “ You’re going to change our lives.” Of particular interest to me, as a vocal pedagogue, was how KT was able to meet each singer where they were, some with better voices than others, but all with a story to tell. And, rather than focusing on the sound of it, she got each singer to focus on the story, using nothing more than the lyric, and thereby improving the sound tremendously. She was engaging, funny, and fast, getting to work with 14 singers in 2 hrs and 15 mins.
Later that night KT gave a knockout performance at The Beach Café. (For more info on that see my review. But suffice it to say, her “Kern-u-copia” was delicious.)
Day 2 Started with an Image Consultation Workshop, led by Kristopher Lowe. This was held at Don’t Tell Mama, where stage lights were very helpful. Kristopher, always elegant, was charming and supportive in his critic and suggestions, making it clear that small things really do matter.
Next up was “Performing as Part of an Ensemble” with members of “Those Girls” (Rachel Hanser, Eve Eaton, Wendy Russell), “Marquee 5” (Sierra Rein) and Carol Demas, and led by Mr. Watts. Not really sure what this session would be about, I was very happy to learn the ins and outs of forming and performing as part of a singing group. And, by this I mean not just the “how” but also the “why.”
After lunch was the Songwriters’ Roundtable with Julie Gold, David Friedman, and Scott Evan Davis. Each writer’s story was fascinating and served to remind us all of our own divine inspiration, and to stay connected to it at all times.
The weekend ended with another Sullivan Masterclass, this time Stacy Sullivan turned up the heat and raised the stakes with each singer by working on the story of the song and each singer’s connection to it. With a few minutes to spare at the end of the day, both Dawn Derow, and I got up to sing. Dawn was beautifully voiced and poignant in her rendition of “Alfie.” And I was happy to example a different, more contemporary singing style, with “This is All I Ask.”
The MAC to School event was, in my opinion, quite a unique event. One that is set apart from other master classes, workshops, seminars, or conventions, that I have been to in the past. Whereas, at other events where I have been present, the faculty has been most concerned with the “how to” of the sound, and the “how to” create different vocal colors. And, in the business roundtables of these conventions, the “how to” of getting work. In contrast, however, my overall impression of the MAC weekend is that the question most raised by the faculty was not “how to” but rather “why to.” Why Tell this story? Why is this story important to you? And, why do you want to tell it? Don’t chase after art, make it. Don’t run after work. Create it!
If only the rest of the world could hear this message.
I look forward to seeing you all at the next MAC event, and of course at next year’s MAC to School.