SUE’S VIEWS – Things NOT to say or do on stage

After seeing many, many shows recently I’ve been taking notes on what NOT to do as well as what I liked about the show. Since I mostly focus on up-and-comers, rather than put these comments in their review, I like to do what I call a “Group Blind Review” combining many things from many shows that we all should avoid with the hopes that they will see themselves in these comments and learn from them. Here goes!


Never, Never, NEVER apologize on stage. I say this because guess who did this recently. Yep, that would be ME! You think you have finally broken yourself of the habit and then you get insecure if you drop a lyric or two and you do it again. Most audience members will not even know that you dropped a lyric if you do not indicate that you did!


NEVER tell people you are under-rehearsed unless you are prepared to give them their cover charge back for rehearsing on their time. No matter how bad it may seem on stage, to apologize or admit that you are not “in the pocket” will only make people feel cheated. Again, what may feel bad to you on stage may not be translating to them as “less than” out in the audience but to then tell them…really, why would you?


I know many jazz folks work from a music stand, but this is usually a list of their tunes with their keys on it so that they can call a tune, but rarely do they use the stand to read their lyrics. Again, I paid $20 to see and hear you sing, know your lyrics, it’s your job. This goes back to looking like you’re under-rehearsed and I don’t want to pay for your rehearsal. I’m there to see a professional sing a show. Reading patter off of a music stand and then blowing it??!! Don’t get me started! If at an open mic you are learning a tune and you tell the audience that this is a new tune you’re working on, I have no problem with this but never in a show. We all drop a line here or there but when someone blows every other song, it’s just not right!


Don’t tell me that you’re ill or have sinus issues. I once saw the incredible Natalie Douglas sing an entire show where she was clearly ill. She blew her nose a few times and when she spoke, you could hear her rasp but when she sang….nothing. She blew me away by NOT saying anything about not feeling 100%.


NEVER self-congratulate. Saying things like: “I really love this song!” is different from saying: “Wasn’t that great?!” You may have meant that the tune was great, but you can hear how this could translate, right? I actually heard a singer make note of their tremendously long-held note telling us from stage how no one can ever believe how long they can hold that note. This translates as pathetic, needy and sad to me! Let us come to this conclusion!


I will say this again, NEVER disrespect the Encore “bit”. Walk off and back on and do the encore and own doing the encore or don’t do an encore. Don’t blame the non-existing “Cabaret Law” that says you must do an encore. Just do the darn song and say, “Thank you for bringing me back.”


When putting a show together…it’s 14-17 songs maximum for a 1 hour or 1:10 show depending on how much you are going to speak. I recently saw a show with 20 songs that went on for 1:25…this is not a Broadway show, it’s a Cabaret show…you always want them wanting more. Edit, edit, edit or hire a Director that will help you put the show together.


I love original music, especially when it’s good but doing 4 ballads in a row of a similar story with a similar feel, 3 of which are originals, is the hardest “sell” of all. Doing funny originals can work back-to-back because they keep people engaged by nature of the fact that they are funny but doing what I just said above can lull people into a coma! If you think I’m wrong…read their body language. This is not to say that back-to-back ballads cannot work but offering familiar ballads or standards that people know is completely different than having 3 “stranger” songs that they now have to really, really listen to and focus on. It’s asking way too much, especially at the end of a show. I would ask you why you wouldn’t want to have each of those lovely tunes stand out more in their own space?


Further to the point above…show structure is everything. There is the opening, the middle and the end and the songs in between to bring your audience along. We call the 3rd or 2nd to the last number the “11:00 number” for a reason…it’s what usually brings the show full-circle or it’s a big TA DA number or it’s where you want to leave your audience right before you close the show and do the thanks. Why would you, ¾ into the show just stop everything and do your 4-ballad spot with 3 original ballads? Don’t you realize that we’re on a roll here and then all of a sudden…WAH, WAH… the entire show stops! This decision was for you, not for your audience. You wanted to sing all your original songs to show a part of your body of work but if they are not that different…it doesn’t really help. Again, a good director would have kept you from doing this. At ¾ in, your show should be cooking with gas and getting ready to wind down…not stop!


Make sure that your opening numbers are some of your best vocal songs or keep rehearsing them until they are. It is understandable to us all that one is nervous at the top of the show so why offer a song that is not “in the pocket” when this is the first-time many people are going to hear you. If you’re pitchy or seemingly insecure of any of the notes, it makes someone who has never seen you before going, “Ut oh, what am I in for?” With a show I saw recently, this happened but I chalked it up to it being a new person on stage but, I have to say, the minute they got to song 3 or 4…WOW…it was like a different voice. Over-rehearse your opening 3 tunes so that they are worthy and equal to your overall show.


On patter…a long, long time ago a friend who was directing me said, “You tell these stories at parties all the time…just tell them like that!” It was life changing. Yes, we sketch out our script and, for the most past study it but if you don’t know how to organically get from A to B to C with your patter, you are doing yourself and your audience a dis-service. Waiting to think about what you need to say next and making them wait is awkward, but it also shows or indicates that you are unprepared. I would suggest just, again, like your opening number, going over and over your patter with your Director and also, run your entire show until it’s 2nd nature…like you’re delivering a story at a party.


If you have a special musician on stage and announce them as special and then do not let them “blow” on anything, shame on you! Why have them there? I’m not talking about a huge solo or having them solo on every tune but…really…why pay for someone to be on stage and then not give them a taste?


Sexuality is tricky. If you are a shy person, exposing yourself on stage as a sexual being can be uncomfortable. However, if you are an actor and the song warrants it…put on your big girl/boy pants and go for it. There is nothing worse than watching someone fain sexy. “You is or you ain’t!” YOU have to own that you are and that you have the right to be no matter what you look like, no matter what your size, no matter who is in the audience that you may not want to have see you in this light…it’s part of your job to “go there”. If you do not, the song falls flat. Go to your inner-sexy beast and own it!


As singers, we have all had those mean-spirited passive-aggressive comments said to us right after we have stepped off of the stage so be sensitive to that…do not offer an opinion to a singer right after the show. If they ask you specifically to comment, tell them that you’ll talk to them later, say “good job” and let them enjoy the moment. I would also advise that you tell them to ask their team and to stay out of it if you can. They have paid their team to advise them…let them advise. I was behind someone who said something really harsh to the singer and I wanted to kick them in the leg! I saw this poor singer’s face go from being excitedly thrilled to so hurt I could not stand it. Why do people do this? Just DON’T!