Cabaret – cab·a·ret/ˌkabəˈrāt/Noun – is defined by Wikipedia as: 

“Entertainment held in a nightclub or restaurant while the audience eats or drinks at tables.”

“A nightclub or restaurant where such entertainment is performed.”

For those of you who do not have Bob Harrington’s “The Cabaret Artist’s Handbook” (edited by Sherry Eaker) you MUST get a copy. It is available at www.Amazon.com.  There is an entire chapter called, “Qu’est-ce Que C’est Cabaret?” This book is a must read. Basically, he says:

“People who don’t know (what Cabaret is) are easier to handle than people who think they do know and yet refuse to believe that cabaret really is an independent and identifiable art form separate from musical theater, concert, lounge, or recital performances.”

He admits that a concise and accurate description of cabaret has always eluded even him. He says that, “It’s an awesomely all-encompassing genre, welcoming with equally open arms singing styles from jazz to country-western, magicians, comics, book shows, revues, variety acts, and people who just stand there and tell stories.” He mentions that all Webster (and now Wikipedia) know is that, “you can drink or each during a cabaret show.”

When comparing theater with cabaret, Mr. Harrington says, “…there are certainly gray areas but…essentially, theater and musical theater are voyeuristic pursuits. You watch the action through an invisible fourth wall. Success in cabaret is measured by how well you break down that fourth wall entirely. If theater is voyeuristic, cabaret is participational.” He states, “Audience energy affects cabaret far more than it does any other art form. Audience rapport is the bottom line. A cabaret performer who ignores an audience will get hell, period.”

Isn’t he great? I urge you to get this book. He goes on to further discuss the differences between a rock concert (concerts in general) which require the audience’s mass adoration and the differences between theater performances as a character vs. as an adopted persona a cabaret performer would appear as on stage. It all boils down to how the audience relates to, toward and with the performer on stage. It’s SO much more than 14 songs in order with a theme or thread.

Ultimately, Mr. Harrington says that when asked just tell people, “…It’s a unique performance style designed to engage the audience intimately in the performance itself.” He then just tells us all, “Or better yet, tell them to go see it.”

This is where WE, as social networkers, have to be our own advertisers. WE are responsible for letting people know what in the hell it is that we do. When I am asked, “What IS cabaret?” I usually say that it is a less expensive alternative to theater (not to us, but to the viewer) where pretty much anything goes. Then I take the time to describe some of the kinds of shows that I have seen, and I always recommend singers and shows.

Want to build an audience? I usually go up to someone at Don’t Tell Mama’s bar and chat them up to see if they are from out of town. I then invite them to have their cocktails in my Cabaret show and I comp their covers. I have now made two new fans if they come to town and I have given then a good experience of attending a Cabaret show.

A while ago, as an experiment for a report I was making to the MAC Board, I went to the TKTS booth and every 15th person in line I asked, “What do you think Cabaret is?”  The answers I got were mostly from out of towners there to see a Broadway show (wanting cheaper tickets should be noted as they were all in line for this purpose). The responses included comments like: “Like the movie Cabaret.” Or “It’s guys in drag.” Many thought it was dirty dancing like in a Gentleman’s Club. Very few knew what it was and the few who did go, had caught a bad show and the comments were, “We did that once. It’s like middle age ladies singing show tunes, right?” (Hey, I resemble that remark!)

Yikes, people, we have an image problem here which makes this a marketing issue. How does one market in today’s day and age? How does one market a genre that has such a big umbrella in varying styles of shows and, let’s admit it, on any given night, one could walk into the “middle aged lady singing show tunes” show (which is what I call a“friends and family” show) so there is a quality control issue at play here as well. Bottomline…the more WE describe the shows and the events we see, the more “others” will know what it is we do here. Each of us doing our best work always when repping our genre is the best advertising for us all.

Sue Matsuki

Dream it, Believe it, DO IT!

To contact me with a question or a column idea please send an email to: Sue@CabaretHotspot.com

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