An observation from Stevie Cupo

SO! I opened my Actors’ Equity Association’s monthly newspaper today.  A few times a year, they list members who have passed away.  There were many names and “names” listed this session: luminaries such as Lauren Bacall, Polly Bergen, James Garner, Joan Rivers, Marian Seldes and Robin Williams. But at the very top of the litany of the famous was our own beloved, Terri Allen.

I thought, even in death, it is SO appropriate she gets “top billing”.

It made me smile.
Stevie

OUR DECEMBER HOLIDAY OPEN MIC CELEBRATION …AND SWEET FAREWELL TO THE WAREHOUSE

Nostalgia was abound at the DC Cabaret Network’s December Open Mic with a hello to Christmas and a fond goodbye to The Warehouse.  Christmas decorations and holiday snacks greeted folks as they arrived to share some winter cheer.  Host, Steven Cupo and the evening’s music director, Reenie Codelka, helped lead the spoken and musical reverie.

The owners of The Warehouse, Molly Ruppert and family, came to help give a proper send-off, as the building is about to be razed for new mixed commercial use.  As a surprise treat, Molly bought all the guests a round of drinks in honor of the Ruppert’s long mutual history with the Cabaret Network.  That’s what you call Holiday Cheer!

Molly wasn’t the only one with a tribute or two.  The president of the board of the DCCN, George Fulginiti-Shakar gave thanks for the long-time relationship the Network has had with The Warehouse as its artistic home.  In addition, actor/singer Michael Miyazaki re-wrote the lyrics to “Thanks for the Memory” to reflect DCCN’s  residency there.  His very clever lyrics and sweet reflection had everyone laughing and in tears.

The evening came to a wonderful close as everyone gathered around the piano for the traditional December Open Mic singing of Christmas carols.

Goodbye, The Warehouse.  Goodbye, sweet Ruppert family.  And hello Happy New Year and our NEW performance space … wherever that may be.  But, never fear, the tradition will continue!  We will keep you posted.

In the meantime, a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone from the DC Cabaret Network!
Dec Open Mic

The following is list of people who performed:

Steven Cupo – Santa Claus is Coming to Town
Mary Reilly – What Child is This?
Ron Squeri – I Wish I had a River
Tracy Simpson – My Joy for Christmas Day
Michael Miyazaki – Thanks for the Memory (A Warehouse Tribute)
Maris Wicker – One of the People You Never Get to Love
Marianne Glass Miller – Poor Everybody Else
Steven Cupo – Just in Time for Christmas
Michael Miyazaki – A Good “Gift” is Hard to Find (re-write of  A Good “Man” …)
Ron Squeri – There’s a Place Called Home
Everyone – Christmas carols around the piano

A November Open Mic Full of Surprises

On Monday, November 9, The DC Cabaret Network held it’s monthly Open Mic at The Warehouse.  It was an amazing evening full of surprises; welcome and “un”.  Hosted by Steven Cupo, the evening rapidly filled with singers, laughter and tears.  Thirteen singers stepped to the microphone, with  Reenie Codelka at the piano reminding everyone of how wonderful she is at her art.

Molly Ruppert, owner of The Warehouse, came and stayed the whole time.  After being introduced, she told the gathering she had recently attended a gala honoring folks in the DC area who were movers and shakers in the Arts.  She said, at the event, time was taken to remember those who had passed in the past year; and our own Terri Allen, who left us suddenly in August, was the first mentioned!  She also wanted everyone to know, before the building was torn down in January, The Warehouse was having a “Goodbye and Thank You” party on Monday, November 17th at 7:30 for anyone who had worked at the space.

After a few singers had made their way to the stage, an unexpected participant of the rodent kind appeared; quite healthy and quite active.  One could say that music not only soothes the savage beast, but gets their creative juices going as well.  After a bit, obviously deciding its talent was not up to par with the rest of the room, it went on its way.

Along with the loyal attendees, there were a few new comers who added their presences to the mix.  Even Steven’s 88 year old Dad sang!  The variety of personalities, voices and material created a very full evening that lasted until 10:30.  It must be said all were so happy to have Beverly Cosham come that evening.  Not only had Beverly been very close to Terri Allen, but had lost her own husband, Ralph, just a few weeks ago.  Her sweet words and beautiful interpretations reminded us all why we were there: that life continues and we all need to celebrate it, especially in song.

PARTICIPANTS THAT EVENING:
Steven Cupo        “Making Whoopie”, “Take Me to the World”
Marcia Kass         “Some of These Days”, “I Loved”
Ron Squeri           “Neverland”, “Perhaps Love”
Kathy Reilly          “Do You Miss New York?”, “Words and Music”
Paul Pompeo        “Autumn Leaves”
Norah Deluhery    “Now You Know”, “Moonglow”
Michael Miyazaki  “The Dinner Party”, “Shine On Harvest Moon”
Stephanie Dailey  “Colors of the Wind”
Richard Dew         “Heaven Knows”, “World of Imagination”
Heidi Mayor          “Eris Tu”
Tracy Simpson      “My Heart Was Set on You”, “You Can Have Manhattan”
Beverly Cosham   “Here’s to Life”, “My Favorite Year”
Everard Cupo       “That Lucky Old Sun”

Terri Allen: Remembered in Song

On Monday, September 15, the DC Cabaret Network had the honor of dedicating their monthly Open Mic to their beloved Terri Allen. The Open Mic was always seen as Terri’s “baby”; she nurtured it and kept it running through lean times and good. She loved keeping it available for people to try out new material, to hear their favorite songs in their voices and for newbies to take their first steps into the spotlight of the cabaret world. The Open Mic truly was and continues to be a unique venue in the DC area; primarily because of the efforts, devotion and dedication of Terri.

We were delighted and moved that so many people wanted to participate in the evening. The Warehouse was packed with family, friends and long-time devotees of the Open Mic. Terri’s sister and brother, Barbara and Mike Allen were there, along with her niece, Hannah Jurs-Allen. The co-founder of the DC Cabaret Network, Wendy Lane Bailey came down from New York City. George Fulginiti-Shakar and Alex Tang generously shared keyboard duties, while Steven Cupo tried to fill Terri’s shoes as host. Not everyone who stepped to the mic sang, but instead gave a spoken tribute to the memory of Terri. Fellow DC Cabaret Network board members Lonny Smith and Cindy Hutchins, along with a few others, brought bubbly and refreshments to round out the evening. It was a night of laughter, tears and especially music. Literally and figuratively, it was a champagne toast to the life of Terri Allen.

And, just as she would want it, the Open Mic will continue on.

The following is a list of those who, that evening, went to the microphone and their contribution:

Steven Cupo song: “On My Way to You”
Byron Murray song: “Lazy Afternoon”
Marcia Kass song: “Miss Otis Regrets”
Alex Tang spoken tribute
Christy Trapp song: “I Wish You Love”
Lonny Smith song: “Anytime”
Wendy Lane Bailey spoken tribute
George Fulginiti-Shakar spoken tribute
Mary Reilly song: “Jesse, Come Home”
Michael Miyazaki song: “Come in From the Rain”
Ron Squeri song: “Some Say Love”
Emily Leatha Everson song: ” One Woman’s Story”
Kathy Reilly song: “Make Me Rainbows”
Heather Frank song: “Skylark”
Maris Wicker song: “It Might as Well be Spring”
Paul Pompeo song: “Here’s That Rainy Day”
Molly Brick spoken tribute
Maureen Kerrigan song: “Dreamin'”
Stephanie Dailey song: “Let This Be Our Prayer”
Cindy Hutchins song: “Putting Things Away”
Brenda Rozier-Clark song: “Summertime”
Tracy Simpson song: “Places That Belong to You”
Bud Stringer spoken tribute
Richard Gondelman song: “Now and Forever”
Beverly Cosham song: “A Beautiful Sadness”

Midwest Cabaret Conference, by Guest Blogger Andrew Harmon

2014-07-12_Midwest_Cabaret_Conference_participants

“Don’t you sing that note!”
 

Echoing. These words. A week later…
 

Earlier this week, on Facebook, the teacher, songwriter, and entertainer Lina Koutrakos wrote that she couldn’t “pussy-foot around” or “poo-poo” the meaning of this “confusing sub-culture of the arts to many people,” this thing called cabaret. “Cabaret only means singing honestly and authentically,” she wrote. “It means having the courage to be human — on purpose — and then crafting the skill to give that to others in elegant abundance.”
 

I have a past in the art form going back to the open mic opportunities I took in college in Manhattan in the early ’90s, when my friends and I would hit the downstairs piano bar of Rose’s Turn in the West Village every Friday night. More recently, I’ve performed in a few showcases over the past decade, including with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC, and as part of the CHAWbaret fund-raiser for the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop. In that same time as well, I’ve seen shows featuring friends of mine, many of whom I’ve sung with elsewhere.
 

But I never made a routine of performing in cabaret open-mic nights or developing shows of my own or appearing in others’ shows. And as much as I appreciated being a part of something meaningful, I seemed to remain in the shadow of the “confusing sub-culture of the arts” rather than seeing clearly in its light. I used to ask myself why these singers went to such lengths to slow down lines the way they did, speak words instead of sing them, and go on with such… drama.
 

Then those words came to me … and stuck. “Don’t you sing that note!” In fact, they came from Lina herself. They came as I struggled to maintain my pitch and preserve my dignity on stage while tears stung my eyes and my voice broke. I was trying to sing when singing was not what I meant. Afraid that I’d seem rough and unentertaining, and horrendously uncomfortable at feeling emotionally exposed in front of other people in such an intimate setting, I learned that the emotions I fought desperately to contain were the very thing Lina (figuratively) reached inside me to pull out for the audience to see. And feel.
 

Cabaret is scary. And exhilarating. And a triumph!
 

A week ago today, 20 students, including three of us from the DC area, entered into Davenport’s Piano Bar in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago to begin three days of intensive training … or as some in the class debated early on, intense training. We participated in the fourth annual Midwest Cabaret Conference. Co-founders Lina Koutrakos and Rick Jensen, both New Yorkers, were joined by Chicagoan Beckie Menzie and the legendary actress, songwriter and cabaret star Amanda McBroom, who came to Chicago from California. The students came from as far as Palm Springs and New York City and joined several Chicago-based cabaret performers. We brought songs. We told stories. The master teachers gave us feedback, encouragement, critique, and pressure.
 

They also gave us the gift of their own talents. Our first night together, we were treated to two full-on cabaret shows, first the formidable Lina with Rick, then the divine Amanda with Beckie. For someone who had lived so long in the shadow of this “confusing sub-culture of the arts,” finally I could see and hear exactly what each of these gifted and longtime entertainers brought to the stage.
 

As a first-timer, I marveled at each master teacher’s ability to deconstruct each song and each performer, even if the song was obscure or unknown or if, like me, they hadn’t worked with the singer before. During sessions, each student had the opportunity to perform a song of his or her choosing once all the way through. Then the teachers would take each part of the song and not necessarily just tell the student how to handle it. They would ask the student constantly about their motivations and their feelings. “Who are you singing this song to?” they’d ask. “What has just happened as you begin this song?” The underlying meaning for the singer didn’t have to be literal or closely connected to the song’s content. It had to connect with the spirit of the song. If it was a song about seduction, who was your target? If it was about loss, who (or what) did you lose? If it was defiance, who was that person from whom you were wresting back control of yourself and your destiny? In the end, it was about how the song translates to the audience by way of your interpretation.
 

Not a single student was spared a moment of clarity and feeling, from the beginners like me to those with years of experience behind them. I kept hearing things like “don’t fade on me” (i.e., don’t become an actor behind a mask in this song) or “don’t you sing precious here” (i.e., whispery, with no diaphragm support). In my case, it was Lina’s words: “Don’t you sing that note!”
 

I realized it right away. Don’t take a line that has a deep meaning, maybe even an important turn in the song’s lyrical path, and make it “pretty,” as if the magma underneath it doesn’t matter or needs to be smoothed over in order to please the audience or prove what a good, disciplined singer you are. If that line is authentic to you and if singing seems trite or just untenable, say the line. More importantly, feel the line. Don’t sacrifice your feelings so that what you’re singing loses its power. Your song means something specific, even if your connection to it isn’t literal. Bring out that meaning. Bring out the emotion. Your audience will pay attention to you, and the more of your inner self those people get, the more they will love what you’ve given them.
 

As I think on it, I realize now that it’s similar to a friendship or a romance. Ideally, you’re not being embraced simply because you look good or sound good or say (or sing) all the right things. You’re embraced because you are the unique, feeling person you are. Your life experience and the art that inspires you don’t have to be the same as those of your audience members, fellow singers or anyone else. You bring yourself to this game, and that’s your strongest asset, with or without the vocal coaching, the voice major or the degree (or resumé) in musical theatre. Not only is this a beautiful thought. It makes for beautiful moments, many of which I saw all weekend long.
 

Every student transformed in front of my eyes, their performances growing a little more biting, a little more sorrowful, a little more joyous, a little deeper below the surface.
 

There were other lessons, such as adaptability when working with a music director, considering different tempos, styles and even key signatures when working on a new song. Beckie Menzie, an accomplished songwriter, accompanist and cabaret singer, prides herself on “bastardizing the Great American Songbook,” taking a standard and switching the dial perhaps just a hair off your familiar level, in turn making it something that feels new. She can take a song like the Arlen-Gershwin-Harburg number “Let’s Take a Walk Around the Block,” which I performed fairly faithfully in the DCCN Membership Showcase last March, and make it pensive, minor-driven, even melancholic, or she can make it insistent or subversive.
 

Rick Jensen taught me — showed me, really — the charged moments on stage, when there’s an electricity bridging the accompanist and the singer, even to the point of improvisation, when a song becomes just a little more than what the singer thought it had become already. I did Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road,” another one I’d sung during March’s showcase, and it went from the contemplative, quietly desperate pleading of a man at the tail-end of his youth to the woman he loves — at least as it felt in March — to a powerful crescendo of emotion, the wail of a man perhaps not so desperate, but determined, confident and yearning to free that woman from her own placid life. Rick brought out more of the rock and roll that Springsteen infused so naturally into the song, and that in turn generated electricity throughout the room. In the past 12 years I’ve sung in choruses and chamber ensembles, including very solid, emotive solos, and even with some very nice moments in cabaret already, I never felt so profoundly connected to a song as I did singing “Thunder Road” in front of those students…
 

…then in front of an audience. Each student performed a single song for a showcase last Sunday night for Chicago’s cabaret community. If I thought my own experience was powerful, I almost can’t find the words to tell you how it felt to see so many of these people I had only a few days to get to know transform from tentative singers, as this workshop launched, to the poised, confident entertainers they became. As I was told would be the case, it turns out I learned more from watching them than I did from experiencing it myself. From comedy to seduction to inspiration to desperation, from Broadway to jazz to country to rock, that audience experienced a wide spectrum of music, all brought into the realm of the “confusing sub-culture of the arts,” this thing called cabaret.
 

Of course, all this that I’m saying many of you know and have known for years. You’ve dedicated more of your life to this art form than I have. What purpose, then, is there in trying to create new tread over well-laid tracks? All I can tell you is that, the way it looked to me, even the most experienced singers had breakthroughs, eyes reddening as the song’s lyrical power finally enveloped them, paces and tempos varying as these singers ever more clearly saw the people and circumstances bringing them to these lyrics, and special places in their voices flexing, places that at first they weren’t sure they could reach. Many of us will travel and participate in these workshops repeatedly or find new teachers or have intensive (or intense) sessions with music directors to dig through to the emotional core of a song. And yet perhaps a workshop newcomer’s perspective can remind us of how it was to experience it the first time, to be the one no one knew, to take that uncomfortable journey and to come to one’s power — even if just a brush against it — and make an audience feel something profound for a few minutes, to be told by a master teacher that that song you just did was yours now.
 

I’ll never have that experience again. I have many to thank, and now I am even more excited about my journey. It may be similar to yours, and maybe you will have wisdom you can share with me once our paths cross. You’ll see me make rookie mistakes or make decisions you wouldn’t. But that will be fine for me. If nothing else, at least now I know that the best part of any show I create in the future will be that which is mine uniquely, the same as it has been and will continue to be for you. And I will learn from what I see you do, and I will love every mile along this long road.
 

And when the moment’s there, I promise: I won’t sing that note.

Guest blogger Andrew Harmon is a former chorus singer turned nomadic entertainer living in the District of Columbia. He welcomes any and all opportunities to learn, grow and perform.

May 2014 DCCN Open Mic

On Monday, May 12, the DC Cabaret Network once again sponsored its monthly Open Mic at The Warehouse. Due to Terri Allen’s feeling under the weather, Steven Cupo hosted and was assisted by Cindy Hutchins. The very talented Alex Tang played piano.  A total of twelve people attended.

    The evening had some excitement as there were a good number of “new” singers.  Jill Parsons, who is creating her own cabaret-style evenings at the Shaw Tavern, brought 3 of her “wannabes” to try out some new material and share in the great atmosphere.  An accomplished pianist herself, she is self-described as “one who plays by ear.”  Jill gave Alex an occasional break from the keyboard to play for her friends and give everyone a taste of her style.  It turned into a lovely evening of shared memories and good camaraderie.

    The attending singers and the songs they sang were:

    • Steven Cupo – Mamma, a Rainbow / I Remember
    • Marcia Kass – Angel From Montgomery / Since I Fell for You
    • Faheem Moghal – Grateful / Ice Castles
    • Kathy Reilly – I’m Not Afraid / The Time Has Come
    • Alan Perkins – It Was a Very Good Year / Only You
    • Mark Fallow – The Days of Wine and Roses
    • Jill Parsons – Always Have Me (original song)
    • Stephanie Dailey – Maybe This Time / With One Look
    • Ron Squeri – So In Love / With Every Breath I Take
    • Tracy Simpson       Cold, Cold Heart / How Long Has This Been Going On?
    The folks who chose to just listen were:
    • Cindy Hutchins
    • Mike Repass
    • Tony Simpson

April 2013 Open Mic

A spring evening that actually hinted of spring weather. Music from all genres. Singers of all kinds. The DC Cabaret Network April Open Mic held Monday, April 7 at the Warehouse with Alex Tang on the keyboards and Jeff Tucker (Art of Music) on sound. One more great evening of music.

Set 1
1) Terri Allen — Taking a Chance on Love by Vernon Duke, Ted Fetter, John Latouche
2) Ron Squeri — Sway by Caroline Corr, Andrea Jane Corr, Sharon Corr, James Corr
3) Marcia Kass — No Time at All by Stephen Schwartz
4) Lorenne Grabish — Don’t You Mind People Grinnin’ in your Face by Son House
5) Tracy Simpson — Manhattan by Sara Bareilles
6) Maureen Kerrigan — All or Nothing At All by Dennis Matkosky, Jack Lawrence, Arthur Altman
7) Steven Cupo — Friends Medley: My Own Best Friend (Kander & Ebb),  Bookends (Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel)
8) Terri Allen — My Father by Judy Collins

Set 2
1) Terri Allen — Crimes of the Heart by Amanda McBroom
2) Tracy Simpson — Miss Byrd by Richard Maltby & David Shire
3) Maureen Kerrigan — Funny Honey by Kander & Ebb
4) Ron Squeri — You’ve Got a Friend by Carole King
5) Marcia Kass — Kind of Woman by Stephen Schwartz
6) Steven Cupo — Does Anybody Love You by Bill Solley
7) Ron Squeri — An American Hymn by Molly Ann Leikin and Lee Holdridge
8) Terri Allen — We Can Be Kind by David Friedman

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