May Open Mic Night Report

Our May Open Mic Night on the 19th was a hit with 18 singers taking the stage, and many more in attendance to watch and listen. Michael Miyazaki reports on the evening’s program over on Miyazaki Cabaret Update: DC and Beyond. Thanks Michael!!

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Solo Performance

by Kathy Reilly, May 2008 Guest Blogger

Last night I had a surprisingly delightful experience at the DC Arts Center’s presentation of “The Inaugural DC Solo Performance Showcase.” The eleven solo performers were completing a Solo Performance Lab taught by Laura Zam, a writer, solo-performer, and teacher.

As described to me by the friend who took the workshop, students work on material for a one-person show. Over a six-week period, students write, rehearse, edit and polish an original piece, which is then cut, honed and memorized for the five-minute performance before family and friends.

The eleven stories presented were not too dissimilar in subject matter from the wide variety of material offered at a DC Cabaret Network Open Mic. The performers’ choice of subjects revealed all levels of emotional, physical and intellectual experience. Some were amusing and even outright funny, while others were sad, mournful and even a bit weird. Most of the stories appeared to be autobiographical and the performers displayed an admirable degree of gusto and fortitude.

As with songs, the stories were about the mystery, wonder, frustration, and tragedy of life, and how each individual embraces, shuns or deals with problems caused by other people, work, hobbies, aging, etc. Topics included: finding ones true calling as an artist; a life-changing cross-country biking trip; an aging burlesque queen’s dilemma about what’s next; a woman’s battle with her dysfunctional family’s eating habits; saving caterpillars and diverse manifestations of life; the art of pickling as an analogy for being resilient in face of adversity; and the memory of a teenager’s effort to become a cheerleading ‘Tigerettte.’

Most of the artists presented monologues but a few included multiple characters very successfully. One poetic and moving story explored a grandmother’s response when the grandson she raised calls to ask for his mother’s death certificate. She is dumbfounded and pained because her daughter/his mother played no role in his life.

This was good theater and it appeared to be a great exercise for expanding an actor’s, singer’s or writer’s ability to reach and touch an audience. This is not a writer’s course; Zam encourages students to focus on and develop the heart of their stories.

The DC Arts Center is a tiny theater at 2438 18th Street, NW , (www.dcartscenter.org; www.theatredujour.org), which seats about 60 people and is situated behind the center’s upstairs art gallery. The event was presented in association with the Capital Fringe Festival (July 10-27), for which Zam will be teaching a ‘Training Factory” on June 21. Additional Solo Performance workshops are scheduled for June and September. Contact Zam at info@laurazam.com and Laurazam.com.

Open Mic Night — May 19th

Come sing with us at the Warehouse Theater! The next DC Cabaret Network Open Mic Night is Monday, May 19, 2008. Our accompanist for the evening is the wonderful Mary Sugar. Sign-up starts at 7:30 p.m. The singing begins at 8:00 p.m.

Admission is a suggested donation for the pianist and to cover the rental fee: $15 for non-members, $12 for paid members of the DC Cabaret Network.

The Warehouse Theater is located at 1021 7th Street, NW, across from the new Convention Center.

Everyone is welcome. Our Open Mic Nights are a great opportunity to try out new stuff, take out an old friend, or just hone your skills in a friendly and supportive environment.

Visit www.warehousetheater.com for directions and more info about the space.

Blogging, Singing, and Part-time Pursuits

by Kathy Reilly,Guest Blogger for May 2008

While anticipating my month as DC Cabaret Network’s guest blogger, I imagined myself getting out more frequently to see and hear everything even remotely cabaretish the metro region has to offer. Well, this is not exactly the way things are sizing up but it is still early.

I have not been out to hear a singer, or musical show or concert, since the April 21 Open Mic, which, by the way, was a terrific night of musical performance. I won’t write about how busy I am, we all have jobs and obligations; nor about the dearth of choices vis-à-vis cabaret singers and venues. There is, after all, musical theater; comedy, jazz and pop abound; Millennium Stage, and Wolf Trap is in season, and more. There is always something to see. A good source for May-June listings is on Michael Miyazaki’s blog.

I did get lucky in late April when on my way to the Open Mic I caught half of a show (free, too!) at the National Portrait Gallery with Julia Nixon (recently of “Caroline or Change” at the Studio) playing Sarah Vaughan in “All That Sass!” Jewell Robinson, the museum’s public program director, narrated and produced this biographical sketch and introduced Nixon as Sarah, adding background notes between songs to make it a meaningful story about her life.

Years ago, I was a huge Sarah Vaughan fan and I know I copied her style early on when I first started singing solo before audiences. I remember singing “All Too Soon” at a jazz singers’ workshop I took where I was asked why I kept going into my head voice. I told them it was a rangy song and I had to, and that Sarah did that all the time. The instructor didn’t think it was right for a jazz singer. Well, Julia did it too, and the program noted that Julia’s four-octave range was similar to Sarah’s. I do not have that capability but why not use what you have no matter the idiom? Of course, whatever you use, it has to work.

The show’s musical-biographical approach to presenting a body of work or particular artist is a popular way to put up a show and audiences like it. It worked very well in the Arena Stage’s production of “Ella” with Tina Fabrique, whose rendition of Ella as a singer was excellent even with a very light bio-story to hold it together. I saw Ella perform at Carnegie Hall and remember not being a real fan when it started but I sure was when I left. She cooked; she worked; she was all about the music like an instrument. Not a lot of patter, just lots of singing and Fabrique captured that Ella very well. Even if you are not fond of scat singing you can’t help but wonder how they keep it going, and some of Ella’s ballads did offer a glimpse of a vulnerable and, to me, sad woman.

I am sorry that I missed the recent two-women show about Alberta Hunter, whose very existence offers me a ray of hope that one day, I will put up a full show. Of course, Alberta ‘s comeback at 82 was stunning and in performance she exuded enough sass and bawdiness to make you think getting old doesn’t matter at all.

Another recent show that I caught almost by accident was “Smokey Joe’s Café” at the Bethesda Theater. This show featured the songs of Leiber and Stoller, which include some big hits from the fifties and sixties like “Dance with Me,” “Searchin,” “Kansas City,” “Stand By Me,” “There Goes My Baby,” and “Fools Fall in Love.” This last number was recorded by John Pizzarelli on his first album and that is how I came to know it and like it. The show had no story line and should have been billed as a Leiber and Stoller review. There were too many weak points but I was surprised to find myself liking some of the new arrangements to songs I knew (too oldie and not so goodie) and delighted to hear a few new songs, particularly a very sexy “Some Cats Know,” which I learned Peggy Lee once recorded. The young cast was really enthusiastic and talented and there were a few well choreographed moments.

What I am learning from seeing shows like these and others is that the sources for material are as endless as the styles and stories of performers. And I am always thrilled to hear someone do something new with an old song that I would never consider performing and might never listen to.

The lines are blurring between musical styles or catagories and that trend is likely to continue. Just take a look at the line-up for the New Orleans Jazz Festival: Sheryl Crow, Marcia Ball, Jimmy Buffet and Elvis Costello are not jazz artists but they do bring in large audiences who just might be introduced to someone new who could be a jazz-cabaret performer. And round and round it goes.