Practice, Practice, Practice

by Matt Howe, Guest Blogger

Hello, DCCN peeps!  I’m thrilled and delighted to be this month’s guest blogger.  Since I just finished premiering my solo cabaret show HAPPY ENDINGS, which I performed March 19-20 at Sitar Arts Center, I’ve got cabaret-on-the-brain, so I’m hoping my blogs here at SongSpeak will spread the cabaret-joy I’m currently feeling.

So, there’s that old show biz quote:  “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?”  And the answer is, “practice, practice, practice…”

I’m a practicer when it comes to cabaret.  For me, I like to practice my patter and movements on the stage so that I’m 100% certain of them – then I feel free to throw it all out when I get onstage in front of a LIVE AUDIENCE!

What I found myself practicing the most—in preparation for my solo show—was microphone and stool placement.  If you watch the cabaret pros, they never make an issue about their mic stands or stools.  They don’t apologize when they can’t make the darn mic stand work.  They just make it work.  You don’t notice that they rearranged their stool and mic because it happened in front of you so seamlessly that it didn’t draw attention to itself.

So—aspiring to those high mic and stool standards—I ran through my show several times, simply rehearsing when and where I moved them.  I like rehearsing this way because it’s like finding the “traffic patterns” of my show.  I don’t want any collisions while I’m on stage!  For instance, during rehearsal I would discover: “Oh, I can’t put the stool behind me during that song, because in the next song I’m going to be in the piano crook, and right now the stool is there, so I’m about to have a ‘traffic accident’ on the stage!”

The same goes for the microphone stand.  Oh, the microphone stand!

My director Judy Simmons educated me about this tall, lean, metallic pole that is omnipresent on most every cabaret stage.  When I first started in cabaret, the mic stand was the least of my worries.  It held the mic up, right?  And I could grasp it when I was nervous and it would hold me up.  However, if I had to move it in any fashion – watch out!

Now Judy has alerted me that the mic stand can be an audience-blocker!  So, if I’m not using it, I should move it to the side so the audience can see everything on the stage clearly.  (I used to move it in front of the pianist.  Not good.  That blocks the audience’s view of the pianist as well.)

This sounds ridiculous of course, because there’s no way a skinny metal pole can hide a person or a piano from plain view, right?

Well, I started watching other cabarets.  And Judy’s right: it is distracting when that mic stand is just hanging out for no good reason all by its lonesome self. It’s almost like there’s a third “person” on stage with you and the pianist.

So, I practiced clearing the microphone stand.  And I can tell you, it’s very easy.  It’s very light.  And with just a few steps, I could actually get it far left (or right).  And – even more amazing – I could do that while speaking!

The stool is a security blanket for me.  When I was rehearsing my show, I realized that in the span of three songs I was sitting, standing, and then sitting again.  That meant that I was moving the stool out, then back, and then out again.  I thought, “Jeez, I’m like a Jack-in-the-Box!  Simplify!”

I started exploring JUST STANDING THERE and singing a song instead of sitting on my comfy stool.  And this was not as bad as I thought it would be.

When I’ve watched cabaret (and when I’ve rehearsed my own show) I have discovered that the audience actually enjoys seeing us performers move around the stage.  They like to see us set up the song in our cabaret space, move the stool, and take our time to physically orient ourselves.

But why??

I think the more we interact (with command) with all the elements on stage, then the more we appear relaxed and at home in front of our audience.

How about an analogy?  It’s like the audience came over to have dinner at our house.  We’re hanging out in the kitchen. I’m busy cooking and entertaining my guests, and they’re sitting at the counter watching my preparations.  They’re listening to what I’m saying—but they’re also fascinated by all the activity going on.

So that’s why I like to rehearse where my microphone stand goes and what position my stool sits in.  It helps make my show seamless and entertaining – because I’m in control of my stage environment as opposed to being thrown by it.


One Response to “Practice, Practice, Practice”

  1. Karen Says:

    Matt! I love the kitchen analogy! We (my vocal trio) are currently rehearsing for a rather big show and I can’t wait to pass this on to the girls! We definitely are into rehearsal and since there are 3 of us traffic patterns really become an issue.
    Thanks for a great post! 🙂

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