A Survey of the D.C. Cabaret Scene, 2010

by Matt Howe, Guest Blogger

The other day I went through all of my cabaret programs and also searched through Michael Miyazaki’s cabaret blog.

I compiled a list of every local cabaret show presented in the area since 2007.  I did this because I was curious about how much work we cabaret performers actually do in this town.

I was pleasantly surprised.

In the last quarter of 2007, we performed about 16 different shows (including shows by Deborah Davidson, Sally Martin, Beverly Cosham, Joe Peck, Doug Bowles, Michael Miyazaki, and Joanne Schmoll, among others).

In 2008, over 35 cabaret shows were produced in the D.C. area. Surprisingly, one could see a cabaret almost every month of the year in 2008.  Michael Sazonov, Ron Squeri, Maris Wicker, Dean Reichard and me, Katherine McCann and ongoing shows like CHAWbaret and Maggie’s Cabaret presented singers that year.

2009 was similar:  over 35 cabarets were performed almost every month of the year.  Lonny Smith, Terri Allen, Justin Ritchie, Elizabeth Keyes, Alicia Steffman, Marianne Glass-Miller, and Emily Everson were busy in 2009 (and others I did not mention because of space limitations).

In January 2010 you could have seen Joe Peck or Sally Martin sing.  In February, the Bethesda Theater sponsored a Valentine’s cabaret and Beverly Cosham sang in Reston.  And in March, Maris Wicker and myself presented solo shows; Capitol Hill Arts Workshop presented its seventh CHAWbaret; and group shows were presented at Atlas Performing Arts Center and The Arts Club.

After I surveyed my list, I was proud of us.  Way to go D.C. cabaret artists!!

I noticed a few things, too, after compiling my list.

Excluding the now-defunct Indigo room, Cabaret artists producing their own shows in D.C. seem to utilize these venues:  Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, The Arts Club, Playbill Café, The Corner Store, and Sitar Arts Center.  If you want to perform in a “group setting”, then there’s Artomatic and the D.C. Fringe Festival.

Germano’s (bless them!) in Baltimore is the only local venue consistently presenting cabaret artists.  The D.C. Cabaret Network hosts the only strictly cabaret open mic in town.

Otherwise, there are no venues in Washington, D.C. where fully produced cabaret shows are regularly presented.
It’s unfortunate that D.C. does not have a good cabaret venue.

The Indigo Room, housed upstairs at Atlas Performing Arts Center on H Street Northeast, no longer exists as a cabaret space (although I have recently spoken to Atlas about renting the space out for a solo show).  It’s too bad Indigo is gone.  It started off so well!  It had proper cabaret tables and drink service; the folks who ran it had just put in some lighting; and, despite the far-off location, it was kind of fun to spend an evening in that nicely-sized room.

I’ve had my eye opened lately as I cruise around town … is there a restaurant, art gallery, or back room that might host cabaret shows?

And – most importantly – do these untapped venues have a PIANO?! Lights, microphones, etc. can all be added later.  But if you’re going to perform a cabaret, you need a piano!

My cabaret buddy, Paul Pompeo, just checked out a new space I found called Black Fox Lounge at 1723 Connecticut Avenue. It sounded promising for a potential cabaret space.  Paul tells me that the piano room seats only about 25 people – which might be challenging for cabaret economics.

Still, I am curious to know what back rooms are sitting around unused in D.C. with an untuned piano needing attention?

Another aspect about the current state of cabaret in D.C. is the difficulty in self-producing shows.  For instance, Maris Wicker and I had to purchase an insurance rider for the two nights we performed at our venue.  That cost us about $350.  (I’m glad no audience members got hurt, though!)  Certainly the venues we rent from (especially the theaters!) should cover this sort of cost? We split the cost between us, but could a solo performer have afforded to rent the space, get the insurance, and pay for everything else?

Over at Michael Miyazaki’s blog, I posted about publicity and how D.C. newspapers infrequently list local cabaret shows.  I can’t tell you my frustration with this!

And yet, using my list of local shows as evidence, the newspapers could have listed up to five of our local cabaret shows EVERY MONTH over the last few years and steered potential cabaret audiences toward LOCAL talent.

The local D.C. cabaret scene (as I have said before) is small but vibrant.  There’s true talent here.  I salute all of you who have tackled producing your own show in this town – and commend any of you who are planning to do it.

Let’s keep thinking outside the box about how to make things better.

In my opinion, finding someone or somewhere to host a cabaret performance is key!

* Please note that my list of D.C. cabaret does not include professional or national theaters in town like the Kennedy Center or Signature Theater.  They book talent from out-of-town and their budgets and subscription base take care of audience attendance for their shows. My list covers 100% local D.C. cabaret talent!


One Response to “A Survey of the D.C. Cabaret Scene, 2010”

  1. Sandy Bainum Says:

    HOw do I get my cabaret performances onto the cabaret calendars?
    I always do my own marketing, but it would be nice to have it posted elsewhere as well.
    I have an upcoming date of Nov. 19th at 8 p.m. at Maggie’s Cabaret, St.Margaret’s Episocpal Church, where I will be presenting “Excuse My Dust: Dorothy Parker Sings” featuring the words and wit of Mrs. Dorothy Parker set to orginal melodies by 6 Time Emmy Award Winning Composer, Lanny Meyers as well as other favorite jazz age melodies…
    Please let me know how I tap into these other resources. I am a member of DC Cabaret Network.
    Thank you

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