Tools in Your Toolbox and Paints on Your Palette

by Hilary Feldman

JFK said, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Someone less famous said, “You get out what you put in.” What do those two people have to do with one another, and what do either of them have to do with cabaret or CCP? I’m glad you asked!

We’ve all heard (and maybe asked) the question, “What does CCP do for me?” Is this really the question to ask?

CCP’s mission is to “promote the art of cabaret by educating performers, presenters, the media and the public at large; by encouraging the development of venues and new audiences; and by encouraging the establishment of professional standards for performance conditions.”

As a person who is making my living as a cabaret artist, the benefits of membership in CCP are obvious. CCP is a force behind increasing awareness, understanding, and enjoyment of this art form. Their success as an organization means there is more opportunity for me to succeed… for all of us who take the art form seriously to succeed.

And there’s the rub.

Without going into the evolution of cabaret, I will say that we are at a point in cabaret’s history where “vanity caba- ret” is both an asset and a burden to this art form. What do I mean? Well…Yay! Anyone willing to spend the money can put on a cabaret show. And… uh oh! Anyone willing to spend the money can put on a cabaret show.

Vanity Cabaret (a historical term, not my own) has helped bring more people to this art form, which is a good thing. But it has also lowered the bar on this art form tremendously. Seasoned professionals and amateur hobbyists are performing at the same venues and charging the same, or a similar, cover. The hobbyists perform once in awhile, fill the house with family and friends, recoup their expenses or maybe even make a little money, and these full rooms help venues stay in business. Everyone has a good time. So it’s all good, right?

Not so fast. Imagine a couple stopping by a venue and deciding on a whim to give the show a try. They spend $50
– $60 on two covers and four drinks. If the show they happen to see is a show by the rank amateur — not a great singer, not a seasoned performer, not necessarily a well-put-together show — now what? The couple feels cheated, they don’t have a good first impression of cabaret or of the venue, and they won’t ever come back.

On the flip side, we have the seasoned pro who has worked long and hard to hone their craft and build an audience beyond family and friends. It’s harder for them to fill the house, because family and friends don’t come to every show. Thus, their show might make less money for the club (and the artist). But that same couple who stops by on a whim will have seen a great show, have a great impression of the club, and will come back for more. The immediate financial pay-off may not be as great, but the long-term benefits are much better. Not only has that performer developed a repeat customer, but they’ve also developed new cabaret fans.

So my question is this: What are you doing for CCP, for the art of cabaret, for your fellow artists, and for yourself? Are your endeavors in line with CCP’s mission? Are they helping the art form? If they are, then you are helping CCP, you are helping cabaret, and you are, thereby, helping yourself and your fellow artists. If they’re not, maybe the question you need to ask is, why not?

As a teacher, I still study with seasoned teachers once in awhile. It’s important to keep learning, both to improve as a singer and to get fresh, new perspectives on teaching. As a performer, I can never have too many tools in my toolbox. There can never be too many paints on my palette. I continue to get coaching, participate in master classes, revisit/improve my established shows, and work hard to develop all aspects of my craft.

If you’re a strong singer with weak acting and interpretive skills, then why not get to work with a coach who can help you improve? If you’re not a strong singer, maybe it’s time for some voice lessons. Don’t know how to talk with musicians? There are lessons and classes for that, too. Whether you want to make a career as a performer or simply perform once in awhile for fun (and the art form needs all serious comers, pros and hobbyists), you owe it to yourself and to your colleagues to be all that you can be as an artist.

CCP provides resources for learning, as opportunities arise, in the form of workshops and master classes. The Mid- west Cabaret Conference is held in Chicago each summer. Our ranks are filled with a wide variety of teachers and coaches (see “Did You Know” section for a directory). There is no reason in the world not to continually be improving your skills and elevating your art.

Being a part of CCP doesn’t mean you get a career; it means you get the benefits of being a part of a community and an organized effort to “promote the art of cabaret…”. Those benefits include the educational opportunities mentioned above, occasional performance opportunities, this newsletter and all the resources it contains; access to the fan base; access to a network of wonderful artists, and an environment in which you can grow as an artist.

So, with no disrespect to JFK, I say: “Ask not what CCP can do for you; ask what you can do for CCP.” Use the re- sources you find within this community to gather more tools for your toolbox and put more paints on your palette. Be the best artist and cabaret ambassador you can be. Only by helping the community can we help ourselves.

−Hilary Ann Feldman

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