The cabaret entertainer Wesla Whitfield sings a beautiful song that I love called, “Lost In The Stars.” Ms. Whitfield is a great actor of lyrics, and you understand what this song is talking about as she skillfully performs it. You will find many of Ms. Whitfield’s performances on You Tube, and here is her official website. Enjoy!
Wednesday is the day of the week when we at McElrath Cabaret will post a cabaret question for the consideration of our readers.
The questions will have something to do with cabaret, in all its many aspects. The question may take the form of a poll, to which we encourage you to respond, or it may be a question posed to the cabaret community, to which you can leave your response in the comments section at the bottom of the page.
We encourage you to send us any cabaret question that you have that you would like us to pose to the group! You can leave a question in the comments section below, or you can email it to us at kjandathenacabaret [at]gmail.com. Just fill in the [at] with the @ symbol—we need to foil the spam bots, don’cha know.
Today’s question is this: Are you a cabaret entertainer?
I think that in the modern entertainment field, one sees a great many performers. These are people who can go through the motions of giving a performance. They can hit their marks, remember their words to say (or not if it’s reality tv–don’t get me started), and give the actions of feeling certain emotions as we watch them work. But they are not true entertainers. As an audience member, at the end of it, there tends to have been a lot of special effects, but no real heart to it all. I don’t feel like I got to know anything new about the performer. It’s kind of like a form of bad acting called “phoning it in,” when you just stand and say your lines without any of the subtext that brings it to life.
A cabaret entertainer is someone who connects with the audience. They are, at heart, truly great actors, no matter if they are singing or dancing. An entertainer is someone who has finely honed storytelling skills, because storytelling is at the heart of entertainment–it is the core, the key to it all.
This is why I so love classic cabaret performances, not to mention classic Broadway and Hollywood performers. There is a confidence that comes in becoming a good entertainer. Please don’t get me wrong–there are several good modern cabaret singers that understand this as well. But there are very few people who have honed it with the style and class that some of the great performers of yesteryear did.
That style comes from confidence in your entertaining self.
It’s like you have a secret that you are sharing with your audience–you let them in on your secret, which is the story that you are telling in your song. That is a combination that is perennially irresistible to an audience.
So, how do you learn to be an entertainer?
Get your basic training in acting, singing, and dancing, of course. But after that, what?
- Continually expose yourself to all types of art and artists. You can do this almost anywhere you live. Go to the museum, look at great paintings and sculpture, go to the library and check out biographies of all your favorite classic entertainers, listen to recordings. Watch live theatre in your hometown. Watch classic movie musicals, and classic dramas. Seek out actors who are good storytellers, and watch them work. Watch the great comics–they were all masters at setting up and delivering a story.
- Continually challenge yourself. Do not rest on your laurels. Even if you are not out actively auditioning for shows, read plays, and work on parts that you like on your own. Lawrence Olivier did this to keep himself on top of his acting game, just sayin’.
- Sing everyday, even if it’s only for a little bit, and you are in good enough health to do so. I don’t have to tell you this, because if you’re an entertainer at heart, you pretty much can’t not sing.
- Practice your storytelling at parties. Parties can be online in comments, or anywhere people who are willing to listen are gathered. Can you deliver a line that results in a smile or laugh, or some crying, from your listeners–good! Because a cabaret show is just one big party, at least the good ones are.
- Select material that you understand, and that speaks to you emotionally. If you don’t get the material, you won’t be able to share the story with your audience.
- Keep your audience in mind at all times when you are putting together a show. You want your show to be entertaining for them, so keep their interests and wants in mind, and give it to them. This is at the heart of entertainment–giving the audience what it wants. That doesn’t mean to say you can’t introduce your audience to something new that they might enjoy–by all means, do so, because they will appreciate it. But at the end of the day, dammit, they want to hear a good story!
- Remember that there is a special audience for cabaret singers. The audience has to be willing to go along on the ride on which you are taking them. Not everyone out there is the ideal audience member for this form of entertainment. They need to be thinkers and dreamers.
- Perform for the joy of it. Yes, we all have to make our expenses, and there is a bottom line financially to cabaret entertainment. There is a time to think about all that. But when you are in rehearsal, and on the stage in front of an audience, that part of your brain needs to go away, and you focus on being in the moment with the audience, telling them the stories that you want to share with them, letting them in on your secrets.
- You don’t have to get too fancy. It is incredible to have an entertainer just stand on an empty stage, with just a piano, and deliver a song. You don’t need crazy vocal melisma and antics if you are an actor. Hell, you don’t even need a great voice necessarily, although it’s nice if you do. Stillness on stage is very powerful, so don’t mess it up with nervous ticks and antics that you really don’t need to sell the song.
- Remember: you are always enough when it comes to acting a song. That is a self confidence thing that you might have to work on, but don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t get training, learn and grow. Confidence also comes from being prepared. I have read that Andrea Marcovicci rehearses new shows for up to one year prior to performing them, and I understand why after working on shows myself. It does mean that eventually you are the one who has to stand on that stage, basically alone with 75 to 100 of your closest friends in the audience, and sing them a story, and you can do it–you have all the resources you need in your mind, heart, and voice, so go for it!
If you do that, you will be a great entertainer.
I want to leave you with this video of Julie Wilson, a magnificent cabaret entertainer. Here she lays out “But Beautiful,” and you understand what this song is all about.
I ask you–are you a cabaret entertainer? What steps are you taking to become an entertainer? I truly look forward to your comments, and any help or suggestions you have on this topic! We value each of our readers very much, and hope to entertain you and give you a place to come and learn more about cabaret.
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ps–The Cabaret Soiree Link Party is still going strong–you can visit anytime to click on the links and see what others have posted, or you can share your own recent cabaret blog link from now through Thursday. Link is below.
Weekly Post Lineup At McElrath Cabaret:
Tuesdays: Cabaret Tip Tuesday
Wednesdays: Ask A Cabaret Question
Thursdays: Featured Cabaret Blog, Website, Performer
Fridays: Cabaret Through Time