Ask A Cabaret Question Wednesday At McElrath Cabaret–What Is The Fourth Wall And How Does It Apply To Singing A Cabaret Song? Join the Conversation!

 

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Here is pianist George Feyer with selections from his album entitled Echoes of Paris.  He recorded several “Echoes of . . .” albums.  He also recorded a couple of piano albums at the Cafe Carlyle:  Plays My Fair Lady (1957), and A Nightcap with George Feyer (1965).  There is a Wikipedia entry for Mr. Feyer, a small mention in Intimate Nights by James Gavin, as well as several You Tubes–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: What is the fourth wall and how does it apply to singing a cabaret song?

 

The fourth wall is an acting term.  It refers to the actor’s ability to block out the audience, and yet peer into the house as if the audience is not there.  The actor must fill the moment onstage by seeing in his or her mind’s eye whatever is appropriate to the script.

 

For example, I played Meg in Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party, a dark comedy, in a small–127-seat–theatre.

 

Athena McElrath as Meg in Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party

Photo by Llew Rhoe

It takes place in England in a beach town, and this character lived on a house right on the beach.  At one point, one of the other characters asks Meg a question about the beach.  I would then look out into the audience as I said my response, but I wasn’t seeing the audience–I was seeing the grey sky, and the rolling waves, and smelling the seaweed and hearing the seagulls.  I was using the fourth wall not to see the audience, but instead to see in my mind’s eye the beach, which then affected the way the lines came out of my mouth–the subtext, which we talked about last week.  (PS–If you want to learn how to play subtext, do some Pinter.  If you’ve ever played Pinter, you’ll know exactly what I mean–long pauses that must be filled with subtext!)  In this style of method acting, it is said that the actor plays to the fourth wall, and does not make visual contact with audience members individually.

 

In cabaret entertainment, you do the exact opposite.

 

You have to “break” the fourth wall and play to the audience.  Cabaret rooms are typically smaller spaces than large theatres, and the audience is usually seated much closer to the performer than they would be in a theatre.  It is very noticeable if you are looking over someone’s head, for example, rather than looking them in the face when you are so close to each other.

 

Another point is that you need to break the fourth wall and play to the audience in order to create the type of intimacy for which cabaret entertainment is known.  A cabaret audience, if they are a good audience, will want to participate with you as the entertainer, to follow you along the particular path that you are taking them down for your specific show.  They want to feel that you are relating to them personally, as if you are singing the show just for them.

 

This takes some practice and some getting comfortable with letting people look at you on stage, and you looking audience members in the face to communicate the meaning of your songs to them.  Acting training will definitely help the singer in this regard.  I also always try to look my best, so I don’t have to give my clothing or appearance a thought when I’m on stage–I already know it looks good and works for all the moves that I’m going to do.  One way to try to practice is to sing your songs while looking in a mirror, to get comfortable with looking at someone while you sing.  Then try it with family members, to get used to what it feels like.  You may find that it is much easier to do this with someone whom you don’t know.  I often feel this way, that I would rather perform to a house that doesn’t know me at all, because then I figure any response I get is a true one based on what I do on stage, rather than friends or family cheering me on to make me feel better or so they don’t feel like they are being rude.  it’s weird, I know.  Some people feel much more comfortable performing for friends and family.  All I can say is to try it out both ways and see what works for you.  Of course, eventually you will have some fans that become regulars in your audience.  These people are so wonderful, and it is a real treat to get to entertain them!  They have seen me doing all kinds of different songs and theatre shows, so it is a challenge to show them a different side of me each time I take the stage, but that is part of the great objective put to each and every cabaret entertainer.

 

So this is your cabaret homework for today:  Pick your two favorite video recordings of the same classic cabaret song performed well by two different singers, and notice how they vary from each other in terms of playing to the audience or playing to a fourth wall.

 

So how do you work with the fourth wall, and how do you apply it to your cabaret songs?  Let us know down in the comments section! 

 

I truly look forward to your joining the conversation with your comments! 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.

 


Till next time, 


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 or cabaret website link from now through Thursday.  Link is below.

 

 

Weekly Post Lineup At McElrath Cabaret:

Mondays:  Cabaret Soiree Cabaret Blog Link Party

Tuesdays:  Cabaret Tip Tuesday

Wednesdays:  Ask A Cabaret Question

Thursdays:  Featured Cabaret Blog, Website, Performer

Fridays:  Cabaret Through Time

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About Athena at McElrath Cabaret

Athena McElrath is an entertainer with a love for theatre and singing. She enjoys delving in the area of historical cabaret, researching the singers and clubs that were in business from before 1920 to the present, in New York and beyond.
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