Cabaret Tip Tuesday At McElrath Cabaret: A Packing List For Your Next Cabaret Performance–Join Us!

The amazing cabaret artist, Mary Cleere Haran! And a note about her “Mad About Manhattan” show from 2008.


Welcome to Cabaret Tip Tuesday at McElrath Cabaret, where we offer cabaret performance tips to help you put together a great performance at your next show!

Today I’m thinking about show preparation, so my tip for you today is this: use a cabaret performance packing list to stay organized.

I am a list-maker; I just need to get that out there.  I usually make up a to-do list of my most pressing items that need to get done each day, and I find a bit of satisfaction when I can cross something off the list.

Packing lists are extremely helpful for the cabaret performer.  There tends to be a lot of odds and ends that you will need when you perform, and it is just so easy to leave something vital back at home, where it will do you no good.  It also takes the worry out of the performance, because this is something that you can take control of in advance of the show, and by being organized in how you go about your cabaret career, you will save yourself a lot of needless worry, and can instead focus your attention on the material you will be presenting to your audience, which should always be your primary focus when you take the stage.

I am not going to include sound equipment or lighting equipment on this list–I will assume that the venue where you are playing will provide that for you.  (However, that is not always the case, and I would recommend going through all of your sound and light equipment prior to your show, making sure all is in proper working order, packing it well so that it survives transport, and then making a list of what you will need to bring for your show.  Will they audio record the show for you?  Find out in advance.)

I am instead going to focus on what a cabaret singer might want to consider having on hand at the venue on the day of performance.  

I will also assume that you have visited the venue at least once prior to your performance.  During this visit, you will note the size of the stage, taking measurements, and where all the electrical outlets are, as well as where the lights are located.  If you will be sitting, or setting up a keyboard, you need those measurements to determine exactly where you want these items positioned on stage, so that you can recreate the look you want accurately on the day of performance, position where the video camera can go, etc.  Take your digital camera with you and take a few shots of the room overall including the seating arrangement for the house, as well as the front, top and back of the sound and light board, if you are needing to bring additional equipment, so you have an easy way to determine if you have cables that will work with what they have on site, how many channels the mixer board has, etc.  Also take note of any other hot spots near the performance space, such as noisy bars that might be competing for the audience’s attention, food vendors, etc.  If you have special lighting effects, take note of sources of light (windows, doors) in the room–will the windows need to be covered for your light show to work?  Take note of it all prior to your show day, and make arrangements accordingly.  Also, do you have to park in a special area to load and unload?  How early can you get onto the stage to set up?  Determine this prior to your show date.

I will also assume that you have figured out what you are wearing in advance–clothing, undergarments, shoes, jewelry, including hair and makeup, and will make a list of each item you will use.  You will need to decide if you are getting dressed at home, or dressed at the venue.  Some are set up with dressing rooms, while others are not.  You want to scope this out prior to your show date, and plan accordingly.  (No fun trying to get changed in an icky tiny bathroom stall at the last minute–’nuf said.)  How close are restrooms to the dressing area?  Find out in advance.  Press and polish everything in advance, and lay out your clothes the night before so they are ready to go on performance day.

You will need some type of attractive and durable bags to pack your items into to transport them to the venue and get them to your backstage area.  Pick something with sturdy handles that will not snag on your dress clothes, if you are dressing at home.  Pack your bags, as much as possible, the day before the show, and have things lined up and ready to go on show day.  Keep a list of your last-minute items that you will add to the bags, check them off the list as you pack them, and then stow your bags in your vehicle.  Do as much of this in advance as possible so you are not rushed and worried about it on show day.  If you need help getting the bags into the venue, solicit the help of a supportive friend or family member in advance.  Be nice to them and buy them a drink or dinner when your show is done!


You might want to use this list as a starting point for creating one of your own that meets your unique performance requirements.

My list:

  • Notebook with all the songs and patter in order (of course, you are off-book, but it doesn’t hurt to have it on hand in case you want to review something–amazing how the mind can blank at the last minute before you go on.)
  • Music for your pianist and/or band
  • Set lists for you and your musicians
  • a light plot and sound instructions for lighting and sound personnel, if applicable  (This should be all set up in advance of your show date, but it never hurts to have extras on you just in case.)
  • Musicians usually pack for themselves, but you may want to pack an extra music stand light if your room is dark and they have to see the music–just in case.
  • Video camera, tripod and person to run it–This has gotten easier as cameras have gotten battery operated and smaller.  But, if you’re using an older setup, you may want duct tape to tape down any wires from camera to electrical source.  (It never hurts to pack duct tape anyway–it has the capacity to solve a lot of problems.) Always check with the venue about wires–they can be liability issues, and you probably wouldn’t be allowed to use them, or want to use them if you would then be held liable in the event of an accident.
  • a digital camera for still photographs, and someone to operate it for you–nice to get a few stills if you can
  • GPS if you are driving
  • The booker’s name and a contact phone number for someone who will be at the venue in case of emergencies
  • A sign board–not a bad idea to make up a simple sandwich board, on which you will have your act name and/or show title.
  • Response cards–you can make these yourself, or get them done at a copy shop.  (You have checked with the venue in advance to make sure it’s okay to use response cards, right?)  These are placed on the tables prior to your show.  Also figure out how you want to collect them at the end of the show.  Will the ushers pick them up for you?  Will you have an attractive receptacle in which patrons may place them as they leave the room?  Figure it out in advance, and pack accordingly.
  • Ball-point pens for the tables if you are offering response cards–make sure that they work!
  • Flyers for your next upcoming gig–to go on the tables with the response cards–put information about your cabaret website on the back
  • an extra extension cord, power surge strip, an extra music stand–infinitely handy for a variety of uses
  • an extra mic cable and a couple of male/female adapter ends–never hurts to be prepared–you might not need them, but would be bad if you did and didn’t have one
  • If your gig is outdoors–clothes pins! (Can’t tell you what a pain it is to be playing outside, and the wind picks up–music pages flying unless you clip them down.)
  • a water bottle–not to use on stage, but for before your show.
  • a nice-looking tray
  • a nice-looking glass to put on your tray–you will fill this with water from your water bottle prior to show time
  • a little folding TV tray table (if it looks nice on its own, fine, otherwise, bring a small fabric table cloth to cover it)–put your tray and water on this.  Now you don’t have to lean over to reach water on the floor to get a quick sip, and you will look classy without a plastic or aluminum water bottle destroying the mood you’ve worked so hard to create.  Tape your set list to this table, so you can take a peek if needed during the performance to stay on track.
  • a folding chair–you may be sitting, as I do in our duo act, at times during the performance when the other person has a solo, or you may want to use it as a prop for a number.  Make sure that your feet comfortably hit the ground when you are seated.  I am short, and my legs swing and don’t hit the floor on a lot of chairs, so check it out in advance.  A seat cushion might also be useful if it can be attached to the chair so that there’s no danger of it coming off during performance.  Don’t assume that the venue will have one for you–be prepared!
  • a foam mic cover in black–helps to prevent popped T’s and P’s
  • a disposable alcohol wipe–to wipe off the top of the mic before you put your foam mic cover on.  It’s pretty easy to spread germs by sticking your lips right next to or on a mic head, and you have no idea who used the mic prior to you if it is not your own equipment.  Check with the sound people first before you tinker with their expensive mics–they may have a preferred way of sanitizing.
  • a snack–it’s pretty easy to forget to eat when you are in the rush of getting ready.  You may want a little nibble prior to going on stage, so your blood sugar doesn’t drop while you are performing.  It takes energy to perform!  No dairy, no nuts or popcorn to crud up your throat!  Nothing super spicy or hot in temperature to burn your throat, either.  A little protein and carbohydrate is usually a good mix.
  • a lint roller–last-minute touch ups
  • hairspray–last-minute fixes of all types, and even to help static cling in clothing!
  • any makeup items that you might want for touch ups
  • a handheld mirror
  • a comb or brush
  • an extra pair of stockings, in case you snag them prior to performance
  • extra cuff links
  • safety pins and even a small sewing repair kit–handy for making last-minute clothing fixes
  • an extra clothes hanger–clothes seem to expand when you are getting ready away from home
  • a couple of small plastic bags–you can stow your street shoes in these and they won’t get the inside of your transport bags messy in case it’s rainy (it’s almost always rainy in the Pacific Northwest!)
  • any medicine that you might need–nasal spray, throat spray, asthma inhalers, anything that you routinely take and might need either routinely or in case of emergency–diabetics, remember your blood meter, medicine and snack
  • a small digital audio recorder–this can also be turned on prior to performance and placed on your little table or even securely on your person–never hurts to have a recording to help you analyze the performance after the fact.
  • any props that you use in your act–think boa, any hand props, etc.
  • your dress shoes–it’s always better to wear a pair of shoes that can handle whatever the weather decides to dish out the day of your show, and then when you are on site to change into your nice and clean and polished performance shoes.
  • an umbrella–just in case
  • your jewelry–I often get dressed at home, then add the long gloves, bracelets and earrings when I’m on-site.  It helps to protect the jewelry, as well as your show clothes, which can easily get snagging on jewelry.  You’ll also probably need your hands free before the show to set things up, so you don’t want to be wearing gloves and jewelry during this time in order to protect them from damage.
  • a fan–will you be performing in a tiny and warm room?  Might want to consider a small floor fan that can be placed in an out-of-the-way spot on stage to make you and your other performers more comfortable
  • a friend who will tell you a joke before you go on–you need tension busters right before.  Some people also need quiet, so give yourself the balance you need.  Preferably this person will still love you, even if you get a little crabby at times before you go on due to jitters.  Of course, the jitters will be at a minimum because you are so well prepared and organized!
  • a picture or small object that makes you smile
What else would you put on your packing list for your next cabaret performance?  Do tell down in the comments! We always love to hear from our readers!


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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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