The lovely Barbara Cook!
Learn more about Barbara Cook at her website.
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 age as it relates to cabaret performance, so my tip for you today is this: use your age as an asset to your cabaret performance.
I am female and in my forties. I feel pretty comfortable with who I am, but I have noticed, at least around our neck of the woods, not so very many performance opportunities exist for middle-aged ladies. I am thinking specifically of theatre, where theatre administrators, for one reason or another, select seasons that do not offer many roles for this gender and age, and thus for the very few roles that are available, the competition is quite fierce. I am guessing that this varies nationwide, and that perhaps more opportunities are available in larger theatre towns, but in smaller towns, where there are only so many theatres to begin with, it can be very difficult to get cast. (And it makes me feel like I should switch my name to “The Ancient of Days” or “Methuselah.” There was a birthday card that had a saying once: ”Fifty is young–to bitter and spiteful people in their eighties,” but I digress . . .)
There is a noticeable age-ism that is society-driven. Take a look at how many middle-aged women you see on your favorite television shows, for example, or see in advertisements in favorite magazines, and draw your own conclusions. This is nothing new. I blame my ancestors, who were big into whatever is beautiful is by extension also good and true (thanks, Aristotle).
Nevertheless, I do see a ray of hope in this unfair situation, and that is in cabaret. Cabaret embraces everyone, young and old, but there is definitely a place for the mature, whatever your gender, in this arena. I see many if not most of the performers in the local area falling into this category of middle-aged and female, which is great. Many superb standards require that you have had some life experience–in love, loss, work, relationships–in order to make sense of the lyrics, which is obviously key to communicating them to an audience when you sing. I also find that women in my cohort would like to see themselves portrayed on stage more often, and since we are the ones who very often are the ticket-buyers in a family, it makes sense to give this audience what it wants, namely, us! Not exclusively, but at least be represented more equitably.
The song selection you make will have a bit to do with your age, in that you want to sing songs that are age-appropriate for you, but also songs for which you have the life experience to sing. Some youngsters are old souls who in a few years time have been through a lot, and they have the ability to sing material that is usually geared for those with more years and make it work, but they are few. And nobody really wants to hear me sing a bunch of ingenue songs at my age and vocal range, unless it’s a comedy bit, which it would clearly turn into if I was singing this material.
I am heartened by stories such as this as a performing friend of ours recently reminded me: Ms. Barbara Cook after her Broadway career. Prior to the 1970s, she was “the” lyric soprano ingenue lead in several Broadway productions, most notably The Music Man and She Loves Me. But in the 1970s, the theatre jobs started to dry up as she got older. She eventually teamed with Mr. Wally Harper, and together they went on to perform, featuring Ms. Cook as a solo singer, in such top venerated venues as Carnegie Hall and the White House. With her multi-award-winning one-woman shows, she made many successful recordings, sang with symphony orchestras, did cabaret shows and continues to have an amazing career, post-Broadway. (She’s doing a new show at Feinstein’s in April!) She did and does not let her age (or anything else for that matter) stop her from brilliantly acting songs on stage for an audience, and neither should you or I.
I love Barbara Cook–her career encourages me, and I hope it does for you as well.
How do you use your age as an asset in your cabaret performances? Let us know down in the comments, and if you like this post, like and follow us!