Cabaret Tip Tuesday At McElrath Cabaret: Using Design Boards To Prepare Your Cabaret Show

Some Billy Taylor at the piano–here he plays “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free.” Learn more about Billy Taylor from Wikipedia and his website–enjoy!



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 creating a new cabaret show, so my tip for you today is this: use a design board to help you put together the look of your show.


If you are a visual person like me, you can get a piece of poster board or foamcore from Dollar Tree, and then use it to glue or tape pictures and other ideas on it that you have for your show.

Let’s say you are getting ready to create a show that you hope to perform for Valentine’s Day.  The traditional colors for the holiday are red and pink, so you start looking for things that are red and pink that you can use for your show.  If you have control over the playing space, maybe your backdrops would be in these colors, for example.  If you are using lighting, you can add the light effects and gels that you would like to consider using here as well, to give you a place to explore the overall look of your new show.

You might have fabric swatches that will be turned into clothing for the show, so it can go on the board, for example.  You will also want to put up some images to which you have an emotional connection for the theme of your show.  It might be old sheet music covers, photos of classic performers and how they looked at the time, pictures of the composers and lyricists of the songs you’re considering using working together, really anything that can tie into your ideas and the show’s theme.   Definitely ideas for pictures that you will use on your promotional materials and flyers can go here.

You can go to a hardware store and pick up strips of paint color chips in hues that could work for your show, cut out the best ones and put them on your board for inspiration, and keep a copy of those colors in your pocket when you are out and about shopping for paper for flyers and other items for your show, to keep the color theme cohesive.  Add colors and fonts, as well as other graphic elements that you want to try out on your flyers.

Consider all the senses when you add to your design board.

The show is not just what they will see.  What will audience members hear when they enter the room?  Tinkling glasses and soft conversation?  Some type of pre-show music?  It all adds to the ambience you are trying to set, so add your ideas for this to your board.  Will they smell and taste delicious appetizers being served?  Add your ideas.  What will they touch?  Seat covers, napkins–what would they look like ideally?  Add your ideas.  Some of this you might have control over, while other aspects not so much.  But if you can, try to set it up so it creates the warm and romantic atmosphere that you would want, in this case, for your Valentine’s show.

You could even do a design board for each individual song that you will perform.  If there is time to change wardrobe, this is vital, but even if not, you can put character ideas, acting choices, pictures that help you tap into the character that you want to create when you sing the song, up on the board.

Wardrobe, hair and makeup ideas can also go up here.

You could just put everything in a file folder–at least that way your ideas are all together, but it is harder to see everything at once this way.  You could also try an online version–sort of like a Pinterest bulletin board-type thing, if you think that would be more effective for you.

The key to the design board, however, is seeing all the ideas up together.  

Seeing all of your ideas up and together in one place may help you to see connections that you hadn’t considered before, will help you to not forget details you want to include and will help you in creating a show that has different levels and layers of meaning.  The look you create on stage helps to create some of the meaning, helps to give the audience visual cues as to what the show is about, so . . .

don’t leave it to chance, but plan it out in advance.  (That’s my motto for cabaret preparation!)


Have you ever created a design board for your cabaret show?  Do you have any other pre-show rehearsal tips you’d like to share?  Do tell down in the comments! We always love to hear from our readers!

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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:

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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