Despite its resurgence, it’s tough to make a living solely as a cabaret artiste in traditional clubs. It’s hard to find an audience and many venues have simply disappeared. Andrea Marcovicci told me, “With determination it is possible to make a living in cabaret rooms but since the downturn in the economy, one has to be realistic about fees.”
Lisa Martland knows better than most the challenges any new cabaret artiste will face, “Cabaret is not an easy genre to break into or make any kind of living from. Artistes need to be prepared to put a huge amount of time and resources (if they are available) into self-promotion and marketing.”
That’s certainly the case for artistes offering lesser known fare to small discerning audiences but the good news is that mainstream cabaret isn’t dead, it’s just moved... to sea. The cruise ship industry is huge and getting bigger all the time. There you’ll find intimate lounges, state-of-the-art theatres and a ready-made audience. For the right artistes, there’s a lot of work out there and a good living to be made.
You’re here because you need help. Good help is hard to find. There are no cabaret schools, few cabaret consultants and hardly any of the numerous musical theatre schools offer any comprehensive training in the art of cabaret. And yet, it’s the way thousands of singers make their living.
Good live entertainment in Working Men’s Clubs has almost disappeared, which is cause for concern. It’s where I and generations of performers learned their craft and served their apprenticeships. Having survived some of the clubs I worked, everything else seems a breeze. As Frank Sinatra said, “If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere.”
Artistic Director for Belinda King Productions, Lisa Cottrell, knows first hand the challenges a solo artiste can face:
“I hear a lot of singers say they want to go solo with their own cabaret. They often have no idea of how difficult it is - getting music arranged, finding the right agent and building up a reputation within the business are just a few of the hurdles they face. There are no sets, costumes or dancers to support you - you’re on your own. Getting experience as a solo singer is vital and there are not many venues left where new performers can hone their craft. The demise of variety and the growth of television talent shows have created a breed of young performers who think that success comes instantly. It takes a lot of hard work, self-belief and determination to be a successful cabaret artiste. None of the audience care that you may have spent twelve hours waiting for your delayed flight, or that your luggage was lost in Istanbul and you’re wearing a borrowed suit. You have to enjoy airports, packing, unpacking, meeting new people, the waiting around and ultimately be happy with your own company, as I’m sure at times it’s quite a lonely life.”
She’s right. Opportunities for aspiring cabaret artistes to polish their skills are few and far between. Who teaches these people how to structure a show? How to talk to an audience? How to get an agent?
For years after my inauspicious start in that English pub, I was desperate for someone to help me with my act. Old pros told me about “Act Doctors” who could be hired to observe an act and offer improvements. Apparently though there were none left. They’d all died along with variety. I was left to fend for myself, rely on my intuition and learn from my mistakes.
Of course, these days my shows change significantly from one venue to another. What’s perfect for a small London jazz club might be hopeless on a large American cruise ship. Factors like audience demographic, nationality, age and the size of the room all have an impact on the show. I work to a set of self-imposed rules, which dictate my approach and help me customise every performance. It is those rules that I will share with you here.
I’m not going to teach you how to sing, improve your posture or how to arabesque. What I will do is show you how to create and present your own show. In these pages I’ll share everything with you that I’ve learned so far, but before we get too carried away, let’s see if you’ve really got what it takes.