Michael Roulston is one of my cabaret heroes. A prolific talent whose unstated demeanour belies his countless achievements. I know him as a pianist but he also sings, writes and produces. His collaborations with Dusty Limits and Sara Louise Young have earned him respect and plaudits from critic and peers. Lucky for us he was happy to share his own cabaret secrets. If you’re a fan of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and (like me) have always fancied taking a show there, Michael has some great advice to get you on your way. Last year he had four shows there so I asked him if it’s worth the effort. “Edinburgh is like a trade fair for cabaret,” he says, “It’s the way to have work seen and it spirals out from there.”
He told me the new exciting feature in Edinburgh is the Free Fringe. “It’s a workable financial model. You have a smaller risk because the venues make their money from the bar sales and the artistes make money from donations on the door.” Which is all well and good, but how does a seasoned cabaret star like Michael feel about holding his begging bucket out at the end of each show? With panache it seems. “We wrote the bucket into the show,” he says, “and we have a song to encourage people to give generously.” Michael’s friend and collaborator Dusty Limits likes to say, “If you put £5 in you’ll get a firm handshake, £10 gets you a kiss on the cheek and if you put £20 in come and see us backstage.”
His strategy has paid great dividends. “You’re guaranteed an audience and you’ll often end up with two or three times the number of people that you would if they were paying for tickets.”. More than that, many of Michael’s shows have been picked up by producers and one, Julie Madly Deeply with Sarah-Louise Young, went on to triumph in London’s West End.
We talk about the best way to distribute flyers for your shows, why you need to keep things simple with a few people as possible and the value of open mic shows.
If you want to take a show to Edinburgh Michael says it helps if you have a good showreel or have some existing pedigree, and then (if you don’t have a producer to do it for you) contact the venues direct.
Michael also shared his musical journey from dodgy clubs to his current success. He’s always been fascinated with the live connection good cabaret makes with an audience. For him, spontaneity is part of the magic and it’s important to get the audience on side as quickly as possible. As he said, “If you’ve brought them together, you’ve warmed them up well, they’re connected, they’re happy and they’re feeling safe, then you can go anywhere.”
We discuss the challenges of social media, original work and maintaining artistic integrity whilst trying to earn a living.
Recorded in London 5th November 2013