New York Diva Lady Rizo on the power of honesty and vulnerability


Lady Rizo (nee Amelia Zirin-Brown) is an American choreographer, comedienne, mistress of ceremonies, songwriter and singer. The Wall Street Journal summed her up best calling her a “high-class, high-energy belter who specialises in making old standards sound soulful and contemporary.”

Armed with her Manifesto of Intimacy, she knows the more real, honest and raw she is with her audience the more meaningful the experience for everyone. “When I am really in the flow I feel a direct prismatic connection with the whole audience. Authenticity is very important to me in this work. It’s important for me to acknowledge that we are in this room together, this is in real time, this is real life, this is happening right now.”

“I needed to trust that I could be incredibly vulnerable with stories that were even painful for me to tell.”

These days most of us are wrapped up in ourselves and our mobile phones. We communicate via social media and as church attendance continues to fall, cabaret (like sporting events) can provide a rare chance for individuals to share a single idea with a room full of people. With the right guide it’s a powerful thing.

Be as honest as you dare

In Cabaret Secrets Barbara Brussell compared performing cabaret to hosting a dinner party. For her it was about welcoming the guests, making them feel comfortable and sharing ideas. Lady Rizo takes this honest approach to the extreme. She wants to take the hand of everyone in the audience, look deep into their eyes and share an personal moment with them.

For Amelia Zirin-Brown, performing as her alter ego Lady Rizo, a larger than life version of herself, makes it easier to open up in front of an audience. In her show she aims to present the archetype, the larger than life, the femme fetal and then peel away the layers to reveal her most vulnerable self, someone we can all relate to.

UK versus USA

For Lady Rizo London is a very special place to perform and there are big differences between audiences in the UK and the USA. This is interesting as some artistes I’ve spoken to, notably Steve Ross, don’t find this. For Lady Rizo Americans are much louder in response but “UK audiences really know how to clap after a song, they listen with much more delicacy and,” she laughs, “they are relived that I’m intelligent.”

“UK audiences really know how to clap after a song.”

By her own admission Lady Rizo is a metropolitan performer who prefers to play big cities. If she does find herself in front of a less cosmopolitan audience she is reluctant to change her act for their benefit, even if it means alienating people. Since much of my work is on cruise ships I’m very aware of trying to appeal to as many people of possible and sacrificing gravitas for an easy laugh. Lady Rizo thinks it’s important to recognise those moments when you can go for a gag but choose not to. It’s scary and uncomfortable but sharing your own gravitas with the audience can be a gift. Choosing not to always go for the laugh means you can let the pressure build. When you do eventually add humour it’s a much greater release and often worth the wait.

“My path as an artiste has been heading towards things that frighten me.”

The magic template

Like almost everyone I’ve spoken to, Lady Rizo works with a template or “formula” as she calls it. She usually opens with a big song, then tells the audience what the rules were as far as interaction is concerned. “The whole goal,” she explained, “is to get the audience further inside of me and to trust me”. Her third number will have humour and be seductive in some way, and then she’d sing something showing raw emotion. After that she’d take a kind of break by getting an audience member up on stage to help her change. She likes to end her shows by somehow connecting everybody and inspiring them to follow their dreams, “in a way that’s not cheesy”.

“The reason I do this is because I feel love for an audience.”

Lady Rizo’s advice for anyone wanting to develop their cabaret performance is to find trusted peers and collaborators who you respect and talk to them. “Take what they give you and go deep into what your instincts say then couple that with what scares you.”

Recorded in London, 18th September 2014

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