DC-based cabaret artist Dean Reichard went to Boston earlier this month to do a cabaret workshop with Lina Koutrakos and Rick Jensen. His report is below. (Thanks, Dean!!!)
The team will be presenting future workshops in Minneapolis (April 4-6), Chicago (June 27 – 29) and Palm Springs (May 16-18). For more details contact Tim Schall — firstname.lastname@example.org .
THE BOSTON CABARET INTENSIVE
By Dean Reichard
I braved the 8-degree temperatures in Boston and attended the Boston Cabaret Intensive last weekend, January 4-6. The workshop began at 9am on Friday January 4 and we hit the ground singing! Classes were held at The Cambridge Center for Adult Education (CCAE), on Brattle Street near Harvard Square. There were 14 participants in the workshop. The instructors, Lina Koutrakos and Rick Jensen, were fantastic. Lina is an accomplished singer/songwriter and Rick is an accomplished songwriter/arranger/musical director/singer as well. In addition to being great performers, they both displayed a real knack for teaching the art of cabaret. We seemed to work in half-day “chunks” of time. That is most of the exercises we did would last 3-1/2 to 4 hours, and then we would break for lunch or for the evening. The weekend culminated in a showcase on Sunday evening featuring each student performing one of the songs they worked on in the workshop. Unfortunately, due to Delta’s flight schedule, I was unable to participate in the showcase. I was flying home on the last flight out while the showcase was going on. The 14 students came from all around the Boston area, except for me. I think the furthest traveler other than myself had a two-hour drive to class each day.
The concept of subtext was one of the major themes of the weekend. The first morning, each student worked on one song. After singing it through once, Lina would begin asking the performer what they were thinking about while singing. This was usually as enlightening for the performer as it was for the class and for the instructor. Lina then helped the performer further develop their subtext and thereby make the performance much more personal. Sometimes Lina would have the performer envision a different scene in their mind at various points in the song, and sometimes Lina would “portray” the object of the song and actually converse with the singer during the delivery of the song. By the end of 15 or 20 minutes, the singer was able to communicate message of the song in a much more intense and personal way. Then the participants, Rick, and Lina would spend about 5 more minutes discussing ways in which the performance improved and recapping how that improvement was brought about. So not only the singer on the stage, but each and every participant in the class gained something from the experience. The afternoon session was similar, but Lina emphasized that each performer was to “start where they left off” in the morning session so we didn’t reinvent anybody’s wheel. So, if you had nervous energy the first time and fidgeted, you were to drop that. If you had sung your first song “at” the audience (class) instead of “to” them, you were to drop that. This really helped everyone to stay focused and on a continued path to improvement as performers.
Saturday morning we did a really fun patter exercise. Everyone was given 10 minutes or so to write patter for the same song and music for the first verse of the song. We were instructed to write down ALL of our thoughts for the patter and NOT to edit it before it was heard by the class. Each of us got up and recited our patter (reading your own writing was okay for this exercise), and sang the first verse of the song in a manner that was consistent with the patter. Then, after reading it and singing the verse, Lina and Rick gave each person pointers on how the patter could be edited down to its essence and made more funny, personal, heartwarming, endearing, or whatever it was supposed to be. Also, we discussed how the style in which the song was sung should match the tone of the patter. In other words, if your patter was angry, the song should at least start angry. A funny story should be matched with a more whimsical delivery of the song. It was amazing how many ways there were to introduce and also to perform a single song!
The afternoon session on Saturday was devoted to another song for each class participant. You could do one of the two songs you had already done for the class or choose a new one (prior to the class we were all instructed to bring 5 or 6 songs). This session was similar to the two sessions on Friday, but everybody was better because we were following Lina’s advice to “pick up where we left off.” Saturday night we were treated to a performance by Lina and Rick. They performed a very entertaining show featuring highlights from their recent award-winning NYC Cabaret Show “Torch.” Tim Schall opened for Lina. Both performers were excellent. Lina’s material ranged from standards, to pop/rock influences, to original music by Lina, Rick, and Lina and Rick! For me, the highlights of the night were “You Fascinate Me So,” and the Lina Koutrakos original “Oh My My,” but this show really had something for everyone to love. Lina is a riveting performer.
Sunday was devoted to a recap of Saturday night’s performance and putting together the student showcase for Sunday evening. It was really enlightening to have the rare opportunity to pick apart a performance the next morning with the performer to discuss how concepts learned in class were applied in the show. A great learning experience. The rest of the day was spent preparing for the show that evening. It was very useful to me, even though I was not slated to perform, to observe the process of threading together a show based on what was available from each performer and how they could be strung together. I could tell from the dress rehearsal that the show was going to be good, and as I touched down at BWI, I called one of my new friends via cell phone and heard that it went over very well.
As important as the things I learned were the contacts made at the conference. It’s great to meet people who share your interest in cabaret. For example, two of the participants were songwriters as well as performers, eager to have their songs heard. Singing in a different city, I was in a unique position to be of help to them in this endeavor. I am considering, along with one of the other participants, the idea of doing a two person “bi-city” show in both Boston and DC. I think I would prefer Summer in Boston! So I really enjoyed the people I met, AND learned a lot in the process.
Overall, the Boston Cabaret Intensive was a great experience that I would recommend to anyone who is looking for some intensive cabaret training. The Intensive is offered in various cities. Recently it has been offered in Santa Fe and St. Louis. The possibility of offering the course in DC was discussed, but nothing was formalized.
Photo courtesy of Matt Howe