Joe Peck’s Yale Notes

joe-peckJoe Peck was one of the fellows at this year’s Cabaret Conference at Yale, and was good enough to send this report.

Report From 2009 Cabaret Conference At Yale

Wow!  How do I describe one of the most amazing experiences ever?  Please understand, I used to work as an association executive.  I’ve been to A LOT of conferences.  But this one takes the cake!!

From day one, Erv Raible and Pam Tate were on the ball making sure everything was begun right for each and every one of the 37 participants.  Our welcome at the Swing Dorm on the Yale Campus was well organized and provided information necessary to know what to expect for the next ten days.  Except nothing could have prepared us for the incredible amount of information and insight we would be receiving. 

The faculty assembled for this conference was, to a person, fantastic.  Cabaret stalwarts and experts  Erv and Pam were joined by an impressive group of talented performer-teachers:  Tex Arnold, Patrick Brady,  Michele Brourman, Tovah Feldshuh, Rita Gardner, Shelly Markham, Laurel Masse, Amanda McBroom, Sharon McNight, Pamela Myers, Jay Rogers, and Julie Wilson. There isn’t enough space here to talk about the myriad accomplishments of each.  Those with websites are linked here.  Check them out: you’ll be amazed.

Students were immediately put on the hot seat.  This wasn’t a conference of just listening and taking notes – we were going to be DOING and learning.  We all had to sing a song from our book to introduce ourselves to the entire faculty and student body.  After we sang – while we still stood at the mic on stage – faculty gave us oral notes on our performance and the student body provided written reactions for us to read later.  It was like being at an audition, but this time the panel behind the table actually gave you helpful feedback.  Ha!  These comments – all of them – were invaluable.

And then we got our wake-up call – the first evening of faculty performances by Amanda McBroom and Tovah Feldshuh – our first examples of what cabaret can be.  Amanda and her right-hand gal/music director Michele Brourman were the epitome of smooth, beautiful musicality with amazing emotional vulnerability and impact.  In marvelous contrast, Tovah Feldshuh brought us a cast of characters – fantastic monologues and soliloques accompanied by well-placed songs from an entire exquisitely-acted array of characters.

That night was followed by other outstanding performances throughout the conference.  Besides Amanda and Tovah, we saw shows from the entire faculty as a group, Laurel Masse, Julie Wilson, Jay Rogers, and Sharon McNight.  Each show had a different feel, a different personality, a unique point of view – smooth jazz with personal anecdotes, balls-to-the-wall comedy complimented by great vocals, subtle personal humor seamlessly interwoven between music and patter, a marvelous pastiche of individual sounds, styles and personas, etc.  We saw performers doing songs they’d written, songs written FOR them (it pays to make friends with songwriters), and songs we all know taken in a new direction.

Of course there were the classroom sessions.  We had small groups of students performing individually for two or three faculty at a time and getting even MORE personalized input.  Next we came together in larger “curtain call” groups which would be our final performance teams.  Here we had to put together an entire show – song list, theme, patter, staging, rehearsal, etc. guided by an advisory team of faculty members.  Then we had the chance to sign up for individual sessions with faculty we wanted to learn still more from.  Talk about being in cabaret hog-heaven!!!  There were also full student body lectures on topics critical to every cabaret artist such as sound & lights, the history of cabaret, the business of cabaret, a director’s panel, writing patter, a music director’s panel and what a critic expects. 

Of course, we were learning all the time.  Learning while we walked to and from class, at meals in Hogwarts (not really, but it looked like it), at the performances, in our rehearsals.  Learning from the faculty, from our own attempts, from other students’ work.  We heard standards, jazz, Latin music, pop, country, special material, even a Marilyn Manson song (yes, THAT Marilyn Manson).  Our horizons were broadened, our hearts encouraged, and our minds enriched.  It was a heady experience.  Most impressive was the supportive atmosphere engendered by everyone at the Cabaret Conference At Yale.  I guarantee that friendships were begun that week which will last through our careers and lives.

At the end we had an evening FULL of cabaret.  3 student shows – full-on, well planned, well performed, and well produced cabaret shows.  It was the perfect way to end this incredible conference and to send each of us on our way to put into practice what we learned.  The closing night party was the icing on the cake.

This year we had 3 DC area artists at the conference – me, Justin Ritchie, and Angie Gates.  With the way they represented for DC at the conference, we should all look forward to seeing more from Justin and Angie very soon.  And, yes, I can’t wait to do my best to implement what I learned at Yale! 

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