This past spring, my daughter and stepdaughter were patiently awaiting letters from the colleges they had applied to but, ironically, I was the first one in the family to get an acceptance letter: “Oh my God!” I screamed. “I’m going to Yale!”
If I had to describe my experience at the Cabaret Conference at Yale, I’d say it was one part boot camp, one part summer camp and one (very large) part epiphany. For ten amazing days, away from the usual markers of home/work/children, I lived and breathed cabaret, surrounded by people as passionate about it as I. The stunning Yale campus, complete with quaint courtyards, incredible architecture and a dining hall straight out of Hogwarts, underscored the uniqueness of the experience: I was clearly not in Rockville anymore.
Our schedule was grueling: early morning classes, a quick lunch, various workshops, a hurried dinner, then the evening treat – a faculty concert nearly every night. These concerts were one of the highlights of the program. At each concert I watched a faculty member bring to life some of the feedback and advice I’d heard them give me or a colleague that week. Every concert was completely different and utterly personal, which reminded me that as much as I admired and even envied some of the voices and acting abilities of the other participants, the point wasn’t about being other than me: it was about becoming me.
One of my favorite experiences was working in small groups, the eight of us rotating among the various faculty teams. As the week went on, our group formed a strong bond. We saw each other start to take risks, approach the same song from a completely different vantage point, drop some of the polish and add more truth. Of course, Sally Mayes helped speed that process along with her acting exercises that, by the end of our session, had all of us in tears. I went through a lot of tissues that week.
It’s difficult to sum up what I learned at Yale. Some of what I learned was captured in my notebook and on digital voice recorder, and I still refer to these notes when I work on a song. But I know I’m still absorbing what I learned, like a saturated field slowly drinking in the moisture. Now when I watch a cabaret artist perform or begin work on a new song, I know I’m seeing, hearing and thinking in a way that I didn’t before – before the summer I went to Yale.