One of the highlights of Matt Howe’s recent shows at Black Fox and Germano’s was Burning Man, a song written for him by Jeff Blumenkrantz at the suggestion of Matt’s husband Dan Adler. Perfect for these burning days…
Matt Howe has added to his already-terrific DC cabaret calendar and now has all sorts of other goodies, including a great essay on cabaret, links to resources, and Websites of DC performers.
Get to it at http://dccabaret.info/
(Yes, I really need to update my blogroll)
Matt Howe’s time at Yale must really have been invigorating ! Not only did he do a terrific piece about his experiences for this blog, he’s got a great essay on the Songspeak site about the notion of having a “movie in your mind” when you sing: “By creating the specifics and drawing deeply from your own experiences, you start building a movie inside your head that you “run” when you sing the song. And, yes, by being that specific it really comes across! As long as you are truthful and not “schmacting” (i.e. hammy acting), the audience will respond.”
Thanks to Matt for the great photos. You can see more on Flickr.
Publicity Counts … If You Can Get It
by Matt Howe
I am in a reflective mood after presenting my first solo cabaret show. “Happy Endings” played at the Sitar Arts Center Friday and Saturday night, March 19 and 20.
I’m very grateful to the people who bought tickets to see my show. I had enthusiastic audiences comprised of friends (and friends of friends) and family in the 84-seat deLaski Theater.
I am frustrated, however.
I wish I could have reached people I do not know and interested them in attending my show.
Certainly there is a cabaret audience out there in D.C.?
As most anyone who has produced a cabaret show knows, it requires a lot of work behind the scenes in order to get to opening night.
There’s artistic work to be done: song repertoire; keys; arrangements; patter; etc. Then there’s production work to be done: renting the venue that your show will be performed at; deciding what you’ll wear; hiring someone to do sound and lighting; and managing your audience once they arrive at the venue. This is enough to keep any cabaret artist busy up to and including opening night!
On top of all that, it’s important to get the word out that your show is taking place so that people can attend. This is also known as publicity. And this is my frustration with the cabaret scene in Washington, D.C.
Let me tell you what I think I’ve been doing right:
In the past, I have publicized shows I’ve participated in by using a few tools: postcards that I handed out or hung on bulletin boards or placed in theaters, bars or restaurants; emails to friends and family; announcements on the D.C. Cabaret Network’s monthly electronic newsletter; postings to Social Network sites like Facebook or MySpace; and listings in local newspapers or online sites.
For “Happy Endings” I asked a friend who writes press releases for a living to help me create one for my show. I partnered with my “cabaret buddy”, Maris Wicker, to share expenses of renting the venue. This also created a “hook” in our press release: We were presenting a “Cabaret Doubleheader” comprised of our two shows.
Two weeks before my event, I sent my press release to The Washington Post, Washington City Paper, DCist.com, Metro Weekly, Dupont Current, DC Agenda, and several online “event sites” like upcoming.yahoo.com and localist.com.
Only Dupont Current listed my show.
If you flip through any of the newspapers I mentioned, you will find local listings for events in music, theater, galleries, and museums.
But no cabaret.
In the past, I’ve had hit-or-miss luck getting the same newspapers to list the cabaret show I was appearing in.
I’ve tried every means of sending my press release: I’ve emailed it. I’ve snail mailed it. I’ve faxed it. And I’ve filled out forms on the newspapers’ websites. (This includes various combinations of all of those means!)
Let me clarify what I’m talking about here. By sending my press release, I am asking the newspapers to LIST MY SHOW as occurring the weekend of March 19 and 20. I am not asking for a review, an interview, a “best pick,” or even a cover story. I am simply asking that they list my show times, venue, and maybe a short “blurb” about the cabaret.
I am hoping a listing in these newspapers could attract audience members I don’t know – maybe a local or visiting couple who enjoy show tunes and intimate singing.
Here’s the problem: How would that couple possibly know I was performing at 9:30 pm on Friday if none of the local papers printed it?
I’ve had this conversation with several D.C. cabaret folks and they all say it is a constant frustration and problem that everyone producing a cabaret show in Washington has. Unless you’re sponsored by a “big” theater like Signature or Arena or The Kennedy Center, the papers seem uninterested.
I don’t believe that a listing in a local newspaper would generate huge ticket sales. I realize that since I am not Barbara Cook or Andrea Marcovicci, most of my audience will be comprised of friends and family.
But my fiscal bottom line would have been better with a half dozen or so extra audience members each night I performed.
And isn’t it true that those audience members who attended my show because they saw a listing in a certain newspaper might come to someone else’s cabaret show listed in that same newspaper?
Most of the local cabaret artists I know produce their own shows with their own money. And who has the funds in their budget to buy an ad in these papers? I priced ad rates, and could not justify running a small $300 to $600 ad in, say, Metro Weekly, for one issue. Would I recoup my expense? Would it generate ticket sales? Probably … but it’s also not in my budget. Unfortunately, we rely on these free listings to help publicize our shows.
Could I have done a better job publicizing my show? Sure! I suppose I could have plastered my postcards all around town (instead of just Playbill Café, Café Luna and a few other establishments). And perhaps I could have telephoned and followed up with the newspapers I sent my press release to. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time.
Our cabaret shows are sometimes presented for only one or two evenings. If the newspapers do not list us, our shows evaporate into the air and a potential audience was never alerted that the shows were occurring in the first place.
This is the problem we D.C. cabaret artists face. We all do a great job getting friends and family to attend. But we all face an uphill battle getting the word out to the rest of D.C. that our shows are being performed.
I spent considerable time, energy and money producing my show, “Happy Endings”. I don’t want to sound ungrateful to the people who drove, parked, and paid to come see me. However, I think there is a huge problem with the local newspapers when it comes to listing the genre of cabaret performances in their entertainment guides. And I’m not sure how to solve it.
Here’s some questions that might spur some discussion:
- How do we build a healthy, solid cabaret audience in Washington, D.C.?
- What do Chicago, L.A., and New York (all with thriving cabaret scenes) do better than us?
- What else could we do as performers and directors and pianists to make sure a paying audience knows our shows are happening?
- How do we get the newspapers to consider us and list our shows?
And here’s some ideas I’ve had to address all of this:
- Shouldn’t we all print the web addresses for the D.C. Cabaret Network and Michael’s cabaret blog in our programs?
- Could we call our local newspapers and ask, “Where’s your cabaret listings?
- Could some of us combine what we know about publicity into a central “database”? For example, a list of local newspapers, their addresses, emails, and websites … perhaps the names of specific people working for the newspaper who successfully listed our cabaret shows in the past?
- See the cabaret calendar I created, and direct people to it: http://my.calendars.net/dc_cabaret_shows
I’m hoping this post on Michael’s blog will engage D.C.’s small but vibrant cabaret community to see if we can think of some answers. (And maybe some lurkers from other cities with cabaret communities will have some ideas?)
Maris Wicker and Matt Howe presented a “Cabaret Doubleheader” at the Sitar Arts Center last night, with each presenting their separate show, all under the terrific music direction of Alex Tang.
Wicker was up first in a springy-yet-cabaretish ensemble of black chiffon printed with peachy pink blossoms. Her show, The Passage of Time, was indeed inspired by the first line of the James Taylor song, “The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time” which Wicker said had become, of late, a mantra for her. Highlights of the show included a lovely medley of the Waters of March and You Can’t Rush Spring, and a quietly passionate reading of How Glory Goes. I also have to say that her anecdotes were some of the most movingly charming patter I’ve heard on a cabaret stage in a while.
Matt Howe’s show, Happing Ending, took a comic exploration on the thesis “life is a musical, and where’s my happy ending!” That search for a happy ending gave a framework for a variety of material from a medley of “happy” songs, Cool Rider (from Grease 2), and even I Honestly Love You. Particularly effective was the way he presented his title song twice in way that reflected the journey he took in the show. It was great to see Matt look so comfortable on stage, and see him effective deploy both his sense of humor and his touching seriousness.
On a personal note, here’s something that really thrilled me. I happen to know that both of these performers are people who regularly invest a lot of resources – time, thought, effort, and yes, money, into their craft. And it is great to see those investments pay dividends with each being the best I’ve seen them!
The program repeats tongiht (Saturday) with Maris Wicker at 8:00pm and Matt Howe at 9:30. Tickets and info.
The Passage of Time set list*:
- Walkin’ Shoes
- Secret O’ Life
- The Best of Times / It’s a Good Day
- Times Like This
- Waters of March / You Can’t Rush Spring
- A Child is Born
- Time Enough for Love
- Happy Talk
- I Do What I Can With What I Got
- Our Love Rolls On
- Love Is Here to Stay
- How Glory Goes
- On a Clear Day (You Can See Forever)
- Encore: My Ship
Happy Endings set list:
- Born in a Trunk
- Happy Endings
- Wanna Sing a Show Tune
- Happy Medley
- Cool Rider
- Hymn for a Sunday Evening
- Nobody Does It Better
- I Never Has Seen Snow
- I Honestly Love You
- Losing My Mind
- Isn’t This Better ?
- Thank God I’m Old
- It’s a New World
- Encore: I Love a Piano
*I love the way they had their set lists discreetly taped to the floor of the stage.