Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Unbreak My Heart

And here is the video of my performance at the end of the week, at the Australian Cabaret Summer School showcase:

Click here to view

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Time to exhale

Friday afternoon at Cabaret Summer School, 2014.

We go into The Promethean theatre to rehearse our cabaret segments for our performance tonight.

The tables and chairs have been removed from the theatre, making the space feel smaller than usual.  I've performed here a few times, and it feels familiar.  Having been through Cabaret Summer School before, the prospect of the Showcase performance feels less daunting than it once did.

This is also the theatre where I will perform in April, with Eneias the guitarist from Brazil.  I imagine how it will feel when we come on stage together, to perform after a week of rehearsal and getting to know each other.  

There is not much more I can incorporate now; I just have to do what I've prepared.

For her "diva" act, Leanne brings out huge golden wings, which have a huge span.  Made for belly-dancing, purchased online, they are very dramatic.

When I run through my set, I feel a bit hesitant with the lyrics.  I'm over-thinking, but I get through to the end without too much trouble.

Catherine gives me a page of note and some final words of advice.  She reaffirms to me that I've got a good piece, and tells me to go for it.

I rush home to change, but first I watch the video that I made at the rehearsal.  I watch what I did this afternoon, and give myself a few tips.

There's not much time to get ready.  No time to do the warm-up ritual that I normally go through before performing.  When I arrive at the theatre, audience members are already settled at tables and buying drinks from the bar.

I'm opening the second half, after Interval.  I settle on a couch, as Matthew commands the grand piano and Mardi, Leanne, Heidi and Julie present their pieces.  During Interval I step out into the street to compose myself and do a quiet warm-up.  My husband promises to bring me a glass of wine when I come off stage; I never like to drink alcohol before performing.

Suddenly I'm on.  I start with "Listen to Your Heart" (it was trying to tell me something - I needed open-heart surgery).  Would I need medication that would prevent me from ever drinking alcohol again?  I might need to go on a little "trip" - "Come Fly with Me" - plenty of laughs from the audience.  And while I recovered from the surgery, Winter passed and Spring came - "Double Rainbow".  I hear Catherine's words in my head: "Sing this song with all your heart".  I feel all the work consolidate itself.

I come off stage, and now I can relax.  James and April throw everything into their segments, then it's time for Joanna to close the show.  At 18, she's the youngest in the group.  She has a fresh, cheerful presence and a powerful voice.  Joanne is impatient for her adult life to start; she's yearning to find love.  She wraps up her piece with an upbeat R&B tune.  It's a feel-good end to the show.

Afterwards, some of the performers drift away with friends and family.  I go with Leanne and Julie to have a drink at La Boheme.  We sit at an outside table in the balmy night, breathe deeply and discuss our shared experiences.

Next day, I catch up on sleep and don't have the energy to do much at all.  But by Sunday, I've regrouped.  I feel transformed by the past week, and resolve to get started on my preparation for the longer show I want to perform in June.

Because soon enough, it will be April, and Eneias the guitarist will arrive to work with me.

Watch video from the rehearsal

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Tonight, Tonight

Friday at Cabaret Summer School, 2014.

Our performance is tonight.

At last I've managed to get a full eight hours' sleep, and I'm feeling well-rested.

I relax at my table, as my fellow performers start presenting their songs.  During Julie's song "I'll be there for you", she leaps off the stage, settles into a chair and continues singing to a small group.  I feel a surge of good feelings.

I decide to enjoy this day to the full.  When I wake up tomorrow morning the Summer School will be over.

I'm not nervous.  I sing my new song "Listen to Your Heart", stripped down to its best lyrics.  The song works well.  We have a bit of a laugh about the huge scar on my chest - I am in the habit of showing people "the tip of my trophy".

April sings "Time Heals Everything".  She is grieving for a friend who passed away, and has trouble singing the line "but loving you".  She tries various strategies, but the thing that finally works is putting a smile on her face, and she sings it beautifully.

At lunchtime we pack up and head down the road to The Promethean theatre, where we will perform tonight.  Everyone has ten minutes to run through their segment.

Watch video of "Listen to Your Heart"

Monday, 13 January 2014

Come Fly with Me

Thursday at Cabaret Summer School 2014.

I feel deconstructed, fragmented, not together at all.

"Discombobulated" is not a term I would often use, but it's the word that springs to mind.

I'm a fan of personal development, and I'm willing to be taken to pieces, but now I need to be put back together.

We do a vocal warm-up, and straight away I start to feel better.

This morning we have to present "what we have so far".  In my case, not a lot.

Mardi leads off with "The Teddy Bears' Picnic".  Through the song she recalls winning a calisthenics competition at the age of five.  She is encouraged to act like her five-year-old self, and her physical comedy is hilarious.  She remembers that she's still got the trophy, and there is a chorus of "Bring it on stage!".  

Heidi, the lead singer of a 1950's rock band, sings "I Only Want to be with You".  She's channeling the original recording, and needs to make the song her own.  She intends it as a love song for her fiance; she's getting married in two weeks.  Heidi gets workshopped.  She has to speak the lyrics.  Then she's told to lie down and sing the song; then to sing it in the manner of wedding vows.  There's an empty Coke can on a table at the front.  It's got a little dent in it that looks like a smile.  The can represents her fiance.  Heidi sits on the edge of the stage and sings to it tenderly.  We will never look at a Coke can in the same way again.

I capitulate and agree to include in my set one song I've done before.  I sing the old Sinatra song "Come Fly with Me".  I explain that in the lead-up to heart surgery I thought I might need medication for life, which would prevent me from ever drinking alcohol again.  How would I get my "happy high?"  I might need to go on a little "trip".  Half-way through the song I begin to act "stoned". Somehow I feel freer on stage than last time I sang it; the "crazy" exercise on Monday seems to have done its job.  I'm encouraged to start slow and build up; let myself go even more.  

I scribble some patter for my set.  I think I've got it worked out.  I need to memorize the new song "Listen to Your Heart".  I look at the lyrics.  There are three verses.  No way can I learn all those words overnight.  I don't want my mind to go blank and to be left gaping stupidly on stage.  Been there, done that.  It's better to be realistic and set yourself up for success.  

One verse and the chorus.  That will be enough to set the scene for my segment, which I will call "Un-break My Heart".

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Bewitched, bothered and bewildered

It's late on Wednesday at Cabaret Summer School 2014.

When I'm finished with my French song, I go upstairs to where the other half of the group is working.  I sit down and express my anxiety.

I don't have a show.  I've only got one song.  I have no idea what I'm going to perform on Friday night.

I don't want to have to learn two new songs on Friday afternoon.

I need someone to help me.

We canvas various songs.  I desperately scan the list I brought with me, but find no joy there.

Catherine says "Work on a song you've done before".  But I want new ideas for my full-length show.

Someone tells me to make two columns, "Definite" and "Possible".  Julie, the ever-helpful social worker, pulls out her phone and googles "Songs with Heart in the title".  A bit doubtfully, she suggests "Listen to your Heart" by Roxette.  I leap at it.  That's exactly how my heart condition was diagnosed - when I listened to my heart I realized there was something not right, and went for a check-up.

The song has a lot of words, but I don't have to use them all.  It's really the chorus that I want to use.

When I go home, I discover that I already have the song in a music book, and there are pencil markings on it that indicate I've worked on it with my singing teacher.   I shove the book into my bag ready for tomorrow.

That evening, some of us go to see a Cabaret Competition.  James from our group is competing.  In fact, it turns out that I know six of the eight performers.  It's nice to sit there in the dark and let other people do the work.

James does a great job with his performance, incorporating some of the suggestions offered by mentors during the week.  We've witnessed his development over the past three days.

The winner is a "drag queen", who is very popular with the large crowd.  I know this guy and I know he's worked very hard at his art, producing his own solo shows and competing in a TV contest.

But after the show, I don't feel relaxed; I'm agitated.

I'm angry that the one contestant who exceeded the time limit was declared the winner.  But I wasn't competing - so why should I care?

I'm angry at the performer who aired her family's "dirty linen" in public.  But it's not my family - so why should I care?

I'm angry at the MC who thanked everyone except Matthew the pianist, who worked so hard in accompanying all the contestants.  But he doesn't seem unhappy - so why should I care?

I'm reacting emotionally to things that are happening around me.  Normally I'm not like this.

My friend Alison would like to stay and chat over a drink.  But I'm toxically tired, and I'm her "lift", so she agrees to leave with me.

I can't imagine being ready to perform in two night's time.

Why am I even doing this?

Saturday, 11 January 2014

This should be a doddle

Wednesday at Cabaret Summer School.

I'm tired from sleeplessness and the after-effects of a virus.  I give up on the idea of arriving early, and decide instead to get some extra rest.  I get up at 8 am and wander in late.

Catherine has commenced her segment on "Acting".   This seems a contradiction for me; I thought cabaret was about authenticity, not pretending.  But it seems there's more to it than that.

I hate acting.  I've always believed I couldn't do it.

So now I join the others in an exercise in which we pretend to be a dog, a snail and Miley Cyrus.  I knew there was a reason why I never went to acting school.

We talk about the thought behind the text, emotional flow, intention or "want", and things to avoid:
  • "indicating" or "playing" an emotion,
  • "imposing" the meaning of a song or how you want the audience to respond, and
  • "judging" a character in a song.
The point of this is that actors learn how to "recreate life", and each of us is creating our own little "play".

Sidonie now talks to us about Stage Presentation; body language, gestures, appearance and how to "own the stage".

In the afternoon, a guest tutor arrives to work with us.  He is an expert in the music of Stephen Sondheim, and in traditional French and German songs.  I speak both French and German, so I should be in my element, right?  

I'm hoping to find a way to combine my European language skills with my singing.

Except that I cannot find any German songs that I want to sing.  I've tried for the past two years, and still nothing.  And I can only find a couple of French songs that appeal to me.  Instead of trying to learn a new song, I decide to bring out "La Boheme", which I used for last year's workshop.  Last year I had to read the lyrics from the page, but now I've memorized them, so I can take this song to the next level.

It soon turns out that speaking French is more of a curse than a blessing.  I'd forgotten that poetic French has some strange idiosyncrasies.  Word endings which are normally silent are instead sounded.  These endings are even emphasized, in a rather self-conscious way.  For example, when speaking you would never sound the last "e" of the word "boheme".   But you sing it as a long "er".  I would have be better off learning the song phonetically.  

He says he's not hearing any "valse" timing from me.  I do know what a 3/4 rhythm is, but apparently it's not coming through.  He asks me to stress beat "2".  I cannot work out why; it makes no sense to me.  

I've been taught to sing my cabaret songs in a conversational way; to speak the lyrics out loud until I find the right speech cadences.  But when I sing the French words to the beat, it's not conversational; the stresses sit weirdly, on what seem to be the wrong words and syllables.  It takes all my concentration to remain focused.

My growing sense of frustration isn't helped when someone starts knocking loudly at the back door of the bar.  I can't cope with the competing beat; but no one has authority to go behind the bar to see who is there.

At the end of the session I conclude that I am never going perform this song.  It's too hard.

And perhaps that is no great loss; Australian audiences won't understand the lyrics, and French people will pour scorn upon my inept performance.  

I had hoped to get some credit for effort in learning the lyrics, but I suppose I should let go of that need.

Days later, I review the video, and I see that he wasn't really that hard on me; that I did make progress.  Maybe I should take it as a compliment that he gave me such a working-over.  

Perhaps one day I will give it another go.

Friday, 10 January 2014

The rain is falling on the roses

Tuesday at Cabaret Summer School 2014.

We pick up yesterday's discussion about how to market a cabaret show.  Sidonie shows us the progression of her posters over the past few years.  She talks about the importance of having an eye-catching image the makes an impact from a distance.

We also discuss what makes good "patter" leading into a song.   Matthew gives us some "don'ts":


  • tell us the name of the song
  • tell us something that the song already tells us
  • tell us what the song is about.
James, a professional opera singer, volunteers to have his patter workshopped.  His song is "Blame it on the Summer Night".  He talks about the background of the song and the person who wrote it.  Catherine advises him to let go of the need to let people know he's done his homework.  He talks instead about being on tour in a country town, wandering the deserted streets at night, and how that makes him feel.

Now it's my turn to present a song that I'd like to use in my performance on Friday night.  It's "Double Rainbow", a poetic song by Jobim.  The lyrics commence:

Listen, the rain is falling on the roses,
The fragrance drifts across the garden
Like the scent of some forgotten melody.
This melody belongs to you, belongs to me,
Belongs to no one.

See the way the crimson petals scatter when the wind blows,
Ah, the secret sigh of love that suddenly the heart knows.
See how a robin's there among the puddles,
And hopping through the misty raindrops,
He's come to tell us it is Spring.

See the double rainbow,
The rain is silver in the sunlight....

I suppose it's a strange song for cabaret because it doesn't have a story line.  I've never performed this song before, and I'm focused on remembering the words and fitting them to the somewhat complex melody.

Matthew and Catherine want me to work with the images and convey them more strongly to the audience.  I sing it through a couple of times, but they're not very happy with my song.  They press me to explain what these lyrics mean to me. 

I have to take a few deep breaths before I can respond.  I blurt out, "This is my 'grateful to be alive' song".  

That's all I can say before I dissolve in tears.  While I was recovering from heart surgery, the winter passed, Spring came, and it felt good just to be alive. 

They express sympathy for a moment, then they make me sing it again, while I'm still crying.  They urge me to push through the emotion and keep singing while I sob in front of the whole group.

It's five months since my heart surgery, and this is the first time I have ever cried about it.  At the time I was focused on my recovery and being well enough to go to Boston.  I didn't allow myself to wallow in self-pity.

But now I do, and it feels good.  As I reach the half-way point of the song, I start breathing more deeply and find I can sing again.  

They advise me to see each image in my mind, breathe it in and let it come out, and "Don't think about the singing when you are on stage."