Andrea Marcovicci is currently entertaining audiences at Le Chat Noir with “Andrea Sings Astaire,” her very personal tribute to the one and only Fred Astaire. She is also hoping that cabaret will find new artists and audiences in the New Orleans theatre community. It’s one thing to hope for that to happen, quite another to take part in making it happen. Marcovicci took action by treating aspiring cabaret performers to a talkback session after last Sunday’s show. She and her musical director, Shelly Markham, fielded questions from interested actors and singers and led the room in an open discussion on all things cabaret. They offered a wealth of information and covered such topics as putting a show together, making well-known songs your own, and dealing with the joys and pitfalls of cabaret performances.
Marcovicci stated that her shows take at least a year to put together because there are so many undiscovered treasures in every songbook. She advises that you must “really do your homework.” Reach for the obscure songs that you might not have ever heard before and try to incorporate them into your show. When asked how to find the sheet music for obscure songs, she immediately offered ebay as a source. There are also collectors that can be contacted for help in finding hidden musical gems. Bob Grimes in San Francisco and Michael Levine in New York are two collectors with whom she has dealt personally. As far as patter between songs is concerned, Marcovicci advised cabaret artists not to write the script of the show ahead of time and not to memorize what they are going to say. She advised that you should never learn it word for word, just say the ideas aloud to make sure that you have a story. With a sideways grin, she added, “But you should write down the jokes.”
Perhaps the greatest concern among the artists in attendance was how to put your own personal stamp on a song that everyone has heard countless times. Marcovicci’s response was to go back to the sheet music and ignore the recorded versions of a song you’re interested in performing. She said that you might find “it’s not the song you thought it was in the first place.” Another tip was to combine two or three songs into a song cycle. It automatically becomes a new version of the chosen songs, and it allows you to use more material. Never feel as though you have to sing one song for five minutes. If a song says the same thing three times, it won’t work for a cabaret performance. But if there are three different choruses, then the song goes somewhere. Marcovicci also stated that you must ask yourself, “What do I want to say with this song?” She stressed that you must say the lyric out loud. Don’t sing it. Say it. And then find, as an actor or actress, how you want to say it. Think of the lyric first and the music second. Markham’s advice as a musical director was to take the tempo out of a song and not to put it back in until you hear what the performer is going to do. Just play the chords for the performer and see what’s going to happen. Marcovicci drew this comparison: for a jazz singer, songs change because the changes sound “cool.” For a cabaret artist, songs change because the lyrics change to reflect the artist’s intention.
Andrea Marcovicci also had a few tips of the trade to offer concerning cabaret performances. She feels that the number one thing she has to teach and offer aspiring cabaret artists is this: embrace distraction. Let yourself be distracted. She feels there is no better way to be in the moment or to be real. Every audience has its own feel, and you need to adjust to each individual audience. For example, if an eight-year-old is in the front row of the house (as was the case at Sunday night’s show), that will inevitably change the way that a song is sung. Or it might cause a more adult joke to be dropped. It will contribute to the show somehow, but only if the performer allows it. No two shows will ever be exactly alike. Markham noted, “That’s the magic and the headache at the same time.” During Sunday’s show, a few chatty audience members attracted Marcovicci’s attention. She has two ways of dealing with talking in the house. One is to sing in that direction, or sing off beat, or hold, or somehow shift all focus in the offender’s direction until the talking stops. The other is to let the talking happen, let it hurt, and use it to bring new dimension to the performance. Marcovicci had a few tips to offer about connecting to the audience as well. She stated, “There’s not a single you in a song.” Split up the “you” and sing to every member of the audience individually. Lower your gaze and talk to your audience. If you don’t, Marcovicci stated that you won’t have a prayer of success.
Barbara Motley, proprietress of Le Chat Noir, asked Marcovicci why cabaret is worth it. Marcovicci replied that it is because of the “independent freedom to create your own art.” She feels it is the most personal artform, and it allows her to live a very free life. She thinks that if you create a really honest show, you will always have an audience. Andrea Marcovicci shared a story of her mother’s reaction to her success. When other cabaret artists started to emulate Marcovicci’s style, her mother was upset and told her, “They’re copying you!” Marcovicci replied, “No, they’re not. This is something I helped create.” We can only hope that she has helped to create and inspire this artform as a vital part of the New Orleans theatre scene.