Tapdancer Josephine Shaker told me after her spot at last month’s Cabaret Playroom that it had felt like jumping off a cliff. What had? Talking on stage, she answered. Josephine Shaker is a tap dancer, burlesque artist, physical comedian and clown of spectacular skill and aplomb, but when it came to opening her mouth in the spotlight, she was way outside her comfort zone. But she said afterwards it was one of the most rewarding gigs she’d done in ages.
Going outside your comfort zone is a necessary part of any artist’s development, and even cabaret artists, who seem to spend their lives outside most people’s comfort zones, have their own particular safe areas they tend to stick to. A burlesque dancer might be quite happy spinning naked flames around her head, but terrified of singing in public. A cabaret singer might be perfectly happy to reveal any secret about themselves on stage, but baulk at attempting to play a musical instrument in front of anyone else. And seasoned performers are just as prone to sticking to what they know how to do, perhaps even more so, because those of us who’ve been doing cabaret for a while have expectations to meet, or at least feel as if we do, from people in the audience who’ve seen us before, or heard of us. You’re only as good as your last gig, and if thirty people go home and tell their mates, “I saw Tricity Vogue but she was a bit all over the place,” that’ll be another sixty or so people that won’t bother going to see you next time you’re on somewhere.
That’s the fear. That’s a pretty good case for NOT risking new material in public, in fact. What on earth was I thinking? Well, I’ll tell you a story. Once, about seven years ago, I got an email from a mate who was starting a new cabaret night, and was inviting all his cabaret contacts to come and try out their work-in-progress, so I sent him a message saying I’d be up for it. I got up on stage and I played an instrument I’d learned to play exactly two weeks before, and I smashed it. It was the first time I ever performed solo on the ukulele, and it was the first night of the rest of my life. That mate was Dusty Limits, the night was Kabarett, and the venue was the Royal Vauxhall Tavern. If I hadn’t been offered that platform to try out new work I might still be crooning lounge jazz by night and working for a soul-sucking television company by day. Instead of which my ukulele and I have been all over Europe together performing everywhere from celebrity dining rooms to converted toilets, and it’s been one non-stop adventure ever since.
That’s what can happen when you let a performer try something new. And sitting in the audience for a show where EVERYTHING is new, and NOBODY knows what’s going to happen next – now THAT’s cabaret at it’s finest, even when it goes tits up… especially when it goes tits up.
Tricity Vogue, Cabaret Performer and Co-Curator of Cabaret Playroom (with Lisa Lee of UnderConstruction)
The next Cabaret Playroom is on Monday 3 November at The Albany, Deptford. Doors at 7.45pm, showtime 8-10pm. Tickets are Pay-What-You-Can, starting from £1