Cabaret Summer School 2014

What an amazing amount I learned during this Cabaret course!!

Cabaret Summer School happens every year in Adelaide, usually over 5 days or so, and is a series of masterclasses or workshops in the art and techniques of Cabaret creation.

acss logo

For more information on the course, given in a very personal way, Shelley Dunstone writes very perceptively in her 2012, 2013, and 2014 blogs about her summer school experiences. (Yes! She’s been FOUR times!! Having been once, I now see the attraction, as you can never stop learning).

What is Cabaret?

I’m not sure I fully understood how cabaret differs from concert singing, except it’s usually in a  more intimate venue (much like the beautiful and small La Boheme, in which we came together to learn each day).

As the tutors Matthew Carey, Catherine Campbell and Sidonie Henbest explained, however, it is quite different. It is not a person on stage “singing at” an audience (however lovely their voice may be). It is the person on stage initiating a two way conversation with the people in the audience, a conversation in which he/she reveals something of themselves, their thoughts, feelings and intentions, and asks the audience to respond. The performer must be “in the moment” and “connected” with the text and themselves, for the magic to occur. Ah, there’s the rub. What, I can’t just pull out my tried-and-true entertainment tricks? Use my expressive face, humour and personality to indicate the general meaning of the song? No indeed. It is MUCH harder than that.

And so it is, that everyone in the class, be they accomplished singers already, with experience in opera, musical theatre or singing in a band, or actors, finds themselves deeply challenged.

On Day 1 we each got up to perform a song in front of the group – and I was terrified! But the group was kind and supportive. The tutors gave lovely constructive criticism and offered helpful insights to help us connect with the meaning in each phrase and our take on it.  They likewise offered specific physical things we might do to “loosen” ourselves up, or in some cases (like me) to reign ourselves in! Whereas others were entreated to show some abandon by showing their shoes in the air, I was encouraged to stop waving my arms around by lying down on the stage, looking up at the ceiling and singing!! It certainly focussed me on the words and their meaning, and mitigated the faff.

Leanne at ACSS 2014

Each member of the group wrote down what they liked about our performance, which was tremendously encouraging to read afterwards. This continued throughout the week..even to the dress rehearsal on our final day – and how heartening was it, to have notes of encouragement urging you on, when you were quaking in your boots!

I won’t go on in detail about what happened each day of the course. I have already left this over a month now, and need to get it published! Suffice to say, I now have a handle on the notion of cabaret, understand the intimacy of it…and know it will be a lifelong journey. Going straight from the Friday Gala Showcase at the end of the course, to the Short + Sweet Cabaret Wildcard heat on Sunday, meant that I got a few public performances under my belt. Even though I am still very much a newbie, with much to criticise in my performances, I now feel I have crossed over in some way. I can now get up in public, and despite having nerves, deliver a song with truth and vulnerability…and hopefully humour as well!

NIDA has a Cabaret course coming up soon, 8 weeks from May to late June, and I think I’ll carry on my learning by signing up. What a year this is going to be!

And I might just “do a Shelley” and go back to ACSS for 2015! Wonder who else in the class might do it too?

Cabaret Summer School 2014



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