Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Making of: It's My Party! A Cabaret Debut

****I was asked to write a blog for the Savvy Actor on how I created, produced and starred in my own show!****

The idea of me doing my own show has had many incarnations, but the final version of it that was presented on November 22 and 23, 2008 at Don't Tell Mama in NYC came to be because I finally decided talking about doing a show was not the same as doing one. When I was non-union finding work came very easily to me. After I got my Equity card, reality set in and I realized that finding work was not at all the same as before. I took classes to fill the void of not being onstage, but I knew that there was nothing to replace the feeling of an opening night and all the work, sweat and tears that it entails. I knew if I couldn't get cast in something I would have to create my own opportunity. Easier said than done. It took me a good six months to get out of my own way. The excuses were endless and mostly occurring in my own head. "I don't have the money for a music director. I play characters in theatre, what do I personally have to offer an audience? I'm not from New York, I'll never fill a theatre." And of course, the routine actor's dilemma: "Am I good enough?" This last one is most interesting to me because of how most of us get over that fear to do theatre. At least for me, that fear diminishes with the casting process. Someone believes in you enough to cast you and the fear recedes. You put on a costume and a new persona and the fear recedes further. With your own show, you are saying I trust myself enough to know that I can do this. The success or failure is on you.

My mom taught me that facing your fears and often doing that which you fear is the only way of overcoming it. So, with the help of my friend and music director Doug Silver I began to put together songs for a cabaret. Doug was very pragmatic and told me early on (after probably a year of stops and starts) that I had to set a date for the show. We had to know what we were working toward. I thought about it for what seemed like weeks and finally determined that the show needed to occur around my birthday. This turned out to be the best idea for my own sanity because I love birthdays and no matter how nervous I got for the show, I had a party to plan! So, Doug and I worked all summer coming together with songs we enjoyed and learning them, changing keys, and arranging them. The thing I was most worried about was not the singing, but the talking or patter in between songs. Doug suggested that by the end of August we should have an evening at his apartment for a few of my friends and his friend, Andrew Frank who ended up becoming my director. This evening succeeded in two ways. First, it gave me ideas for how to introduce songs. Second, it made Doug and I realize which songs worked for us and which didn't. With two and a half months until my birthday, the real journey began. The week following the first presentation, we threw out at least a quarter of the songs that we had originally chosen. Those were quickly replaced by songs which worked better in the evening. Andrew had said that the ballads that I had previously chosen were "pity me" type songs and we all realized that a cabaret entitled, It's My Party! really shouldn't take the audience there. (Don't worry, we've saved those songs for a future cabaret: Jaded in New York F*&king City)!

So as Doug and I worked weekly on the material I began the footwork of finding a place to host the show. I began making calls to cabaret venues all over the city. Often, the websites of these venues provide little information for a first timer like me and I had many questions. I figured that if I called, left a delightful message about my show and how excited I was that people would be crawling all over each other to call me back. Not so. I waited a week for one return phone call and none came. What could I be doing wrong? I called back and waited again. Nothing. So, I decided to personally visit each venue to see what really would work for me. I highly recommend doing this. One place that I was absolutely positive I had to have my show ended up having two of the snottiest people at the door. This also gave me a smaller list of places to focus on. At Dillon's I ran into the restaurant manager that took a half hour to explain to me how the business of cabaret works. It was exceptionally nice of him and considering the welcome I got at some other places in the city, this Midwest girl could really appreciate it! I realized then that the booking agents for the venues are busy people, barraged by singers trying to get a space. Just like a casting director takes a risk by calling back an unsigned actor, so too, a booking agent takes a risk by reserving space for an unknown act. So, in either case the only choice for the actor is to "bring it!" Many of the websites ask for a demo and a press packet which you send in and wait for a response. I already knew what I was going to do. Doug and I recorded three songs that we thought showcased the diversity of my show and I made copies and walked those Cd's to the four venues at which I wanted to perform. When I walked into Don't Tell Mama with my Cd (including a self designed Cd jacket with my business card included), Sidney Myer, the booking agent was there. I handed him my Cd, he looked at my business card on the front and said, "Jodi Beck. You're on my list of people to call." He had been so busy and he thanked me for the Cd and promised to call me that evening. And he did! I met with him for an hour meeting the following week where I reserved my dates and times and he and I talked and got to know one another. He is a wealth of information and has been in this business for a long time. He schedules an hour with each act that comes to Don't Tell Mama and it is invaluable for a first timer. Any chance that you have to get to know the space and people you are working with is beneficial. Here we worked out the details of the contract. You have to know the running time of your show at this point because the cost of the room is determined by the show length. Also written into the contract is two hours of rehearsal time in the space. For me, I got four hours because I was scheduled in both rooms. There is also one hour of free tech rehearsal with the technical director. He also went through the ways in which I could market the show. It was all my responsibility. Everyone makes a postcard and puts it in the rack, but I knew that to fill the seats I'd have to work harder than that. I used U-Printing. I had ideas for my postcard and I knew I could save money by designing it myself. U-Printing offers an online design tool that you can upload and arrange your own images to create your own postcard. As I had never done any graphic design previously, the staff of U-Printing was extremely helpful. I talked to them both through online chat and over the phone and they were very knowledgeable. Also, 200 postcards including the design and shipping cost only $99.98. It was also around this time that I was career coaching with Jodie Bentley at the Savvy Actor. She suggested that I add an event to both Myspace and Facebook to get the word out. I also added a the postcard and link to Don't Tell Mama on my website. And as I am trying to get an agent we decided that week three of my mailing schedule would include my postcard and an invitation to the show. I also set an email to everyone in my address book and invited them all with an evite. Friends and family were the bulk of the audience, but to make sure they take the show seriously and actually show up, they need to be marketed to as well. I also made sure I carried my postcards with me everywhere I went including my day job! Three couples who are regulars at my bar came to the show! I gave postcards to my boyfriend and to my best friend (both not in the business) for them to hand out at their jobs. I also emailed Time Out New York at (contact: Adam Feldman) to be included in their listings both online and in print. I also left my postcards at the counter of my favorite coffee shop in my neighborhood!

As the show neared Doug and I met twice a week with Andrew popping in to offer advice and to direct some of the character numbers. It was essential for me to surround myself with professionals who approached my show as an artistic creation. As my name was announced and I walked to the stage, my fears left my mind. I had a job to do. I had gotten over 65 people into the seats over two days and all I had left to do was the one thing I enjoy more than anything else- entertain them. Knowing all the work that went into it as I stepped in front of that mic was icing on the cake! And it was the best birthday present I've ever gotten!

Helpful Links:
The Savvy Actor
Time Out New York
Don't Tell Mama
Cabaret Scenes
Cabaret Hotline Online (click the Tips and FAQ's link)
My Website- Jodi Beck
Creators on Creating
Performing Arts Library


jpb2525 said...

Bravo! Jodi! Bravo! Your show was amazing - and you have certainly found a niche! Great show, great voice, great banter....I don't doubt that "Don't Tell Mama" is waiting to book you again!

Anonymous said...

Wow! What an AMAZING story. It's funny but I especially enjoyed the ending. It was so fitting. BEST WISHES!

Anonymous said...

another great job Jodi how interesting to see all the hard prep work that goes into your show. Iam so proud of you. I love the selections on you tube and watch whenever I need a pick me up. Iappreciate the good people you have advising you See you soon. Love Mom