How the Heck Will I Write A Cabaret for Kids OR What Does Cabaret Mean to Me?
Yes, I know…I talk about it ALL the time…I do…I know.
I raise money for it…I invite people to come and see it…I promote it…I love it…I write about it…I believe whole heartedly in it AND I believe it is a deep, worthy and fulfilling way to express an artistic spirit…and something that can bring about change.
For many years Allen MacInnis, the AD at the Young People’s Theatre and one of the dearest most supportive people around, has been encouraging me to put together a cabaret project for children and, seriously, though I thought it was a fantastic concept I had no idea where to start. No friggen idea. Allen, ever supportive, told me to scribble down any and all thoughts on a cabaret, why it might work with children, maybe some themes and bring them in.
I thought and thought…and thought…what the heck do I have to say to kids in the format of cabaret…how do I perform cabaret for kids…how?
After going to a particularly powerful performance of “To Kill A Mockingbird” at YPT I became inspired to try and figure it all out.
To do this, I went back to basics.
Which, incidentally, was pretty spectacular…it is ALWAYS good to look at and examine the basics.
These are the things I came up with…
OKAY, so, Sharron, what does cabaret actually mean to you? I know it sounds trite and all Oprah…but seriously, it is a good, basic question to start with.
Keeps you on your toes…makes sure you are doing what you are supposed to be doing.
Cabaret for me is life affirming, it can be brave or inspire bravery, it is filled with artistry requiring a great deal of hard work, it is actually really, really hard work…good work, to be sure…but challenging…it is love…love letters to musicians, regular people, family members, friends…it is love…it is pain…it is hurt…it is gut laughter… it is NOT pretentious… it is accessible…it is surprise…and discovery…and it is creation…it is fluid…it is interactive…it is intimate, even in a 1200 seat theatre…it is music that fills you, leads you…music that can break you, as well as lift you…and it is empowering…yes, gawd…AND, at it’s heart, it is joyous and soul scrapping.
I know…it is a lot of things to me.
I too was a bit taken about at how many things.
I am not fucking around when I talk about cabaret in my life.
It DOES mean a lot.
Cabaret opened my creative soul more that I could ever have imagined.
When I was 17 years old I went away to college.
At that point in my life I was very self conscious, and unsure, BUT I knew that I was some kind of an artist…and that I loved music.
While I was at college I discovered a love of writing and storytelling…and a teacher told me I had to pick.
They told me I could NOT be a performer/interpreter AND be a creator of works… “Yes, Sharron, it would be best if you picked one thing.” ONE thing. Huh.
Being 17 and unsure, I took their word for it and concentrated on performing in musicals…which I loved…but still…
Years later, when I started putting together my cabarets (because someone asked me to do two sets of 45 minutes at a downtown club, and I said yes…for some inexplicable reason) it was like a key in a rusty lock.It had NEVER crossed my mind that I could really create my own pieces…let alone produce them and perform them…it had never crossed my mind that I could be in the drivers seat of my own artistic life. Cabaret helped me build authentic self confidence, based on my own thoughts and ideas…and it gave me belief in those ideas.
Cabaret taught me to be the hero of my own life.
I realized quite early that almost all of the stories in my cabarets were about some sort of struggle I had experienced…struggles in which I emerged as the unlikely hero at the end.
Maybe not a hero in the historical sense…but a hero all the same.
I had NEVER felt like the hero growing up. NEVER.
The musical storytelling helped me find the lessons in my history…the positive outcomes that I had not seen at the time…it helped me see the humour…and it actually made me look back at all the MEs that I had been and love them all in their struggles. It made me look back with compassion, instead of judgement…and see that maybe I was pretty cool all along.
And it constantly reminds me that I am still pretty cool…even when I don’t feel it…and it reminds me to do my level best to continue to act heroically on my own behalf.
Cabaret showed me that we are all pretty much the same.
Simple but true.
We all have the same stories…hurts…joys…triumphs…losses.
People can find themselves in almost any story you tell…it may not be exactly the same…but there is just something that will resonate…that will connect you to every audience member. And THAT is magic.
That is oneness.
And then underscore those universal story lines, that ONENESS, with recognizable music…all bets are off…we are gonna have a group EXPERIENCE! And depending upon who is in the audience, it will change every night.
That is also magic.
Cabaret showed me that I only as strong as my own thoughts and beliefs.
As many of you know, cabaret was my way through terrible anxiety.
Being myself out on stage every night, and triumphing over my fears is about one of the most powerful things that I have ever experienced.
Many years ago, in the midst of my worst struggles with anxiety and panic, my therapist said to me, “There is a part of you, a part that may be very small right now, but is there all the same AND it believes that you will do well…that you will be fine…or your mind and body would not let you walk out onstage…”.
When it became hard to get over this fear in a musical theatre piece, cabaret was the perfect way to get myself “out there” as much as possible…challenging my fears over and over again.
Cabaret helped to build up that small part inside me…like a muscle…and it grew to a size and prominence that I could never have imagined.
I stood onstage one night in Edinburgh in 2011…and I was sick and exhausted, which is the worst time for anxiety sufferers…and as my nerves frayed that part inside of me said, “I’ve got you, Sharron…you have done this a million times. I’ve got you.”
THAT is powerful.
I welcome that anxiety every time it shows up… “I was expecting you…let’s dance.”
Cabaret taught me to not give up.
I have had some real, fucking challenges pursuing this practice.
I have been sued, I have been canceled, I have been rejected MANY TIMES for funding, I have walked into a venue ready to perform and been told no one was coming, I have had to describe over and over again WHAT cabaret is, I have fought like a lion to get as many bums in seats as I can, I have driven hours and hours on ice covered roads and stayed in hotel rooms that were pretty fucking questionable, I have stayed up till sunrise finishing a press release or a video, I have done promo gigs at 8:30am and at 2:00am, I have had pieces and shows SPECTACULARLY NOT go over, I have lost my voice, I have been sick as a dog and taken every drug in my travel bag so that I could work, I have changed in bathrooms that I would not pee in, I have spent days AND weeks alone to rest my voice, I have lugged my costume around and around Edinburgh for weeks at a time…a lot of things.
BUT I totally keep going.
Somedays more so than others…and the reward can be sweet…and sometimes fleeting…but sweet all the same.
I know people have all kinds of jobs that are challenging BUT for me nothing has challenged me more than cabaret.
In an all round kind of way.
Cabaret Taught Me to Love Myself the Way I Am
I have written on this subject many times…BUT before cabaret I was so worried about what everyone thought of my body and personality…about how skinny I was, how big I was, what I wore, was I too loud, was I too much, did I fit in, did people like me…
When I started to tell my stories…and when those cabarets inspired me to write essays about body positivity or self confidence…I felt more and more at home in my heart, mind and shell…and this inspired to create more musical pieces…it is a pretty amazing circle.
And it reflected in the new stories I began to tell…and in the way I just WAS myself.
And I do believe that just being who I truly am onstage and embracing whatever that means that day encourages others like themselves the way THEY are.
There was more…but these were the most important points for putting together a show for kids.
Passion and Inspiration
Dealing with Anxiety
The Power of What You Think and Say
And then the show came to me…a bit at a time…but it came to me.
And when I began doing cabaret…with all my language and naughtiness…I could never have imagined that it would have brought me in front of large groups of kids.
And when it did, it was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.
Thank you for inviting us to your performance it was awesome! I enjoyed it so much because you added me in the performance. Also you sang so well you should be a music star-the next Rihanna! I also loved how the you connected bullying and feel[ing] strong in the performance. I myself get very sad when someone calls me fat but today you taught me how to not let that control me. Thank you. I can’t wait to watch the real performance.
Fariha, 12 Years Old
My name is Rukhsar, I’m one of the people that hugged you at the end of the performance. I really liked how you were enthusiastic and you were interactive with the audience. You were a really good singer and you are very nice. My favourite part was when you did the kindergarten scene and you described your teacher. I also liked how it was a real story. I liked how there were no costumes and I also liked Jamie [percussion] and Jason [guitar and bass] because they really had a good beat. My favourite songs were Uptown Funk and Shake it Off. I really liked it.
Rukhsar, 11 Years Old,
Hi, I am Jennifer, who hugged you a thousand times. My favourite part was when she told her story in somewhat a musical. I also loved the part where you engaged the audience with songs people knew. I enjoyed the instruments they used, Jason and Jamie, did really great! Sharron your vocals were amazing and outstanding, the audience was really engaged and understood how your felt and I enjoyed how you expressed yourself. During the play/act/song/your life I felt really connected because when I was younger I used to get bullied but yeah….
Jenny, 12 Years Old
I really enjoyed the performance that you did. I found it funny, sad and creative. You’re an awesome singer. One connection that I can make is being really nervous my first day of school. I really liked how you sang songs and the audience sang with you….
Khadijah, 10 Years Old
I love the performance. I understand why fat is a word you hat[e].I hat[e] that word too!!! It very hurts feelings. My favourite part of the performance was at the end. I like how you lied down on the floor and said “die”. It was funny. I also like how put [on a] show we know and we get to sang along. I love your hair!! I like you you ake[sic] some people’s names and remember their names and that made the audience engage!
I will say it again I love your performance. Good job!!
Aniqa, 9 Years Old
You are amazing and I love the way you express yourself in just an hour!
Jamyce Aged 10
So, as it turns out…Cabaret DOES mean a lot to me…it isn’t like I forgot…but after all the work, struggle and time it takes to get to stage, sometimes I just file those things away.
Yes, I do talk about it a great deal…but it changed my life.
Sharron Matthews|Guest Blogger June 2016