Being Up Close & Personal: The Art of Cabaret 

Two local professionals share what the art is to them and how to get started.

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The Cabaret Conservatory instructors, Ron Hellems, professor of theatre at Ball State University and Anita Hall, recording artist and jazz vocalist, shared with NUVO their thoughts about Cabaret as an art form, and what it takes to start as a singer:

NUVO: What makes Cabaret such a distinctive performance genre?

Anita Hall: "Cabaret" is about showcasing your personality as much as your talent. This allows listeners to come just as they are and to sometimes live vicariously through the artist on stage. A seasoned Cabaret artist is emotionally available and knows what to take from other artists to create their own unique sound. I personally gravitate towards singers that have a hand in their arrangements, instrumentation and that only choose songs that they can sing with authority. I think the "C" in Cabaret is for COMMAND.

Ronald Hellems: Cabaret offers performers an opportunity to "be themselves." To sing from the heart, to show their vulnerabilities, and to establish a rapport with audiences who might otherwise only know the performer from specific characters they have played or roles they are associated with. It offers an opportunity for the performer to tell their story through song, in a personal and collaborative experience with an audience.

NUVO: What draws people to develop a cabaret performance?

Hall: I've always had the impression that people that are drawn to Cabaret are old souls. I've shared my stage with children that can phrase and swing better than entertainers that have been at it for decades. You either have it or you don't. If you have it you will listen and study and listen because you cannot get enough. I've shared my stage with children that can phrase and swing better than entertainers that have been at it for decades. You either have it or you don't. If you have it you will listen and study and listen because you cannot get enough. I think of a quilter that has gathered a plethora of beautiful (and not so beautiful) patches and knows just when they have all the materials required to create a masterpiece. Every memory I have is attached to a song....when you've lived enough you can put those songs together to create a soundtrack and that is how a Cabaret Show is born.

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Hellems: The art is about "storytelling." Many singers have a story to tell and they find the creative path to the development of a cabaret show is a remarkable vehicle to share their art. In addition to the creative aspects, the cabaret show also provides generous income opportunities for performers striving to make their living as a performing artist. It can also serve as a "live" setting for the recording of CD's and videos.

NUVO: What makes Cabaret at the Columbia Club distinctive?

Hall: Aside from being a gorgeous venue in the heart of downtown Indy that is steeped in so much history, Shannon Forsell brings in a great balance of up and coming and established artists. As an artist herself, she puts much more thought into the overall experience vs. someone that's just trying to fill seats. I've attended shows and a vocal master class myself.

Hellems: This location is special. Besides being the only true cabaret room in Indianapolis the reputation that has been (and continues to be) established speaks for itself. Shannon has developed a program and performance venue that is drawing the BEST cabaret singers in the country. From Broadway stars, to jazz professionals, to entertainment icons, the Cabaret at the Columbia Club has become a destination that performers from every genre of entertainment have now heard of, and are eager to perform in. Special room, special environment, special audiences, special experiences!

NUVO: What happens after students participate in the workshop series—if this is a beginning, where does a potential performer go next?

Hall: Students will discover they will always be students. They will not feel intimidated to try new things because that is how we figure out what works. It's a powerful tool to know your instrument and to honor what it can and cannot do. As an artist, I want to nurture the heart of the artist and create an environment that ignites creativity.

Hellems: Shannon and I both feel strongly that we have this responsibility, and interest, in "passing along" the art of cabaret singing. These workshops will be for some the very first experience they have to introduce the art. We want to educate and motivate young singers to learn to be more than "regular" singers and for them to become "storytellers" through song. Once the bug bites them the sky's the limit! Hopefully we can continue to expand the workshops to include public performances, open-mic nights at the cabaret, development of individual cabaret shows, etc.

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Rita Kohn

Rita Kohn

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Rita Kohn has been covering craft beer and the arts for NUVO for two decades. She’s the author of True Brew: A Guide to Craft Beer in Indiana.

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