A few years before Marty Schaeffer began writing the "Bistro Bits" column in Back Stage, I interviewed him for my column and asked him what made cabaret so special for him.
"It's such a vulnerable and ephemeral form of entertainment," he pointed out. "It demands honesty from a performer. An emotional connection with the audience is made by the performer who's honest and personal."
The honesty that Marty looked for in a performance came through in his own cabaret reviews. Marty's honesty and sincerity were among his finest traits. He wrote with sincerity; he was honest and sincere in his relationships. And, being a good friend of mine, his genuineness and ability to talk straight from the gut made me love and adore him.
And that's one of the reasons why he's going to be so sorely missed. Marty died last Wednesday of complications from AIDS. He had been diagnosed as HIV-positive a while back but seemed so in control with his illness. It was only over the past four or five months that his health began to deteriorate at a much quicker pace than anyone ever expected. He had been such a fighter all along, but it finally got to the point where he couldn't fight back anymore.
Marty was an integral part of the growing cabaret scene. He actually started out as a theatre reviewer, going back about 20 years ago, writing for a Manhattan weekly. In 1979 his then-editor asked Marty to write a cabaret column. He approached the assignment with trepidation since he knew nothing about cabaret at the time. By chance he pulled out a press release sent by Lina Koutrakis to his editor's office and went to see her that night. "I became an instant convert," Marty told me. "The performance connected with me more than theatre ever did. Lina reached me at a real gut level." From that point, he was hooked and began reviewing cabaret as much as he could.
Since Bob Harrington was my cabaret reviewer at the time, my relationship with Marty began with him writing theatre reviews for me. It must have been around 1982 or '83. I kept running into Marty at clubs and we became fast friends. At the same time I was looking for a theatre reviewer and Marty seemed to fit the bill.
He continued reviewing the club scene for his Manhattan weeklies while covering theatre, not only for Back Stage, but for The Wave, a Long Island weekly, as well. In 1987 he began reviewing Off-Broadway for The Hollywood Reporter and in 1988 became the cabaret critic for Variety, through 1991 when the paper decided to stop reviewing cabaret altogether. He also did cabaret reviews for the Manhattan Cable TV show "Tomorrow, Tonight Live!" which he co-hosted with his good friend Brian Bradley.
His "job-job" was as a hearing representative for the New York State Department of Labor, which he did for more than 20 years. In between, he did a brief stint as co-editor of Theatregoer, a national theatre newsletter, and was editor of Celebrity World News from 1985 to '87.
When Bob Harrington died in 1992, Marty was the first person I thought of to continue our coverage of cabaret. Bob had always liked Marty's writing and perspective on the scene; he had even suggested to me at one point that Marty take over the column. We worked it out so that Marty shared the reviewing with Roy Sander. Starting in November, 1992, they each did individual cabaret reviews, and it wasn't until after the 1993 Bistro Awards that they "inherited" the "Bistro Bits" column, each writing it on alternate weeks.
Marty's writing style was in keeping with Bob's approach to his column. Marty understood his readership and allowed his column to serve as an educational tool, writing on topics and issues of concern in cabaret, along with reviewing individual acts. There were features on the "business" side of the business; an update on the state of the art; advice on preparing and recording a CD; and his last feature, a wonderfully written interview with songwriter-director Barry Kleinbort, comparing cabaret then and now.
Marty and I had a lot of common interests, but outside of the business it was our love for Paris. Marty was a genuine Francophile and visited Paris fairly regularly. In fact, Marty was the only one that I could practice my French with on a regular basis. One year we were in Paris at the same time, and we went on a day trip to Chartres together along with some other friends. I had always respected Marty's intelligence, but that day impressed the heck out of me. Marty and I sat together in the Cathedral in Chartres discussing (mostly him discussing) the philosophy, art, religion, and architecture of the period. I never knew Marty knew so much about everything.
When Marty began writing the "Bistro Bits" column, he'd come into the office every other Monday to hand-deliver it and we'd make it a point, most of the time, to just sit down together and "catch up." Marty always had a terrific outlook on things and never seemed to let anything bother him. He would always share this perspective with me when he saw that I was letting petty things get the best of me. He'd always remind me that they were only petty things and that I should focus my attention elsewhere.
Marty grew up in an Orthodox environment and he was one of the few people that I knew that spoke fluent Yiddish. In our conversation he'd often use Yiddish words and phrases to describe a person or situation when no other English word seemed quite appropriate.
About a year and a half ago Marty brought a new person into his life who changed him around and I think gave him the strength to hold out against his encroaching illness for such a long time. Marty always spoke so lovingly of Lance and when I finally met Lance I easily understood why. They had a very special relationship. A few weeks ago, when Marty was in Cabrini Hospice, he and Lance decided to exchange vows and Lance called me to attend the small ceremony and be a witness along with a few other close friends of theirs. It was one of the happiest and at the same time saddest occasions I've ever experienced. After the ceremony Marty was telling the rabbi who officiated how much he cared for Lance. The rabbi responded by telling Marty how some people never get to experience that feeling in their entire lives. Hearing her say that left me so much more at peace with my thoughts about Marty.
So, Marty, I'm missing you already, and the phone calls I've been getting from those in the cabaret community and beyond are expressing the same thoughts and feelings. I'll always be holding onto your loving thoughts and memories. You've left a deep impression on all of us.
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There will be a special memorial service for Marty on Sunday, July 14, at 4:30 pm, at Eighty Eight's, 224 W. 10th St. (between Bleecker & Hudson) which all are invited