Cabaret aspirants looking to learn the ropes from seasoned professionals are in for a big surprise. While there used to be only one training camp for which they could pack their valises and show-business wishes each summer, suddenly they have two possible destinations. The Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, in Waterford, Conn., which hosted Erv Raible's annual cabaret conference until a few years ago, will reinstate its Cabaret and Performance Conference (running Aug. 1–13) under the artistic direction of Michael Bush. Bush will add the new position to his current post, director of artistic production at Manhattan Theatre Club. Raible, meantime, will continue as executive and artistic director of the Cabaret Conference at Yale University in New Haven (July 29–Aug. 7).
Preston Whiteway, who became the O'Neill's general manager in 2004, stressed that the goal of the new and expanded conference is to "keep pushing the envelope" of cabaret and performance, and that this is another way to "keep the O'Neill at the modern edge." He added, however, that he would defer to Bush when it comes to refining the conference's day-to-day procedures.
According to Bush, attendance at the conference will be limited to 14 or 15 applicants. Tuition will be $3,500, with perhaps one scholarship in the inaugural year and additional scholarships in subsequent years. Finalists will be asked to audition for Bush and the O'Neill's "primary faculty" in May, with final notifications going out around the first week of June. (For more information, visit www.theoneill.org.)
Bush emphasized that until he knows who will be attending, he'll hold off on finalizing the highly specialized curriculum. Before the participants' two-week residence is completed, however, all will be asked to perform a 30-minute set. The new artistic director has already lined up two full-time assistants—actress Penny Fuller and composer-lyricist and director Barry Kleinbort—with other instructor-performers arriving for short stays, during which they'll not only teach but also unveil their own acts. Bush suspects he will have three or four in-house musical directors as well.
Expressing his belief that there's "an art to performing in cabaret," Bush wants the two-week conference to explore "what makes something cabaret" and said he plans to draw on his own experience with boite performing (which includes numerous fundraisers for Manhattan Theatre Club) in that pursuit. He characterized the conference as "a grand experiment" because he expects that—along with those who matriculate—he'll have "a learning curve" of his own, since he has never supervised a comparable endeavor.
Elsewhere in the leafy New England state, Raible's conference will continue at Yale for the third consecutive year, where it will enroll 36 students and require a tuition of $2,650. The curriculum, according to the program's website, features "classes and lectures covering cabaret performance technique, acting for singers, lyric interpretation, focus and concentration, act structure, act writing, material research, and comedic development." Such valuable people skills as maintaining relationships with directors, musical directors, and songwriters are taught as well. For more information, visit www.thecabaretconferenceatyale.com.