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NY Acting Markets: Cabaret

"Cabaret is the first and only career open to them," claims Sidney Myer about newcomers to New York and the opportunities for exposure offered by cabaret.

Myer, who books acts for the small, hospitable Don't Tell Mama, mentions the names of entertainers he's worked with who have advanced to other arenas, including Billy Porter, Jonathan Larsen (composer-author of "Rent"), Ray Jessel (about to hit Broadway in the Michael Feinstein–Dame Edna show "All About Me"), and Tom Lenk ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer"). Lenk came to New York to audition for the Broadway musical "Rock of Ages" and called Myer for a slot at Don't Tell Mama. He didn't want the show's producers to just see him audition, Myer says; Lenk wanted them to see his show: "He wanted to be seen in cabaret.  He set aside a table for those very producers."  He got the role.

But do producers and casting directors come to cabaret as a matter of course? "There's no way I can make a single generalization," Myer says, but "even if one was fortunate enough to work regularly, most people are typecast, pigeonholed. Only in cabaret is it your own view. This is a gift."

"I'm always looking at who's doing cabaret," says New York casting director Bernard Telsey ("Rent" and many other Broadway shows). "Every now and then someone in the office goes." But if performers "are doing cabaret," he adds, "we figure they must sing. Knowing that makes me want to see them in an audition room."

Says Tara Rubin, of Tara Rubin Casting ("Billy Elliot," "Mary Poppins," "The Producers"), "In all honesty, I don't really think of cabaret as a way to get to know performers…. But I see how it might be. You can hear an artist sing a variety of material. You can become more familiar with that personality." Thinking it over further, she says, "We do attend new-songwriter showcases. We go to Joe's Pub and Ars Nova. So I can't say the express purpose is to see new artists, but we end up doing it by attending."

Thomas Honeck, who books the Duplex Cabaret Theatre, where newcomers are welcome, is another yea-sayer. Cabaret is "a wonderful way for people who haven't been able to generate work from the audition process to get work from another end," he says. He warns, however, that a hopeful must have "realistic goals," not "stars in their eyes and think they're going to pack the house every night and sell out." He also suggests that four or five people putting together a showcase often has more appeal for "casting directors, who are always very busy." And CDs are "far more accessible than agents," he points out. "And they can get you work."

Aside from checking the casting notices in Back Stage, how does a performer get a cabaret gig? "A great deal of it is word of mouth," says Honeck. "People who have played the Duplex recommend it to their friends. A person may come to a show and decide that they want to do one of their own. We work a lot with composers, and they are constantly bringing new performers to the space, many of which end up doing their own show. The Duplex has always been a place for beginnings, a launching pad or workout room, so I'll give most people a shot to see what they can do. Finding new people is half the fun of the job." He adds that he also seeks performers and composers at the New York International Fringe Festival and the New York Musical Theater Festival and may invite them down to do a show.

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