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Getting Your Club Act Booked: Managers Discuss What Works, What Doesn't

With plenty of cabaret artists seeking appropriate venues to showcase their talent, the questions of how, where, and when to get booked at one--or more--of the various cabaret rooms that New York has to offer are on every singer's mind.

Those questions, along with half a dozen others, were answered at a panel discussion that I presented last month at Don't Tell Mama, that featured some of the city's key booking personnel. Guest panelists included Richard Hendrickson, owner and booking manager of Judys'; Sidney Myer, booking agent of Don't Tell Mama; Erv Raible, co-owner and booking manager of Eighty Eight's; Scott Samuelson, co-owner of Bradstan's Country Hotel, in White Lake, N.Y. (a bed and breakfast with a cabaret space, about 90 minutes from the city); Mike Teele, booking manager of the Duplex; and Bryan Utman, who (along with Don Schaffer) books Danny's Skylight Room. Moderating the seminar were "Bistro Bits" columnists Roy Sander and John Hoglund. The information presented there was so helpful--and so plentiful--that I couldn't resist presenting it to you here--whether you're a singer with a cabaret act or even a performer with a one-person show, small musical, or musical revue. Many of the clubs, as you'll learn as you read on, are open to a variety of entertainment.

Roy kicked off the discussion by asking each of the panelists to explain the procedures performers should use to be considered by the booking managers.

At Eighty Eight's, Erv Raible accepts tapes, preferably videos, but he also catches people performing at the Cabaret Convention, and at benefit evenings. However, he admits that 90% of the people booked at Eighty Eight's come through suggestions made by others who work at the club, mainly musical directors and directors, or by other booking managers.

Scott Samuelson explained that, in the past, Bradstan's booked only "name" acts, but is now expanding its policy and booking new names for the room's strictly summer series. He accepts tapes--audio okay, video a plus--but mostly likes to go to see a person's act.

Mike Teele described the Duplex's policy as "entertainment for the masses." "I think everybody deserves a shot, so I don't ask people to audition. I like to talk to them on the phone. I like to know that they have an artistic and business plan for their Duplex engagement." The Duplex focuses mostly on comedy, but Mike stated that he's starting to do more plays, new musicals, singers with bands, and improv groups. He tends to frequent places like Solo Arts Group and Here for more alternative-style acts.

Bryan Utman, who also accepts video tapes for Danny's, stresses his philosophy of "cabaret as a business." "We look at the marketability of performers. They have to have some sort of a business plan in terms of a mailing list." In other words, Bryan explained, if a performer only has 20 names on a mailing list, the chances of getting more than one date to play are fairly nil. He and Don Schaffer look at the professional level of performers and talk to them about their acts and where they see themselves heading in terms of a career. It's from this information that the length of run is determined.

Richard Hendrickson of Judys' prefers live auditions for performers. He gets a better feel for who they are in this way and whether they fit in at Judys' or not. "I like to meet them. I ask them to bring in their musical director," he stated. "You'd be surprised how many people call up and say they have an act, but when I ask who plays for them, they respond with, 'Oh, don't you supply somebody?' Don't call and try to make a booking unless you have an act."

Don't Tell Mama holds live auditions regularly. "There's a value to a live audition for cabaret artists," noted the club's Sidney Myer. "Auditioning is a great skill. It's better to find out that you're not truly gifted at the skill while you're standing in the back room at Don't Tell Mama in front of me than finding yourself on stage in front of Harold Prince, doing an audition for the very first time." Sidney, too, considers tapes, and sees people at the Cabaret Convention and the many variety shows that feature numerous entertainers.

John Hoglund shifted attention to the piano bars, and asked panelists if they've booked acts based on seeing them performing at the piano bars. Erv noted that a number of his performers have come through the piano bars, adding that most clubs have very talented staffs of singing waiters and waitresses. He also pointed out that piano bars are a great place to work out material, a place to hone and study your craft, and to learn to work before an audience.

Sidney commented: "The piano bar is unlike any other medium, including cabaret. I think sometimes you can get more attention on a subway platform than at a piano bar! I'm not trying to discourage anyone, but it's really a test of talent." He noted that in a showroom, people are there to watch and listen, but at a piano bar, they're not there specifically to see someone perform. "Here on weekends, it's just like a carnival midway. If you can hold them--a room full of strangers that aren't from your address book--I think that's a great achievement if you can face that, you can face anything!" Sidney noted the number of performers who have gotten jobs--outside of being booked in a cabaret room--by just getting up and performing at the piano. He also called attention to the talented pianists. "You don't have to bring your own. They know how to transpose, and many times the singer finds that they're more versatile and seasoned veterans than the person he's been working with all along, and even make him sound better."

The attention turned to sending out flyers and invites, when Bryan Utman came back to the concept of marketability. He suggested that performers use the MAC (Manhattan Association of Cabarets & Clubs) membership list, which numbers approximately 1,000, as their "address book." "If the artwork on the flyer is interesting and your show's music and presentation are eye-catching and clever," said Bryan, "you may get a lot of MAC members to come check you out."

But Richard Hendrickson disagreed. "I don't think a MAC mailing does anything for you until you've established yourself, even just a little bit. People have to know you or have heard you, or heard someone mention your name so, when they get your flyer, it gets reinforced. Then they may come to see you. If you're a complete stranger, if it's your first time booking an act, and you do a MAC mailing, which would cost you $300 to $400, nobody's going to come because they've never heard of you. You need to establish yourself a bit, do a few nights, get maybe one review, even if it's very minor press, and then go ahead and do a large mailing using your review [assuming it's a positive one] and let people know."

Erv agreed. He suggested allotting three rolls of stamps for your mailing. "Go through the MAC list, send your flyer to names that you recognize, or perhaps to performers who are doing something similar to what you're doing. Use 25 or 30 stamps for a wish l

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