UK Cabaret special report
Every month we take a look at a big topic, problem or concern which is talked about in show business circles. This month UK Cabaret managing editor Mark Ritchie writes about the showcase experience, where acts and performers have only ten or fifteen minutes to prove their worth to an invited audience. To the artiste, the aim is simple- a full and lucrative diary. But what are the tricks and technique to be a winner in the showcase field. Mark has produced and been Compere at some of the biggest trade events in Europe in the past. He knows the tricks alright.
Mark writes: I have probably covered, reviewed or sat-through perhaps more showcase sessions than anyone else in the UK. My involvement over so many years has been as a booker, an entertainer, a Compere or more usually a reviewer.
I made found favour with hundreds of performers over the years and been the recipient of bile and vitriol, when the recipients of what is perceived to be a bad review go ballistic and launch a defence to what they have read. The firebrand Irish writer Brendan Behan once opined that ‘critics are like eunuchs in a harem- They see the action every night but are incapable of doing it themselves’. At least that is one riposte. that cannot be aimed at me.
I am often asked for tips on how to be successful in the often-fraught showcase situations. I think it is fair to say that those who have read or listened to my observations on the showcase world over the years may well have benefited from them. At least according to the many hundreds of letters, phone calls and personal comments I receive asking for tips and advice on the subject.
The opposite side of the coin has been the abuse and the attempts at bullying which have sadly followed some of my review work. I never, ever complain until the abuse impacts on my family. I remember a few years-ago the personal attacks on my wife on social media went beyond the pale and I was forced to retaliate in legal terms to resolve and stop the abuse.
Has it all been worth it? I have been paid well for doing the job and as a jobbing entertainer myself, at least those on the receiving end of a scathing review cannot throw at me that I have never been on a stage in my life. I’ve done the lot and been re-booked. From clubs and pubs to holiday parks. From theatres to cruise ships. I’ve never done telly, even when it was offered. Perhaps that has helped me retain my sanity (just about).
The top-ten rules to be successful on a trade showcase stage are simple and I will bullet-point and number them here below.
- You must have the talent and the act to take on the stage.
- Don’t overrun your time. It makes you appear unprofessional and ill-disciplined.
- By nice to the stage crew. They are doing their best.
- Always walk on the stage properly, make an entrance. You only get one chance to make a first impression.
- Dress appropriately. The definition of stage wear is a/ to look different from anyone who might be in the audience and b/ remember this is show business, so put on a SHOW
- If you are a singer, try to sing songs that no-one else is singing. I once sat though a showcase in Scotland many years ago, whilst working for The Stage newspaper, when the theme from The Titanic was sung no fewer than 13 times.
- Always get your namecheck in at the beginning and the end of the spot.
- Use the Compere, don’t waste valuable time with overblown and pre-recorded introductions. No-one wants to sit there looking at an empty stage.
- Rehearse the whole thing with someone watching who actually knows the business and who also owns a stopwatch.
- If you come from the Clubland background, this means you will be accustomed to the sounds of your own P.A system and you may think the showcase sound quality is terrible simply because it doesn’t match your own individual ‘sound’. Relax…. Everyone will be working through the same P.A system and the more experienced bookers can see right through sound problems anyway.
In short, just relax and treat it just like a normal gig. Whatever you do. don’t keep repeating the old chestnut about ‘not having long on-stage’. Some bookers actually amuse themselves by counting how many times they hear this repeated almost as a mantra during long and often laborious showcase sessions.
Just go out, do what you do and be wonderful!