BWW Interviews: A Chat with La-Ti-Do's Founders on Occasion of Weekly Cabaret Series' Second Anniversary
In New York City, it seems, one can find a cabaret venue on virtually every corner. Although such institutions are far less common in our own metropolitan area, things are starting to change. Much of these thanks go to two infectiously energetic musical theatre aficionados - Don Michael Mendoza and Regie Cabico.
Two years ago this week - on January 23 to be exact - they launched a weekly cabaret series at Dupont Circle's Black Fox Lounge, aptly named La-Ti-Do (catchy no?) to a full house. Now every Monday up-and-coming and established spoken word artists and area musical theatre performers share the stage in this informal and immensely collegial and encouraging environment. In June of 2013, the dynamic duo expanded their reach to New York City and now offer New Yorkers the option of experiencing La-Ti-Do on a monthly basis (every fourth Sunday) at the Bowery Poetry Club.
With this anniversary on the horizon, DC BroadwayWorld chatted with Mendoza and Cabico via email about the cabaret's roots, what makes it unique, and their expectations for the future. DC area cabaret lovers are encouraged to check out La-Ti-Do's special anniversary celebration, featuring many La-Ti-Do alumni, on Thursday, January 23 at 7 PM at the Black Fox Lounge.
DC BroadwayWorld: How and why did you all come up with the idea to start a weekly cabaret series in DC?
Don Michael Mendoza (DMM): Well, really it was Regie's suggestion to go weekly. Nothing in this region happens on a weekly basis and he knew that going weekly - though a monumental task - would be something that would be extremely beneficial to make our series unique from all the rest.
Regie Cabico (RC): From a DC spoken word perspective, the venues that have reached international reputations are Bloombars and Busboys and Poets and they happen weekly. A lot of cabaret events in DC happen monthly. Don Mike and I knew it would be a lot of work, but a weekly series could have the potential of showcasing poets, and touring performers and that were traveling through DC.
DC BroadwayWorld: Now that La-Ti-Do has reached its 2 year anniversary, what are your plans and expectations for the future?
DMM: We've come to a happy medium with the show format and order, but our next steps are solidifying our transformation into a 501c3 Not-For-Profit organization and making moves into doing more community work and partnerships as well as taking on educational workshop endeavors.
RC: As La-Ti-Do grows, Don Mike and I want to retain the high artistic quality and warmth of the artists and audience members.
DC BroadwayWorld: La-Ti-Do is unique in that it combines musical theatre performances and spoken word performances into one cabaret event. Did you set out to feature both art forms (and if so, why) or did it happen organically?
DMM: Yes. The combo happened because my background is solely in musical theatre, but Regie's is in both that and spoken word. He wanted to collaborate with me to create something that combined his two major artistic passions. For me, I wanted to create a space that I could call my own that would be nurturing to my artistic background as a newcomer in the DC community. Thus, the thought of presenting the two art forms as equals was born.
RC: La Ti Do is birthed out of our friendship and camaraderie. As a former musical theatre major, I know how hard it is for a young Filipino actor to find parts. I became a poet out of necessity. Creating an arts venue such as La-Ti-Do that promotes diversity and inclusiveness is rare in DC.
I can't think of any other cabaret series or spoken word series in DC to feature high calibre emerging and professional talent to this degree. I missed the piano bar culture that pervades Manhattan, where almost every night you can sit around a piano and belt a show tune. I was also bored of the poetry open mic venues and wanted to find a nicer room for spoken word where there would be a grand piano.
Cabaret culture is being redefined in New York and I couldn't think of cabaret venues in DC that will go out of the box to bring some of the edginess that the growing slam poetry culture brings. Slam poetry was invented in Chicago to foster poetry for the people decided by the people instead of a chandeliered academic elite experience. With that spirit in mind, I think we wanted to develop a 'cabaret' for the people with the voices of DC theatre artists, singer songwriters and storytelling wordsmiths engaging non-artists and first time attendees with a heart and passion that gets lost in the governmental, national marble of DC.
The fusion of art forms has been positive for the invited performers. Singers want the rawness and lyrical abilities of the poet/storytellers and the word smiths admire the vocal virtuosity and intelligent interpretations of the theatre artists. Singer-actors will bring their ukuleles and kazoos and original writings and slam poets will attempt to sing a musical number. The meld of genres at La-Ti-Do has given theater actors the ability to stretch their creative vision and redefine their own artistic persona in a nurturing space.
DC BroadwayWorld: How do you view the cabaret scene in DC?
DMM: In my opinion: barely existent. Our main hallmark and mission is to reinvigorate cabaret culture in Washington, DC. Not that we are saying it doesn't exist in this town, but we want to give this art form a stronger purpose and presence in the community because it just isn't as commonplace like it is in other cities like New York, and there is no reason why it shouldn't be.
RC: The DC cabaret scene is growing and I like to think that has a lot to do with La-Ti-Do giving solo artists a framework and audience to build a set of songs in an intimate environment. Over the past year, La-Ti-Do alums have been producing solo and ensemble shows at the Black Fox Lounge, but I also know that cabaret is being built up other spaces outside of DC, such as the Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton, Virginia. I am really hoping that people will return to cabaret's intimacy since we are inundated in a technological world of sound bites and computer websites.
DC BroadwayWorld: Now La-Ti-Do maintains a presence in DC and NYC. What are the major differences and commonalities between the two offerings?
DMM: I have to say that it is standard what happens between DC and NYC because they both stem from the same branding and show concept. We do strive to keep the same caliber and variety of talent in both chapters. However, I do have to say there are two differences. First is the frequency of which they occur - so every week in DC and every quarter in NYC. The second is that DC has become a hub for the artistic community to flock to, so you know there are regular performers and audience members; in New York, we are mainly bringing our DC network into a new setting to spread the word to their connections there. This is because we are still in the early stages of reaching out to the NYC natives, which is simply just a direct result of show frequency.
RC: New York City would not have happened without the La-Ti-Do alums that have moved to New York yearning for the spirit and energy that our series brings. Because it is New York, the access of Broadway talent that attends and performs in the La-Ti-Do NYC shows has been mind-blowing. We do want NYC performers to come to DC. Our base is DC and we want to reinvigorate and bring the highest level of cabaret and spoken word in our Nation's Capital.
Photo: La-Ti-Do Co-Founders Don Michael Mendoza (L) and Regie Cabico (R) host La-Ti-Do in New York City. Photo by Kyle Gross.