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BWW Interview: At Home With Karen Mack and A LOT of Cookies

But does she sing while she's baking?

BWW Interview: At Home With Karen Mack and A LOT of CookiesIf Karen Mack's Facebook friends managed to get through the first six months of quarantine without gaining the Quarantine Fifteen, they couldn't escape a pound or two during the month of October. A gluten-free, sugar-free vegan, even I wanted to sample the cookies on her social media last month! Every year at this time the award-winning singer-songwriter bakes a different kind of cookie and shares the photo on her Facebook page... EVERY. DAY. That's thirty one days of culinary goodness filling your Facebook newsfeed... and her friends, followers, family and fans have come to look forward to it every year. THIS year, it was a welcome distraction from the world, world affairs, and the drama of the election.

BWW Interview: At Home With Karen Mack and A LOT of CookiesKaren Mack is much more than a baker, though. She is a woman of many parts, with many devoted people in her corner, not the least of which are her husband, the one person who actually DOES get to have one of every flavor of cookie, and her cabaret sisters who make up the four-woman vocal group THOSE GIRLS. Dying to know more about the belting baker and desperate to talk cookies, I asked Karen for a chat, and I wasn't disappointed, believe me.

This interview was conducted digitally, during the bakeathon, and is reproduced in its entirety, as the month of baking ends.

Name: Karen Mack

First Cabaret Show (Title, Year, Club): beginner cabaret class showcase with 2 other performers early 90's at Eighty Eights (director Lina Koutrakos/MD Rick Jensen)

Most Recent Cabaret Show: Those Girls Sing The Boys (vol.1) Jan 2020 at The Laurie Beechman Theatre

Website or Social Media Handles: www.karenmack.com; www.thosegirlssing.com; @karenmack

Karen Mack, thank you for visiting with Broadway World today! I know you have a lot of cookies to bake, so I appreciate your taking the time out.

Thanks for asking me! Rebounding from my October bakeathon is much more fun when chatting with a friend,

Since we've already mentioned the cookie baking, let's start there: how many years have you been doing the National Cookie Month daily cookie bake, how has it evolved, do you really bake a different cookie every day, and who eats them all?!

BWW Interview: At Home With Karen Mack and A LOT of Cookies

This is my 9th year for National Cookie Month. It started in 2012 completely on a whim. I felt like Facebook was overloaded with sales stuff, and wondered if I could find a way to put some social back into social networking. Baking's a favorite hobby since I was a kid. Appeals to both heart and head, part creativity and part chemistry. So, I found out that October is National Cookie Month and decided to bake a different cookie each day that month & post a pic to FB. After a while, people started to check in every day, sharing stories & family memories, recipe questions, fave flavors, etc. It's been a total treat for me. I like to think it's still growing in an "all good parties end up in the kitchen" kind of way. My photography has definitely improved (thank you Apple iPhone,) The early pics were so terrible lol, but the cookies have always been pretty good. 279 different recipes at this point, with variations but only a couple repeats.

BWW Interview: At Home With Karen Mack and A LOT of CookiesBack in the before Covid times when we could go out more, cookies were eaten by anybody that asked if I had cookies, and every Wednesday by Those Girls and Lennie Watts and Steven Ray Watkins at rehearsals. This year was definitely different - I shared with my doormen, my office mates. I found ways to get care packages to friends. My husband Loren, of course, tried them all since he suffers through the sound of mixers and oven timers well before 7am for a whole month.

BWW Interview: At Home With Karen Mack and A LOT of Cookies

Is your passion for baking exclusive to cookies or do you have other culinary creations in your wheelhouse?

BWW Interview: At Home With Karen Mack and A LOT of CookiesI love to cook. I find it soothing. I make a nice Thanksgiving and a decent bolognese sauce. I like pies - I'm an official judge for the American Pie Council (yes, that's a real thing), and have been part of the judges team for their national competition, including judging Best In Show for both amateur and professional divisions for many years now. I have a show about that, but that's a story for a different time. Clarifying - it's a pie quality competition, not a competitive pie eating event (although my first year, before I figured out how the pros pace themselves, I probably gave the eating contests a run for their money.)

New York went into lockdown in mid-March, did you do a lot of baking during quarantine, or did you save up your energy for this month?

BWW Interview: At Home With Karen Mack and A LOT of CookiesI didn't catch the baking wave that came around then. I've never had a talent for bread and keeping a sourdough starter alive seemed like a lot to commit to. I did go back to making dinner every night though. My day job is in healthcare - my husband and I would sit down for a meal every night right after the 7pm "shout out" for essential workers. Having that time to look forward to every day was a real boost, especially during those early dark months.

Your work as a performer extends far beyond your current job as one of THOSE GIRLS, featuring solo work, studio work, and other group work. Before the formation of this group, what was your most enjoyable gig?

BWW Interview: At Home With Karen Mack and A LOT of CookiesSO tough to pick just one. I loved being one of the singers in Lina Koutrakos' rock band at The Bottom Line; back-ups for many Lennie Watts shows, especially his Manilow show; great multi-band nights at The Bitter End in pro a cappella with DooWaZoo, and no gigs were funner than shows on the road & the seas with Michael Holland when we were doing our "K-Tel cabaret" Gashole and its many reckless pop incarnations. If I have to single out one gig, my CD release party at Le Bar Bat was special in a kicked-up way: fantastic party, tons of people that I love to sing with & sing for, killer band led by Michael Holland, who produced the record & really got it made in the first place, plus it was the first time out of the gate with that body of material - so much good energy!

BWW Interview: At Home With Karen Mack and A LOT of Cookies

What is it about singing with other people that attracts you so?

BWW Interview: At Home With Karen Mack and A LOT of CookiesI love vocal harmony - I think it has real healing power for the mind and spirit. I love the opportunity for collaboration and improvisation, that extra energy and connection on stage. Sharing the responsibilities can also help a project get a lot more done quickly. I'm afraid I'm not very patient sometimes. Most of all, I love how much variety you can pack into a shared project, and all the different ideas and opportunities that come along with that.

You also work with your husband making music - put a picture in my head of that dynamic.

My husband Loren is a part-time choral singer - classical bass. Right now, his primary singing gig is with Tapestry, a very talented chamber choir based here in NYC. https://www.facebook.com/TapestryChoir/. I sang a few seasons with West Village Chorale, which put us on summer choir tours together every other year, performing in some of the most beautiful places in the world - Greece, Sicily, Austria, Prague, Ireland. The dynamic is basically that I make sure he packs more than one tux shirt and he makes sure the music on my iPad has all the pages in the right order. And I get to sit by the window, except when I want to sit on the aisle.

You and I are Facebook friends, and there was a period of time during the summer when almost every day there was a notification that you had made a donation to a charity or a gofundme page or a fundraising page. And during the pre-covid days, I saw you in the audience of at least two shows a week. Is your sense of philanthropy and support for others an innate state for you, or is this a lifestyle you learned while growing up?

BWW Interview: At Home With Karen Mack and A LOT of CookiesThat's very nice of you to ask about. When I was growing up, the most important lesson stressed was to be kind. I find great truth in that. Stepping up and investing in people matters, whether your contribution is large or small. Having someone show up for something you love, something that matters to you - even if you're still trying to figure it out, ESPECIALLY early on when you're not even sure what it is or where it could go - that is a very big deal. I try to get out and see as much as I can. I learn something every time. On the production side, I'm definitely a developmental producer. I love supporting and expanding new projects, finding ways to problem solve, to help people to think bigger. I've gotten to work with incredibly talented composers, writers, arrangers. I like to think I'm still learning from them, whatever creative paths they've gone on to, even in completely different fields, and that anything I was able to give goes with them too. Grateful for every project. They've helped me learn to step up better for my own projects as well. I didn't have much family growing up & the folks I had were very limited in how much support they could give - maybe that makes me more motivated to show up where I can now. And I love our cabaret rooms & the social side of our creative community - getting to see people at shows, having those shared experiences, getting to know people better on both sides of the stage, seeing who makes the best old fashioned. (Hi Tommy Dose.)

How's the songwriting going? Do THOSE GIRLS perform songs that you have written?

BWW Interview: At Home With Karen Mack and A LOT of CookiesI've probably written more the past few months than I did all last year. Gretchen Reinhagen's beautiful take on my song "Different for Girls" on her CD has been a real motivator to get more tunes out of my head and down on paper. I write a little every day, even if I only have a small chunk of time. Right now, I'm looking at a bunch of half-finished things from years back (hopefully with fresh eyes), and I have a few tunes that'd benefit from collaboration that might make their way out and about. Funny, the songs I'm proudest of found me at completely random times, but for me, having a regular time and place devoted to the craft of it really helps the process, just like having a deadline gives an extra push to get something done. So far, only one of my songs is part of the TG rep', but we do talk about adding more. I guess I should set a deadline for that.

The power of women has been prevalent and growing in the public eye and in society these last few years. How does it feel to be one of THOSE GIRLS at such a time in our history?

BWW Interview: At Home With Karen Mack and A LOT of CookiesIt's been enlightening and empowering. Most of my music career has been spent in mixed vocal projects, never one that was all women. So, to be part of this group of strong women now, all of a certain age with a wide range of life experience and lots of different musical influences, is inspiring. It's no secret that the performing arts can be a tough place to find your footing as a woman over 50, even with basically a lifetime in the business. I like to think we're doing our part for all women in the arts to push against antiquated/ageist opinions, to be seen authentically for our own merits - proud of who we are, how we look, the lives we lead, how we bring out the best in each other. We've had women ten years our junior, as well as women ten years our senior, come up after shows to say thanks & how motivated they are to get something creative started (or re-started) for themselves because our show had so much joy. You can't get better feedback than that. But more importantly, beyond the music, being part of an ethically and politically grounded collective that's fiercely committed to equality, to all voices being heard, to the protection of our planet - that's very meaningful. "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed unless it is faced." James Baldwin

BWW Interview: At Home With Karen Mack and A LOT of Cookies

Tell me about THOSE GIRLS and the women who make the group.

THOSE GIRLS are Eve Eaton, Rachel Hanser, Wendy Russell and me. We're a four-part women's vocal group with an eclectic repertoire and a focus on great harmonies, unique arrangements and fun. Lots more info can be found at http://www.thosegirlssing.com. As an insider though, I can tell you that my cohorts are talented, hard workers, good listeners, good sports, fierce fighters (especially for an underdog), thoughtful, opinionated, great laughers, lovers of travel, and not afraid to speak their minds or to enjoy rehearsal treats. Eve can kick the highest (and sings the highest) and still can wear her prom dress. Rachel loves mashed potatoes & The Beatles & Esperanza Spalding. Wendy loves Julie Andrews, knows solfege, makes delicious truffles you can buy online, and her dad wrote for the '60s TV show "Dark Shadows".

So, Karen - what actually IS your favorite cookie?

I'm a simple creature. I'll take a great, chewy chocolate chip cookie anytime.

Photos provided by Karen Mack.

BWW Interview: At Home With Karen Mack and A LOT of Cookies

BWW Interview: At Home With Karen Mack and A LOT of Cookies



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