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BWW Feature: At Home With Lina Koutrakos

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When cabaret was about showtunes, she was singing rock and roll. It's the Lina way.

BWW Feature: At Home With Lina Koutrakos

Lina Koutrakos is feeling great these days. It's a good thing too because when the pandemic hit New York City, she was one of the first members of the cabaret industry to go public with her positive Coronavirus diagnosis. As an entire community rallied virtually through positive energy and whatever kind of prayer came most readily to their lips, Lina fought the virus and emerged victorious, but open with everyone about the toll it took on her. A warrior in all things, Lina soon found herself able to get outside for occasional breaths of fresh air and a chance to feel the sun on her face, and then BOOM! she was back at it.

Months later, Lina has spent the summer in the sun and in Zoom Rooms teaching her trade. This music-industry maven has been inspiring people for decades, but in 2020 she took her powers of leadership to new levels, and with that has come a new sense of what is possible in the days yet to come for the venerated artist.

This interview was conducted digitally and is reproduced in its entirety.

Name: Lina Koutrakos

First Cabaret Show (Title, Year, Club): No Title. The Original Duplex. A million years ago

First Rock and Roll show: A bit before the one at the Original Duplex at Dangerfields with Andrew Clay (no "Dice" at that time)

Most Recent Cabaret Show: Clearly Now- Season 2. (with Sean Harkness and Marcus Simeone) at Don't Tell Mama. March 7th, 2020

Website or Social Media Handles: www.linasings.com

Lina Koutrakos, welcome to Broadway World Cabaret and thank you for chatting with me today. Oh my gosh, I am so happy to have you here with us!

Me too. This is gonna be fun! Thanks for asking me.

So, let's get this out of the way - early in the pandemic and New York City lockdown, you contracted Coronavirus pretty badly, which was openly discussed on your social media, so this isn't a breaking story; but I want you to be able to tell your fans how you're doing today

I'm good. I don't think I have any residual or lingering anythings either. It was NO FUN. All told, it was a no-hospital, "mild to moderate" Covid that lasted about 35 days and kicked my butt. I was super sick for a while there, and pretty scared a lot of the time, so now the word that really comes first is gratitude. I'm beyond grateful and honestly don't ever want to forget how lucky I am.

BWW Feature: At Home With Lina KoutrakosOnce you were back on your feet, you got back to work pretty quickly. Why was that important to you?

Something about it was important to me but, funny, it wasn't the obvious stuff like making a living! Lol. And I was 100 % sure I didn't want to venture into any of the technical stuff. It was the music and the people I couldn't seem to stay away from for too long. I didn't pull myself together and get classes started either... my Advanced Saturday Workshop folks invited me to come to teach, and David Sabella showed me how to do that in this new world. What a warm and unexpected welcome back. I felt truly valued by that grand gesture from all of those beautiful singers, and then, once we started to dig into the work (even online!), the joy (and yup gratitude) continues in the form of my, now, 13th workshop all these months later!

Before the shutdown, people could find you working as a performer, as a director, and as an instructor. Walk me through the trajectory of starting in the business as one thing and then adding new levels to your work.

BWW Feature: At Home With Lina Koutrakos

Wow. Necessity. I have had the need to sing to communicate, and to be center stage since I was a very little kid. I have been doing it my entire life, and it is a hunger that is not yet satisfied. After working as a singing waitress - while singing in every Rock and Roll AND Cabaret Club in this city - I decided I wanted to work by day and sing only center stage by night. Again, the need to stay in music up to eyeballs got me to teaching and directing. I learned the ropes being the waitress in the cabaret rooms tho. I probably saw thousands of shows and performers while I was carrying that tray and I tried over and over again to figure out why someone would give me goosebumps and why another person who followed the same "rules" did not. What made a good show, and then what didn't. It was fascinating. And from Nancy LaMott and Karen Mason to Scott Bakula, Faith Prince, Sharon McNight, Jenifer Lewis, Kathy Najimi, Mo Gaffney, and even Edna Manilow (loved her!) I started to figure things out and I had the "need" to share what I was discovering. Every part of this performance thing jazzes the hell out of me! Oh, and somewhere in the middle of all of the above, I became a songwriter who's actually gotten some surprising accolades and awards.

Now, in our life after Coronavirus, the focus of your work has been on your classes, which have gone online - what are some of the pros and cons of working with people in a zoom room instead of a cabaret room?

Well, first of all, there is nothing like live music. The absence of a pianist/arranger/musical director on the keys and in the room makes this a different experience, and I am better and happier when I don't pretend it's as satisfying as anything we can do live. BUT...and it's a surprising "but"... there is a boatload of behind the scenes "work" we can do on ourselves as performers right now. The idea of not picking a date on the calendar and gearing up for the show, or even working exclusively with one Musical Director opens up windows in the world we are probably (and hopefully) not going to get again, and have not had before. It's both time and opportunity to stretch ourselves. Again - we are behind the scenes, so getting dirty and doing stretches and singing to tracks is a series of disciplines that are teaching us (myself included) things we might not have had the time (and boundaries) to learn before. I see it as an opportunity, and it feels damn good after I finish up a 2-hour class to have heard people sing from their hearts, even on a flat screen, in this wild time we are all in. Keep your eyes on these folks when we are back on stage! Something major will have shifted and for the better (deeper!)

BWW Feature: At Home With Lina Koutrakos

Are you planning any virtual performances, like some of your colleagues have been doing? Maybe a Clearly Now virtual show or a Lina Koutrakos act?

BWW Feature: At Home With Lina KoutrakosLina Koutrakos is working on a new record and going into the studio in a few weeks with something that is exciting the hell out of me. All different musicians, and musically I am having so much fun creating this - I'm recording a few songs at a time and taking my time because I don't want it to end too quickly. It should pop when the world is healthy again, I'm hoping. And YES!!!!! Clearly Now is going to do "segments" I guess we'd call them. We are recording our first this week actually. We have done 2 videos - one for a huge Birthday Party and one for the St George Theater, but we were not together in the same room. But if NY stays well... we are rehearsing on line and being with one another in the same place this weekend to shoot a few videos. We should be singing and chatting with each other and other folks asap! I miss those guys. (Sean Harkness and Marcus Simeone)

BWW Feature: At Home With Lina Koutrakos

Life isn't only about work for you - I know that you get out for bike rides and walks and fresh air. What other kinds of recreation are there for you when you're away from "the office"?

BWW Feature: At Home With Lina KoutrakosCitibike is such a great invention! I can ride, park, walk, ride again and I'm unencumbered and responsibility-free! That's a great deal. I am a beach-baby and a swimmer. I can be in any body of water all day long, day after day, so I have been in the Long Island Sound for the past 4 months as often as possible. It's amazing I am not waterlogged. Tho I do prefer the Aegean - any body of water thrills me. I also have family here so I have been with them, too. My sister and brother-in-law are uptown and I see them (my sister had Covid too so we are good) and my extended family is out on Long Island, and have big outdoor spaces where sitting for hours works great. My boyfriend's family is in Brooklyn and they are excellent people too, so we go there and have small get-togethers. My niece came down from school up in Canada at McGill and she and I got to stay in a gorgeous house for 2 weeks - again on the water and in the sun! It's the people, right? I have to say even living in my smallish New York City apt with the man I love, through the Covid and the quarantine, has been extraordinary too. I mean, we get on each other's nerves (and I am Greek, so sometimes it gets loud!) but there is not one day that goes by that we are not laughing like crazy people, nearly all day long. As my friend Mikki Milone says I have truly found the "lid to my pot" in this man and that is a gift I didn't expect, so all the sweeter ya know?

You have a passion (and a talent) for scenery photography, which you share on your social media now and then. How did that hobby come about and what's your favorite kind of nature to photograph?

Now, THIS is something coming from you my friend! No stranger to a real camera you are!!!! Thank you. No idea how that came to be a thing I think I just can't get enough of seeing it all, so I want to freeze it as best I can. My favorite kind of nature to photograph??? I love anything and everything green.

You have a really solid foundation about who you are and what you are about, but you came up through the 80s and the 90s in the music industry, an industry that can be hard on women, even still today. How were you able to develop that inner strength in so unevenly balanced an industry, and how do you keep that determination steady?

BWW Feature: At Home With Lina KoutrakosI wanted something so bad I had to make it work. That need to sing and to make music, be center stage was and is still so strong it can really move mountains. The good news and the bad for me was that I was heavy. I was a physically big woman for many decades. The bad news about it in the industry was obvious. Pat Benatar I wasn't, but I sang in the same clubs and got the standing ovations. The good news about my body getting in my way from crossing over into the kind of fame I wanted was that I had to be good. Really good. I had to be real and have a reason to be in that spotlight - if it wasn't the "hot rock star" we women were supposed to be, it had to be something authentically undeniable, even if you weren't a fan. I got tuff AND strong. I learned to love myself on and off stage with all my flaws, as I could not hide them. I had to "become" or I would have sat at home waiting to be perfect in order to sing, and that was never an option for me. Now that I am a normal weighted woman for the last 20 years I am so thankful for the decades I wasn't. I know so much because of the things I never got to take for granted that a lot of other women of that time didn't get to learn. All this knowledge makes for a very sexy and confident way to mature!

There was this night, a few years back, when you and I were at the club Eighty Eights, commiserating about our careers. You told me that you had two record labels fighting over you, but you couldn't pay your bills, and I told you I was photographing the most famous people in the business, but no publisher would buy my book. Now that we are both a couple of years older and wiser, having had the experiences we've had, what do you believe is the single greatest lesson we can pass on to our students and mentees about keeping at it during tough times?

I remember that night. I remember that conversation. Today I say - Do what you were born to do, no matter what the momentary rewards or lack-thereof are. Both you and are "rich" and whether that translates into fancy parties and massive amounts of money or not, the fullness and the joy and the value and the respect and the body of work and the immense satisfaction of doing what we do, doing who we are and being what we are meant to be is priceless. I'm sure about this. If I was wrong about it I wouldn't feel this good!

Lina, since you can see clearly now, what is the view like?

BWW Feature: At Home With Lina KoutrakosVast. I can see for miles! I have always been a naturally hopeful person, I see the glass as half full and such. This having Covid and quarantine has served as a huge opportunity for me, and I am taking full advantage of it... I am headed somewhere I've never been before, and for whatever reason, it honestly feels like the world is mine for the taking... even in this mess we are all in. I am counting every blessing and - with all the heartache and pain that we are all experiencing on any given day - gratitude for being alive is propelling me forward like I have probably not been propelled before. So, the view is vast and the world feels huge and I'm gonna walk forward, but I'm gonna walk slowly because I really don't want to miss a thing!

Thank you so much for the visit - I'm really glad you dropped in on Broadway World today. Please come back any time.

I adore you!!! Thanks for having me.

Photos provided by Lina Koutrakos.

BWW Feature: At Home With Lina Koutrakos



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