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BWW Interview: At Home With Janice Hall

One-half of the Still (A)Live From Shapiro Hall team is as colorful as her outfits.

BWW Interview: At Home With Janice HallThere are many sides to an actor, almost as many as there are to a human being, and Janice Hall is always ready to put her multitudes of facets before an audience. An actress who can sing opera, musical theater, and cabaret, Janice revealed to a wider public her sillier side when she appeared in a series of virtual TV specials titled Still (A)Live From Shaprio Hall. With her flatmate and bestie, Adam B. Shapiro, Janice released these variety shows onto the YouTube, and fans from all over the country and the world marveled at all the Sonny and Cher of it all - and even though Hall has sung in many states and many countries, the internet is providing a wider reach than she has had since winning her MAC Award for her debut club act in 2010.

Curious about the life of an opera diva turned nightclub chanteuse, I asked Janice for a sit-down so that we could talk about quarantine, Germany, and prejudice in show business.

This interview was conducted digitally and is reproduced with minimal edits.

Name: Janice Hall
First Cabaret Show: Grand Illusions: The Music of Marlene Dietrich, Metropolitan Room, 2010
Most Recent Cabaret Show: The Opera Show (With No Opera), Winter Rhythms Festival, Urban Stages, 2018
Website or Social Media Handles: www.janicehallsinger.com

Janice Hall, welcome to Broadway World, and thank you so much for chatting with us today!

Thanks for having me! I'm very happy to be with you.

Let's start with the Still (A)Live from Shapiro Hall films. This series of shows has had everyone's attention, from the very first day. I was in a Zoom meeting of Cabaret industry leaders the day after the first installment dropped and everyone was raving about it. Tell me about the Still (A)Live journey for you, thus far.

Thanks, I'm so glad you are enjoying it. The Still Alive series was born out of quarantine boredom, and the lack of creative stimulation for both myself and my roommate, friend, and co-creator, Adam B Shapiro. One day, Adam burst into my room and announced, "we're going to do a show!" I was very grateful for the nudge, and the continuing nudges he has provided; left to my own devices, I probably would have stayed in my stagnant state.


He wanted to do something that went further than the usual living room concert concept; he has learned a lot about green screen animation, and he loves the TV specials from the '60's-'80's, (Carol Burnett, Sonny and Cher, etc), so those were his inspirations.


We didn't originally have in mind a series of shows, but the response to the first one was so great, we were inspired to keep coming up with ideas. Each show has had its own particular character, influenced by the time of year, what was going on in the country, and how we felt as individuals about what was happening.

You and Adam, rather famously, are in charge of the annual Halloween party at The Salon. How many years has that bit of magical madness been going on and how did it start?

Our first joint Halloween Salon show was in 2014. I had been doing that gig by myself for a few years, and then one year when I wasn't available, Adam took it over. After that, Salon producer Tanya Moberly wasn't sure which of us to ask, so she suggested we host together, and our partnership was born. Our last live show was in 2019; in 2020, we did the "Still Alive" online version, and included a sketch that was a tribute to Salon.

BWW Interview: At Home With Janice Hall

You are an opera singer, an intellectual, an aesthete - have you found that people have tried to define you by these qualities, and are surprised to learn what a cut-up you are?

That's an interesting question. When I first came to cabaret, I didn't want to be seen as "the opera singer." I wanted to use my voice in a different way, in a different vocal range. I wanted to see what I could create and how I could employ my talents in a new arena. I have since loosened up a bit about including my classical voice when it fits the material.


As for me personally: I think I am perceived as serious, reserved, and sometimes aloof. Basically, I am very shy, and I am not really gifted at the cabaret schmooze. People are generally surprised, when they get to know me better, that I'm funnier and warmer than they thought. I also came in with my operatic training, which means I am not so good at off-the-cuff, improvisatory things. I am heavily influenced by the European approach to cabaret, and my musical tastes tend to be more serious, so I always need to be on the lookout for lighter, more comic material that can balance that out.

In your career you have moved, with ease, from opera to musical theater to nightclubs - is that kind of versatility beneficial to one's career, or do you think having one specialty for which you are known helps an artist in their work?

BWW Interview: At Home With Janice HallAs a child, my goal was to be an actress, and I always loved to sing. I had very little knowledge of classical music or opera (and what I did hear, I really hated!). Then, when I was in high school, I had a musical experience that opened my passion for opera and refocused my attention. Throughout most of my opera career, while the acting side of the roles always remained important to me, I never thought much about performing in musicals or plays; that came later.


However, the world has changed, and nowadays, young classical singers need that versatility to survive. In the opera world (if it still exists after the pandemic) it is harder than ever to make a living as a performer. Many singers are broadening their scope and pursuing musical theater work, as well as film and television. Operatic agents are now shifting how they work as well, to incorporate these other fields.


Speaking purely vocally, is it easy to move between genres?

I marvel at singers who can do that really well. Dawn Derow and Dorothy Bishop are good examples; they have real classical chops but are also equally credible in other styles. For me, it is a bit of a struggle, and I am always trying to learn how to make it sound easier and more authentic. It seems to vary widely from song to song; some slot in perfectly when I find my key, and others are problematic no matter where I position them in my range.

The opera stage is a big one and the cabaret stage, intimate. What was it that drew you from one world to the other?

BWW Interview: At Home With Janice HallFrom the time I was a teenager, I listened to many different styles of music. In addition to the popular music of the era, I was drawn to what is now called World Music, and also to many European cabaret performers: Piaf, Dietrich, Greco, and others. I had all this music in my head for years, and now I am able to utilize it in my shows. As my opera career wound down, and I moved back to New York from Germany, I decided to see what I could do with that music.


The size of the stage was initially a question mark for me; I had always shied away from classical recitals because I was nervous about having the audience so close and having to interact with them. But, for whatever reason, when I started doing cabaret I felt very comfortable. It felt like I was in my living room with a group of friends, having fun.

Changing gears - you and Adam make a lot of jokes in your specials about being cooped up together during the health crisis - put a picture in my head of what life is really like at Shapiro Hall.

Ah, time to spill the tea! Actually, Adam and I are very lucky to be "stuck with each other," in the sense that we co-exist with very little problem. We have things we do together, but we have separate lives as well. In working together on the Halloween Salon and Still Alive projects, we have discovered that, despite our very different aesthetics and musical tastes, we work well as a team. Although Adam is in charge of all the editing and magic that happens in the shows, I have become more and more involved in designing and constructing the look and feel of my solo numbers. We collaborate on lyrics, costumes, and ideas.


As I mentioned to you once, there often seem to be a lot of sequins and glitter on our carpet, and sometimes I refer to the living room as "Santa's Workshop"--it's where the magic happens!

During your years of living and working in Europe, did you learn to speak any additional languages conversationally, and, if so, did your background in opera assist you in that?

BWW Interview: At Home With Janice HallI speak fluent German, and I regret that I have very little opportunity to exercise that skill these days. (Ironically, almost none of my operatic repertoire was in German, so I was on my own there.) My Italian was, at one time, decent, but never got to the point that it wouldn't slide backward if I wasn't using it all the time. I studied French in school, but now only speak what I call "Zen French," which means if someone asks me a question, maybe I can answer it without thinking much, and this might go on for a few sentences, but sooner or later, I'll be exposed as a fraud. I think people think I speak French because I can sing well in it, but that's where the opera training comes in; I know the correct pronunciation.

Aside from the work itself, what are some of the standout memories you have from your time living abroad?

BWW Interview: At Home With Janice HallLiving in Germany was a hard adjustment in many ways. But I think that every American should have to live in another country for a few years; it is an eye-opening experience. Yes, they do things differently; at first, I was constantly complaining about that to my other American friends. But little by little, I saw that some things were better there, and it opened my eyes to things that weren't perfect over here.


I made some wonderful friends, discovered music, food, films, and personalities I wouldn't have known otherwise. Now, as I look back, I see how lucky I was in my career, able to work in major opera houses in beautiful cities, experience new parts of the world, and be a part of some extraordinary productions. Oh, and health care...

You and I have discussed, in personal conversations, the problem of ageism and sexism in the live entertainment industry. Women have taken back a lot of power, lately, and virtual shows are opening new doors. Do you think there's a shift in the paradigm coming?

When the dust settles and this pandemic is over, everything will be different. I have no answers now, but I am curious to see how the arts, and the performing arts in particular, are able to rebuild and restructure. I hope that live performance will still be a big part of our lives, but I think people are discovering a whole new world of expression through the limitations we have been faced with in the past year. Ageism and sexism, like racism, take time, and education. But if you look back, you see that things have changed, and continue to do so. Personally, I hope to always find ways to express myself creatively; I'm not too particular about the venue, as long as I can express my creative self through my voice and my body. It's always a journey and an evolution.

The stylistic difference between your Marlene Dietrich show and your Shapiro Hall films shows great range - is there a type of music you haven't put up on its feet in a show that you would like to explore?

My musical tastes are very eclectic, and also very specific. Before everything shut down, I was planning to do a show about women in politics, to be performed in the months leading up to the election. It was a show for a particular moment, and I don't know if it has a future now or not. But I had chosen some very ambitious music to attack, much more contemporary and even hip-hoppy, and I wonder how I would have fared with that.


I do have about three other shows that are either partially or completely created, but in cabaret, all it takes is money, so there's that. I have also given some thought to adapting some of my ideas into solo shows online-we'll see.

What's your favorite Halloween costume you've ever worn?

BWW Interview: At Home With Janice HallHalloween looks are really my favorites because basically, it's how I dress normally, taken to extremes. I'll show you two examples here: the first is my outfit for "Poor Unfortunate Souls," and the second, from our Halloween online show, is for the song "Moonfall," where I transformed myself into a living Klimt painting. (Sending photos as attachments.)

Janice, thank you so much for sharing yourself with our readers today. I can't wait to see what you and Adam do in your next show!

You are most welcome-and Still (A)live from Shapiro Hall plans to return in the spring!

BWW Interview: At Home With Janice Hall

BWW Interview: At Home With Janice Hall

BWW Interview: At Home With Janice Hall


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