BWW Interview: At Home With Lennie Watts
It's been 30 years since Lennie Watts first stepped onto the stage at Don't Tell Mama, the famed cabaret club in midtown Manhattan. In those three decades Lennie has been a performer, a director, a booking agent, the president of the Manhattan Association of Cabarets and so much more. Lennie has worked in almost every club in town and he has certainly been in the audience of them all. Nobody working in the business does so without becoming acquainted with Lennie and most become his friends. Lennie Watts has made cabaret his life, right down to his recent efforts to get the MAC Awards presented through a live streaming event on Facebook. That huge hurdle over, I thought Lennie might have a few minutes to have a digital chat with me about his life as a New Yorker, as an actor, as a cabaret maven.
Name: Lennie Watts
First Cabaret Show (Title, Year, Club): Waiting for the Light to Shine 1989 Don't Tell Mama
Most Recent Cabaret Show: Hometown Heroes with Kim Grogg
Website or Social Media Handles: Lennie Watts WEBSITE SINGNASIUM WEBSITE
Lennie, you recently hosted the MAC Awards from home via Facebook Live. Were you wearing pants under the desk or not? Enquiring minds want to know.
LOL actually, I was wearing a nice pair of shorts.
During the broadcast, you said that you were coming to viewers from Hell's Kitchen. How long have you lived in HK? Doesn't it make life easy living so near to all the clubs?
I have been in my apartment since 1992. I love being in this neighborhood, it is so convenient. I'm close to DTM, the Beechman, most of the rehearsal studios, and now the studio where Singnasium is in residence.
You have been working in cabaret for over two decades, and you've done just about everything there is to do in the business. Is there an area of the industry that you would not want to work in, moving forward in your life? What about a part of the cabaret world that you didn't think would be as rewarding as it turned out to be?
Well, there aren't many jobs left that I haven't done at one time or another. I have to say that being a booking manager of a club that I don't own is something I wouldn't want to do again. Teaching was a big revelation to me. I love being a part of people's creative process. I love watching people discover new things about themselves. Teaching has most definitely made me a better performer.
Many Hells Kitchen apartments can tend toward being on the smaller side - how's it going with the voluntary quarantine? Are you able to get out and get any fresh air in your lungs or sun on your skin?
Well, my apartment certainly falls in that category! LOL, I have a small one-bedroom, so at least I have a separate room to go to. I have been trying to get out every other day to hit the store or just go for a walk.
How did you make the first leap from stage actor to cabaret performer?
The first show I ever saw was at DTM. I was blown away by the concept of putting together my own act. I mean, I had been doing that in my head since I was a kid, so it made sense to me. I was getting cast in the same types of character roles, and I wanted to be able to express myself in my own voice, using my style of music.
Do you still seek out work as a character actor, or has your work in cabaret got you too busy to consider it?
I think about theater all the time. The last 2 shows I did were non-singing roles. I was Man In Chair in "The Drowsy Chaperone" and Crumpet the Elf in "Santaland Diaries". I loved doing those shows so much, but I haven't been pursuing any theater work.
Have you undertaken to learn anything new during the period of physical isolation?
Honestly, trying to learn technical stuff for the MAC Awards and Singnasium has been a big thing. It's not really my forte. I love a gadget and a new way of doing things, but I don't know how to do any of it!
As an instructor at your non-profit, Singnasium, what is the most valuable lesson you try to teach your students about performing cabaret?
I also teach a cabaret class at Marymount Manhattan College, and I try to teach the same thing there. The most important thing is to know what you bring to the table and be fully committed to who you are, what makes you unique, and what story you want to tell.
What misconception do people have about your work as MAC President that you would like to set right?
Oh yikes, I don't know. I think maybe people think that there are tons of perks that come with being on the board. I haven't found them yet lol. It's more work than people may imagine.
How have you seen Hell's Kitchen change in the years that you've lived in New York?
This area has gone through a few changes in the 28 years that I've been here. When I first moved to HK, if I worked a late piano bar shift at DTM, I would actually take a cab around the block. It was very sketchy on Ninth Avenue. Nobody was on the side streets at night. It got better for several years, it was like things changed overnight. Sadly, I see it slowly going back to the way it was before (but without the charm) lol
Photos provided by Lennie Watts except for top photo by Stephen Mosher