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BWW Interview: At Home With Meri Ziev

This sweet-voiced sweetheart from Florida is always looking out for others, and why not - after all, her name rhymes with the word Give.

BWW Interview: At Home With Meri ZievIn New York City singers who want to practice at home sometimes have to worry about cranky neighbors complaining about being disturbed by that which they call noise... not all the time, of course, because some neighbors actually appreciate the free entertainment. On the street where cabaret artist Meri Ziev lives, not only do the neighbors not complain - they bring out their lawn chairs, and settle in to enjoy her impromptu front-yard shows; that's the way they roll in Florida.

One of the most popular members of the cabaret community of Manhattan, Meri maintains her southern home base, making trips to the Big Apple a few times a year in order to sing and to support the fellow artists she views as her brothers and sisters of song. In the time of the pandemic, though, Ziev has been making good use of the new virtual medium, to reach out to friends, fans, and new audiences, successfully spreading joy and her upbeat personality through music and an outlook that is uniquely (and optimistically) all her own.

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

Name: Meri Ziev (she/her)
First Cabaret Show (Title, Year, Club): "Steve & Eydie: A Celebration!" (a duet show with David Meulemans) 2015, The Stonzek Theatre of the Lake Worth Playhouse
Most Recent Cabaret Show: "In Other Words", a live-stream concert directed by Faith Prince and presented by The Cultural Council for Palm Beach County on 8-15-2020, with sponsors including Legends Radio and WPTV News Chanel 5 - see it HERE
Website or Social Media Handles:
Facebook "Vocalist" page: HERE
Facebook: personal page HERE
I also manage a community page called "Love is a Verb": HERE
Instagram: HERE

BWW Interview: At Home With Meri Ziev

Meri Ziev, welcome to Broadway World! Thanks for chatting with us today. Let's get this out of the way first: for readers who may be wondering, will you please use phonetic spelling to tell us your preferred pronunciation of your last name?

Thank you for asking! My last name rhymes with "give".

Meri, you are a big presence in the New York City cabaret community, but you don't actually live in New York. What has your life down in Florida been like during the global health crisis?

BWW Interview: At Home With Meri ZievWOW! I'm gonna let that sink in a second, a "big presence in the NYC cabaret community"! We have family in the city, including our youngest, and I just love it there - it's where many of my cabaret "peeps" are! During our last two visits, most of my time was dedicated to Cabaret: The Mabel Mercer Convention, attending my friends' shows, performing at Cast Party (every time!), singing at Katie Dunn McGrath's apartment with Patrick DeGennaro accompanying. I even had the thrill of attending a very special cabaret "after-party" for Jeff Harnar and K.T. Sullivan - thanks to Phyllis Weiss Kinsler - where we sang accompanied by Jon Weber! I had several sessions collaborating with Christopher Denny, with the intention of having him music direct my NYC Cabaret debut during 2020! Literally 10 days later, the country was shut down.

BWW Interview: At Home With Meri Ziev

BWW Interview: At Home With Meri ZievAs for the question of life in Florida during the global health crisis, I am keenly aware of the benefits of being in a temperate, warm climate where we can get outside for physical activity, and for small social gatherings at appropriate distances with masks on. But Florida has the same concerns as the rest of the country: how to remain safe, how to keep people employed, fed and housed-and the inequities which have come to the forefront. I am appreciating my privileges. And the beach. And baking bread.

Is there a big cabaret and club industry where you are, or do you find yourself traveling a lot for work? That is, when there isn't a pandemic on... How does a nightclub singer secure out of state bookings?

BWW Interview: At Home With Meri ZievFirst, I am in southeast Florida (it's a really loooong state!), so I can't really gauge the whole state yet. In Palm Beach County where I live, there are some restaurants that hire singers, but they mostly provide background music for diners. Local theatres often have a cabaret series, but many are only hiring national acts. There are a few venues nearby that provide actual Cabaret spaces, but they also offer other kinds of entertainment. What Florida does have is "The Condo Circuit"! There are many condominiums or retirement communities, and each has a different agent or point of contact. So, that's the long answer! The short answer is, "No." There is not a big, dedicated cabaret and club industry here.

How to secure out of state bookings? That is the great mystery which eludes us all! It's rare for a venue to seek out a performer, so we really have to do our own footwork. Phone calls, emails, connections, researching performance venues, paying a premium to rent a space, or guaranteeing that a minimum number of seats will be filled, filling out online applications, word of mouth referrals, and so on. Essentially, most venues here and out of state want to know what work you have already done, read your reviews, hear what accolades you have accumulated, and they want to see your EPK (electronic promo kit).

You have kept yourself active this last year with your singing by doing some online performances - how are you feeling about the whole virtual concert thing, after testing the waters?

The livestream experience is like singing in a vacuum! After each song......nothing. Yet, when I stare into the camera, I have a picture in my mind of some of the people who are watching, and I have a visceral response to imagining their reactions! Many times, people will reach out in a text, phone call, email or message afterward, which is so sweet and very much appreciated. It's a given that virtual performances and recordings will never be as fulfilling without the human engagement and vibrations of a live show, but under the current circumstances, I am happy to have an outlet for creativity and connecting with others. Remotely interacting with 2-dimensional people has, nevertheless, broadened our musical world, literally! Open mic nights have brought together performers from across the country, and across the "pond"! Online performing began for me when a friend asked me to post a video, and then Richard Skipper invited me to submit a PSA for his #StayHomeCampaign: HERE

Online classes have allowed me to create my own sort of conservatory! Classes have included song performance, comedy work, voice lessons, and currently "Piano for Singers"! I continued Swing Time Jazz Bootcamp with Gabrielle Stravelli, which brings me back to how I am feeling about this "virtual concert thing". Two summers ago, I took the class in person with Gabrielle, and Michael Kanan (piano) and Patrick O'Leary (bass) were also part of our experience. That was a gift that cannot be replicated online. The same for online shows. Nothing compares to performing live, but that's just it. "Nothing" is not an option for those of us whose hearts are in the arts.

Tell me about the sidewalk concerts.

BWW Interview: At Home With Meri ZievWhat have you heard? LOL. My favorite was at home, in our driveway. Fortunately, my husband Arthur, is my biggest fan and often my "roadie"! He encouraged me to do a miniconcert/cabaret show for our neighborhood on New Year's Eve. We sent invitations suggesting BYOC: Bring Your Own beach Chair! Everyone sat on the lawn or on the driveway, in their safety-pods, distanced from others, and all respectfully wearing masks. About 26 people showed up (they all RSVP'd YES!), plus small clusters of people who heard me from a distance and stopped to listen! Listening to the feedback, I wonder whose heart was warmed more - theirs or mine!

BWW Interview: At Home With Meri ZievOther side-walk concerts include on the outdoor patio of a local restaurant, where I have been gigging with a jazz band called the "Spirit & Soul Jazz Band". We pretty much work for a free lunch while the restaurant is at 25% capacity. It's like a dress rehearsal with a small audience. Safety precautions are in place, of course. It's all about the joy of making music! Most restaurants are at limited capacity - if they are able to remain open at all. Funding and safe opportunities for live music are limited nowadays.

You have a lot of experience singing in benefits and fundraisers, but you also work behind the scenes for some of these organizations. How did your charity work begin, and how long have you been at it?

BWW Interview: At Home With Meri ZievI think it began with volunteering at our children's elementary school about 20 years ago (Oh good grief! 20?!), in classrooms and running the book fair, but singing for charity events began about 15 years ago when I was part of a performance troupe called KP Productions. After performing and volunteering at the Lake Worth Playhouse for many years with my whole family, I served as Co-Chair of the Entertainment Committee for their 60th Anniversary Gala. Burt Reynolds was the guest of honor! More recently, I was invited by Tim Schall to be on the Host Committee for The Cabaret Project St. Louis. Lennie Watts asked me to participate in the Singnasium Fun(d)raiser Gala, including their "One Voice" video project.

BWW Interview: At Home With Meri Ziev

Are there any organizations that, particularly, always have your support?

Many! Among them is the Cultural Council for Palm Beach County - all the arts feed my soul! and the Compass LGBTQ Community Center. I performed there with my friend David Meulemans during a beautiful photo exhibit. All the pictures were taken at the weddings of gay couples. At the moment, I am looking into local opportunities related to social justice.

Was your work as a speech pathologist born out of your singing career, or did the two interests develop simultaneously in your life?

What a great "chicken or the egg" kind of question! My mom - the one who raised me-was hearing impaired. Growing up, my father was an artist, and there was always music in the house and in Daddy's car. So, I sang along ever since I could talk. I sang in talent shows in school and summer camp and played flute in the band during middle and high school. When I was in high-school, I befriended a girl who was profoundly hearing impaired. I was always drawn to service professions, so Speech-Language Pathology was a natural fit for me. As was cabaret! I first learned about "The Art of Cabaret" in 2015, and after taking a Master Class with Sally Mayes I fell in love with purposefully engaging an audience in the story and creating a subscript for a song. It felt like a perfect match for me! Speech-Language Pathology and Cabaret are all about communicating with others.

What does the work of a speech pathologist look like?

Have you all day?! How to summarize...

There are endless ways for it to look, depending on the setting: medical, educational, home health, rehabilitation... I was on a rehabilitation team that worked with children during hippotherapy-while they were on horseback! While working in a VA hospital, our patients had suffered strokes that impacted comprehension, their ability to talk, or to swallow food safely. For 15 years, I was a specialist on a multidisciplinary team working with families of babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. In the NICU we focused on teaching parents how the environment impacted their baby's heart rate and breathing, digestion, movement, feeding and bonding-in other words, on their communication cues. I loved being part of the birth to three Early Intervention Program, too. For over 10 years, my work at an elementary school included evaluating children's understanding of language, verbal expression, speech patterns, voice and fluency, specifically in the context of school success and literacy. One of my favorite therapy groups included children from kindergarten through 5th grade =who had issues with stuttering. Besides learning fluency strategies, each student learned how their bodies produce speech, how to be their own advocates and to support one another when faced with criticism of their speech, and we identified successful role models, so they would know they could aspire to great accomplishments. Yes, Joe Biden was one of their role models!

Put a picture in my head of your IN OTHER WORDS journey. Your director was Faith Prince, and you had multiple musical directors. How did it all work?

BWW Interview: At Home With Meri ZievWell, let me begin by saying the journey isn't over, but it began when I met Faith at the St. Louis Cabaret Conference in the summer of 2015. We started working together through Skype and Facetime long before the pandemic! Faith has an extraordinary way of getting to the essence of a song, and weaving a through-line into the fabric of a show. During my third summer at the SLCC, Faith directed the Professional Track, and my first 15-minute set was born! IN OTHER WORDS is the second iteration of the show. It was originally, "Starting Here, Starting Now". My music director was Phil Hinton, who has toured around Europe and was a conductor and arranger for the BBC Orchestra. However, when I was offered a date to perform at the Cultural Council for Palm Beach County, he had already committed to another gig out of the country. Fortunately, Bobby Peaco had just moved to Florida, fresh out of the NYC Cabaret World, and he was available. I kept some of Phil's arrangements and added some of Bobby's. Since I had begun to work with Christopher Denny, I was able to use a couple of his arrangements, too. Christopher and I finished our arrangements remotely, using JamKazam so our sound would sync. He taught me how to set up and use the program, too! The Cultural Council shifted to a livestream format, and we had well over 200 viewers, which is double what they had expected and more than previous online shows. I am proud to say the show garnered multiple Broadway World Cabaret Award nominations, and Faith Prince won for directing!

BWW Interview: At Home With Meri Ziev

You are a big supporter of other artists, using all the resources available to you to help them promote their work, whatever it may be. Where do you come by this matriarchal instinct?

That's a really nice thing to say! I have been on the receiving end of that kind of generosity, and I know how that made me feel. Friends have introduced me to agents, offered me guest spots to sing at their shows, given me singing jobs, been my cheerleaders, offered me advice, been my audience, ...the list is endless! Rob Russell is one of my friends who graciously brought me up to sing at many of his shows. At one such event, he introduced me to Dick Robinson, who upon hearing me sing, asked for recordings which he played on Legends Radio HERE. What a thrill that was! Besides all that, over the past year, I have become mindful of under-representation in the arts, so I am trying to be better about including people who may have been left out of the spotlight before, particularly people of color. No venue is going to hire just one single act so what's the point of competing when we can lift each other up? On a side note, it's interesting that you chose a word related to mothering. While I am a mom to two glorious humans, Natalie and Jace, I believe any parent, regardless of gender, has the capacity to be equally nurturing. Don't you, Grandpa?

I do indeed. Well, what can we at Broadway World help you promote today? Do you have any performances coming up, or something you would like people to know about?

Stephen, your generosity knows no limits! What a gem you are to offer! As for cabaret shows, there are a couple in process without dates or venues yet. I would like to put out to the universe that my next dream-show would be related to the evocative nature of colors, and I would love to take it to art galleries, expanding on a benefit I was part of for the Broward Art Guild! Harold Sanditen has invited me to be in the lineup for his February 11th Valentine's Day Open Mic HERE and Grace Black will be featuring some of my jazz performances on her broadcast from Scotland, "Almost Live", on The Jazz Lounge March 28th at 11 a.m. ET (4 p.m. UK) HERE and April 5th on Pure Jazz Radio at 2 p.m. ET (7 p.m. UK) HERE

Meri thank you so much for visiting with us today. I'm so glad you said yes when I asked!

Stephen, thank you so much for asking-and for your expansive contributions to the Cabaret World!

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