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BWW Interview: David Sabella & Sue Matsuki of SO YOU WANT TO SING CABARET

Sue N David let it all hang out in an in-depth interview.

BWW Interview: David Sabella & Sue Matsuki of SO YOU WANT TO SING CABARETMatsuki and Sabella. Sabella N Matsuki. What scans better? If one were introducing a performing duo or answering the phone at a law firm, what would roll of the tongue with more ease and fluidity? It's hard to say, but whoever gets first billing, David Sabella and Sue Matsuki are a well-known pair in the cabaret industry; these two friends are often seen in the audience together, they participate in the much renowned classes of Lina Koutrakos, they work together on the website Cabaret Hotspot, and now they have co-authored the book So You Want To Sing Cabaret.

After looking through the tome (beautifully decorated with a photo of Jeff Harnar) this writer became interested in its creation and had many questions about the process of collaboration on so specific a topic that could create a book nearly 500 pages long, how they stayed balanced in quarantine, and what happens next.

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

Sue Matsuki and David Sabella! Welcome to Broadway World, thank you for chatting with us today. David, I hope you won't mind if I follow my Mama's rule and go Ladies First - Sue, you recently took a couple of mental health days, unplugged and hung out with your hubby; how are you feeling after your mini-vacation?

BWW Interview: David Sabella & Sue Matsuki of SO YOU WANT TO SING CABARETSM: Thank you so much for doing this interview and for asking how I'm doing Stephen. I am much was one mental health day off but I really needed to step away from the computer and get some fresh air with my sweet, incredibly supportive husband. We try to do this at least once a week, to connect and just take time out for each other. I feel that it is really important to realize when you are feeling overwhelmed. My biggest signal that I need a break is that I get cranky. I know! Who would guess?! Time for an attitude adjustment, so off to the park we went!

And David, how has your experience as a parent in quarantine been?

BWW Interview: David Sabella & Sue Matsuki of SO YOU WANT TO SING CABARETDS: Well, as you may know, the quarantine came at the end of a very difficult time for my kids. In the last few years we've lived through divorce, several moves, and even the death of their co-parent (my ex). I was REALLY hopeful that 2020 would be better. But, COVID had other ideas.

With this in mind, and with a bit of hindsight, I can say that the incubation of the last 6 months has actually been good for us as a family. We are all home and together. There's been a lot of repair (on a daily basis). It's been a reset that we needed, a time to reprioritize. It's been hard, but worth it and I've learned a lot about myself as a parent.

My kids have weathered it very well. I think social media and smartphones have (unfortunately) groomed them for this type of physical isolation. They are perfectly happy to be at home, talking with their friends on all the apps they've used for years, binge watching Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and YouTube. They seem OK, which makes it OK for me.

So, you just announced the creation of Cabaret University, which I'd like to talk about later, but, at first blush, what has been the response to the news?

DS: It's so new I haven't really gotten any official feedback yet, except that the people who are using it, taking the classes, are very vocal about their appreciation for it.

We specifically started with two classes that are extremely timely, "Online Music Collaboration Made Easy," and "Online Music Collaboration with JamKazam." My vision for this dates back to when we first launched Cabaret Hotspot. I always wanted to have a learning annex to the site. I always envisioned it as an educational site. I guess another result of the quarantine is that I finally had time to implement it.

The City of New York went into quarantine a little over six months ago and, right out of the gate, you both took to your computers in a Herculean effort to keep people informed, to educate, and to inspire. What was the instinct that drove each of you through the early days of the pandemic with such force?

SM: For me, my first question was, "How can Cabaret Hotspot help the community?" Can we be "the" place (or one of them) for the community to go to, to find out what was happening with on-line, live and living room performances? I started scouring Facebook and asking people to submit their shows to me and created the daily show schedule. I also asked you Stephen, and others, to share gig information with me and welcomed everyone to pick up anything from us just to get the information out there.

I then got creative and decided to play with the Spotlights (because no one could review anything) featuring theme Spotlights each week: inspirational videos, fundraisers, MDs and Sidemen, CDs and video clips, open mics, songwriters, photographers, we did some live interviews, and are trying to keep people informed as to what the clubs are up to. We also always list the current classes being offered.

DS: I could immediately see the writing on the wall. When Broadway shut down it was a clarion call that things were not going to be "normal" for a long time.

I've always been inspired by a story that my first voice teacher, Marie Trafficante, told me in college. She said "After WWII the first buildings in Europe to be rebuilt were the theaters, because in times of strife the public needs to be inspired, and comforted by theater, music, opera." I believe these things are vital for the human soul. They are definitely vital for me. So, the thought of no singing, no live performance, was devastating for me, as both a singer AND an audience member.

I had been teaching online for many years so I knew that it was possible to both sing and teach online with very good results. I also sensed that, whatever I already knew about this issue, the technologies involved would immediately experience exponential growth to meet the needs of a new world. So, I started collecting data.

In the first weeks of the pandemic I jumped into research mode, at first just for my own students, to keep them motivated. But then I soon realized the implication for the cabaret industry and I started writing my "Quarter-Notes form the Apocalypse," which was a four part series on why and how we needed to continue our musical collaboration and singing lives, now online. After that, I started posting these small online "how to" videos. The response to those were overwhelming. My YouTube channel blew up and I knew I had to continue.

You both seemed to be at this work non-stop. How were you able to maintain the balance in your life and, frankly, your sanity?

DS: At first it was a way to keep my own sanity, to feel productive, like I was contributing to the greater good. Now it's more difficult. I am literally inundated with requests for technological help, setting up someone's studio using various technologies, etc. that's one of the reasons why I started to produce the classes on Cabaret University, in order to get the information to a large group of people, online and on demand.

Family life, of course, continues to take precedence. I have two teenagers who are going through the most extraordinary time of their lives. Not only all of the personal issues I mentioned above, but now also a pandemic, a global depression, political and racial unrest; all these things contribute to an extremely anxious time of life for them. And let's not forget that both of my daughters are African-American, so their experience of this racial injustice and divide is deeply unique and personal, in a way that I can't begin to experience, or help them through. The best thing I can do is "be there for them," sometimes that means long conversation, and sometimes it means playing Uno, or checkers, or just binge watching TV with them. My being with them for that dedicated time is both restorative and necessary.

SM: I know we have all had our moments but being busy helps me stay focused. I work six hours a day minimally on Cabaret related things. I am also currently gearing up to co-produce this year's virtual Winter Rhythms at Urban Stages with Tom Toce. I am even trying my hand at Directing! If there is any blessing in this whole Covid nightmare, it's that I've gotten so much done and I have learned so much. I learn something new every single day. My husband, creating, singing and cooking keeps me sane and happy.

In the middle of all of this, you also released a book titled So You Want To Sing Cabaret - was it difficult getting over the finish line while in quarantine? Was it easier or more complicated, dealing with editors and publishers and printers via remote?

SM: I'm going to let David take this one. My answer is "yes", there was a big delay on our release date due to Covid but David was really the one really dealing with this. However, when we knew we could not do the Book Release Show planned for Green Room 42 with all our wonderful interviewees/stars, we came up with the lecture/video idea that became our virtual book release and that process was so much fun and creative, and it was all done remotely. A BIG thank you to Lina Koutrakos and Roger Lian and to all of the artists that took part in that video.

DS: By the time the quarantine happened we had already submitted it to the publisher. Their job of formatting it with the pictures and paginating it with final edits was severely delayed because their office was shut down. There were months that we had absolutely no communication with them. Only in May, when their offices started to open up again, could we resume the process - and by necessity it had to go very fast because we were slated to have a release date in June.

We had always planned to produce a book with this show, (originally at Green Room 42) featuring many of the artists that were interviewed in the book. Of course, with the pandemic that was not possible to do, live and in person, so I came up with the idea of doing it online with both recorded interviews and performances and even a few live performances. Lina Koutrakos directed the video and Roger Lian was our video editor who put it all together. We debuted it in a private viewing for the 56th Conference of the National Association of Teachers of Singing, and Richard Skipper debuted it publicly online on his YouTube channel, "Richard Skipper Celebrates." In the end I think we wound up with a wonderful show that now can be viewed at any time.

What kind of editor did you have? Was it someone who gave a lot of notes, or did they let you grab it and run with it?

SM: Again, David can field this one but I thought the editors at Rowman and Littlefield were awesome. We had so much content and had to edit a lot but our book is still the biggest book in their entire 20-book series so they gave us a lot of leeway. They loved what we gave them so I personally felt that they were incredibly supportive. David..

DS: The book was sponsored by the National Association of Teachers of Singing, it is the 20th and the last in their "So You Want to Sing" series of books. Matthew Hoch is the series editor, and the executive director of NATS, Allen Henderson, is the series executive editor. Because the book has such a narrow focus, that being "singing" in Cabaret, we were limited in what we could present, in so far as we could not include all of the aspects of cabaret performance. We really couldn't address characterization or impersonation, or interview type shows or comedy, or spoken word shows. We were limited to the subject matter of great singers and great singing, in cabaret.

Other than that they gave us free-reign, I think in part because they themselves were very unfamiliar with the world of cabaret. I remember once, when talking with the series editor about my interview with Michael Feinstein on the Great American Songbook, Matthew said "Well, you need to first define what is the Great American Songbook. A lot of our readers may not know that." That was very enlightening to me, as far as who was our target audience.

It can be difficult for a writer to have their work edited - did your editor require you to cut things that were hard to let go of?

DS: As big as the book is, 448 pages, we wrote so much more that is not actually in the book. We did have to edit down several chapters and interviews, (and some are not even included at all). As it turns out there is so much to say about the genre of small venue vocal performance that it could have easily filled up another book. We are in fact planning to put together a companion workbook, which will include a lot of the information that didn't make it into this first book.

I should mention that one of the best interviews I had, with Richard Jay Alexander, didn't make it into the book simply because he was my first interview subject and my dictation software completely failed. It was a terrible loss and a steep learning curve. Hopefully I can get him into the workbook.

What was the genesis of your book? Did NATS come to you with the idea, or did you take it to them?

DS: Oh, they approached me with the idea. I had not ever considered writing a book. The year before I had contributed to a chapter in another one of their books, "So You Want to Sing CCM" (Contemporary Commercial Music). After that book had been published they approached me about writing the next book in the series which just happened to be "So You Want to Sing Cabaret." They knew that I had some experience in this genre, and I was already a known writer to them, so it was very serendipitous.

There are many learning opportunities in the cabaret industry, from workshops to master classes - and now they are available online. Would you say that this book would make a good textbook to those courses of study?

DS: Absolutely! It is one of my greatest desires for the book. There's wisdom in this book from the great singers and teachers, directors and music directors, all of the artists we interviewed. There is also a sense of history about the genre, as detailed by Erv Rebel and Roy Sander, in their respective chapters. And, there are three chapters common to every "So You Want to Sing" book, Singing and Voice Science by Dr. Scott McCoy, Vocal Health for Singers by Wendy Labornge, and Using Audio Enhancement Technology by Matthew Edwards. These subjects not covered in any other educational program designed for cabaret.

I tried to design the book in a way that it would be both extremely informative as a textbook, and also an enjoyable read for the cabaret aficionado. Hopefully we succeeded.

SM: Absolutely. That is our ultimate goal with NATS but also in our community. Listen, everyone has their own way of teaching and there are many styles of teaching, we could not possibly cover them all but we offered our techniques (always noted as "some" of the many techniques used) and many of the styles of teaching that I myself have been taught and that I now teach. We also interviewed many teachers and directors. My input comes from 30 years in the business and from my still taking classes! As my beloved mentor Julie Wilson used to say, "When you stop learning, when you think you know it's time to get off of the stage." Ella also had a similar quote!

Do you fear that having a book like this out there will cut into the industry of those who teach the art of cabaret?

SM: Why should it? They can use it as a text book or not. They can say, "I agree with this technique or style of teaching" or not. This book was intended for a community (NATS) that does not know what the genre of Cabaret is so there are many 101 level explanations and "how to" chapters. Our mission is to get teachers and venues across the country to know what the art of cabaret is!

DS: Oh God, no. That never even crossed my mind. Cabaret is a very small niche of vocal performance and it is a very very misunderstood niche of vocal performance. Bringing this information to a larger audience, and increasing awareness about this vocal genre, should, in fact, have the effect of bringing MORE people to the live classes and MORE people to the clubs as audience members.

What is the basis for the lessons being taught in your book, and did the course of study being taught come from one of you, or did you meld the techniques and experience you have mutually gained over the years?

DS: I don't think we're proposing a course of study. What we tried to do was to present several different strategies that are currently being taught by many different people. I don't think we reinvented the wheel at all. We just sort of brought attention to a few different wheels. And with each of the chapters we're very careful to say that the strategies we are highlighting in the book are only a small portion of many different techniques that are currently used in the industry. I don't think there's any one "right way" to do it. Here are a few different ideas. Pick the one that works for you or move onto another

I do need to give full credit to Sue for her contributions in both the business and craft of cabaret chapters. The data that she presents in the production and promotion chapters is information she has worked on for years. It's that kind of experience and research that nobody else had put forth. Luckily, she had all of the information at her fingertips as part of a curriculum that she has been teaching for years.

The lyric connection chapter is something we both worked on, and we're both very conscious to say "Here are just a few ideas," and "If you do this work on your own you'll be better prepared to work with your director/teacher." By no means does this replace real life human interaction with a director or a teacher. This is a starting point.

SM: It was definitely a collaboration with both of us bringing our respective skill sets and knowledge to the table. Early on, right after David went to the publishers and said I should be given co-author credit, we both decided to co-write many of the chapters. Can I just say that to have someone go to bat for you like this was very special to me. I was originally just contributing a few chapters.

You have both produced shows and recordings and other works of creativity, as performers; what were some of the new ways of giving artistic birth that you discovered while creating this book?

DS: Well, I discovered that people consider me a good writer, although I had never considered that myself. I labor over it just as much as I labor over birthing something artistic. But I don't consider it artistic. I consider it academic.

At my core, I consider myself a teacher in this regard, not necessarily a writer, and certainly not a "critic." Even when I review a show (remember that?) I do it from the point of view of educating someone who doesn't know anything about the world of Cabaret. I want to entice the reader to step into the club. I want them to know what kind of magic awaits them. So the whole thing is one large educational process for me.

SM: I had to learn and still have so much to learn about writing. I write like I speak and poor David had to edit me constantly. It's become a running joke for him to say to me, "3rd person please!" This is a new skill that I have not yet mastered but what a great experience and a wonderful learning opportunity.

The book seems like one that could have been written by a single person - what was the impetus for collaborating on the book, and how did you decide which of you would take which duties?

DS: Well, this is a simple answer for me. The impetus for collaborating on the book is simply the fact that I absolutely knew I couldn't do it on my own. I had no business writing about the cabaret industry when I was barely IN the cabaret industry! I had done a few shows in the 90s and early 2000s, but then I left to raise a family. As I say in the book, in the introduction, one of the reasons I said yes to writing this book at all is because I had specifically made room in my life for something to come in, and THIS is what came in! Personally, I took that as a sign. I had made great relationships in the Cabaret industry early on, and I knew that I could get to the right people and artists who could make the book really worthy. That's what I proposed to the publisher, and that's what they agreed to.

Sue was, for me, an obvious choice. She has had a long, 35 year, history in this industry, she is beloved by the members of this community, has real world knowledge, and had built a curriculum, already in place.

We worked extremely closely together on developing the entire book, dividing up tasks, and helping each other with first edits. My main focus in that regard was that the book sound and feel more like a textbook, being sure to keep it in the third person, with a very objective point of view, all the while keeping in mind that the target audience for this book, as specified by the publisher, was voice teacher's (specifically CLASSICAL voice teachers) who are teaching young singers and have absolutely no idea what this genre is about.

We tried to create a book that could work for that demographic, and at the same time be beneficial to the seasoned cabaret performer.

SM: I would just add that the more we contributed chapters to the editors, the more they enjoyed hearing the voices of a male, vocal practitioner professional (their target market basically) and a female, 30-year veteran.

You are close friends, as well as colleagues on the Cabaret Hotspot website; did you find there was a difference in the demands placed on your relationships while writing the book, when compared to what you were used to?

DS: To be honest, it all happened at the same time. I was introduced to Sue by Richard Skipper. We started talking and I immediately knew I wanted her help on the book. Concurrently, we were talking about Stu Hamsta's Cabaret Hotline Online, which, since his passing, had folded up, and was sorely missed. I decided to honor him by picking up that legacy and creating Cabaret Hotspot. So, our friendship grew from our very first meeting, and deciding to work together. Now, she's like my sister.

SM: Honestly, I think we had two minor melt downs but we were both under a lot of stress to meet deadlines at a time when David was having major personal issues. I had to run Cabaret Hotspot and keep up my side of the book process so I got overwhelmed but we got through it by talking it out...right David? We love each other like family. I have never met anyone so calm under pressure and professional and kind. Believe-it-or-not, it was a very easy process.

Why this book? What was the picture in your head when you decided to do a book on how to perform, specifically as a singer, in the world of cabaret?

DS: Oh, I had no picture in mind. What I tried to do was to present a historical snapshot of this vocal performance genre, within the last 15 to 20 years, by talking to people who have been doing it exclusively as their means of artistic expression. I do think that, when all is said and done, if you read the book cover to cover, you do get a good sense of how today's cabaret industry differs from previous decades of the "golden age" and where it might be going in the future. I think understanding the history of the genre allows one to have a greater respect for the work that goes on here. All too often cabaret is the butt of jokes. When what's really happening is some of the most real, artistic communication that can happen on stage, if it's done right. And that's what we wanted to illuminate. What is the "art" of cabaret performance.

There are those who have suggested that So You Want To Sing Cabaret lacks diversity in its representation of ethnicity and age: is that a concern that you had during the creation and the release of the book?

DS: No, in fact, I'm surprised to hear that. We went out of our way to include members of every generation within the book. We have an entire chapter dedicated to a multi generational glimpse of the industry. And, as far as ethnic diversity, I think Natalie Douglas and Marilyn Lester both speak very eloquently to that in their own chapters.

The truth of the matter is that I sent out a LOT of invitations for interview, to a lot of people of varying ethnicities and gender identities. In the end, I could only interview those people who accepted my invitation. Some people who declined our request for interview didn't actually want to be known as a "Cabaret" singer. And I think that's a problem with the entire industry, as if somehow the word "Cabaret" is a bad word. If nothing else, I hope this book brings a greater awareness and respect for the entire vocal genre of cabaret and small venue performance.

SM: I am glad that you brought this to our attention but I have to say, I find this confusing. Our last chapter specifically states that the future of cabaret is spanning from Generation Z to the Silent Generation, we did interview a range of ages but perhaps we didn't interview the people expressing this opinion. Our choice to interview established stars was because they are the history of what came to be Cabaret as we know it today. We thought long and hard about how to represent this genre. The book is 448 pages...we could not possibly interview everyone.

Do you think that young people of color who want to go into cabaret will relate to the interviews and profiles in your book, or would they have benefitted from a look at the work of artists closer to their demographic?

SM: I would say that all that we teach in this book is geared to teaching up and coming matter what their ethnic background or their age. The beauty of Cabaret is that it is completely color blind and there are no "types". Cabaret will survive and thrive not just with young people finding out about this art form but from anyone, of any age and ethnicity, who wants to sing. The basic techniques would be the same for all demographics. And, while Cabaret is open to all who will embrace it, many singers do not want to identify as a Cabaret singer. Marilyn Maye, for instance, considers herself a "Nightclub singer." (her words, not mine) So, she chose not to be in the book, as did a few other African American artists that we approached. Cabaret is just not where they identified their market.

DS: Again, I think Natalie Douglas' chapter is phenomenal in this regard. She really dives into this subject. Ultimately, I don't think I'm qualified to say what a young person of color would benefit from more. But I don't think that ANYBODY starts out in life saying "I want to be a cabaret singer." I think cabaret finds you. I think it takes a lot of courage to say to oneself "I want to do that. I belong there." When you have that moment of realization, no matter what ethnicity or gender identity, or religion you happen to be, that's what you're going to do. Because that's home. And I think that Cabaret is a very big umbrella under which EVERYBODY can find a home.

How did you choose the artists that you profile and interview in your book?

DS: Truthfully, that evolved over time. Early on I made the decision to focus on singers who spend their entire career in small venue cabaret performance, rather than notable performers from other genres who also happen to perform in cabaret clubs. A lot of my close friends are very well known Broadway performers, who, of course, also do cabaret shows. And yes, I could've asked them for interviews, and it would've been a very different book. But I wanted to focus a light on those artists who spend the bulk of their professional life and artistic expression in the small venue performance genre. This is a very unique type of performer who is the backbone of the cabaret industry.

Then it was a matter of who responded to me affirmatively and who would grant us an interview. Remember, when all this started I'm sure it was perceived by many as a very dubious endeavor at best. I remember when I was first approached by the publisher about the CCM book, I had no idea what it was, or what it would turn out to be. I can totally understand people having that same kind of reaction to this book as well. Here I was, a relative outsider, asking people for interviews for a book on Cabaret! It's no wonder that some people (some very high profile people) said no. However, I am a firm believer in "what is meant to be, will be," and I am delighted with how the book turned out, with all of our interview subjects, and with all of the information that we presented

SM: Historic knowledge and people who put this genre on the map, cabaret icons, recent award winners (directors and music directors), industry leaders and such.

So You Want To Sing Cabaret has descriptions of the types of singers working in the industry; some of those descriptions have some of the artists a little out of sorts, hurt and offended - how were those breakdowns created?

DS: Oh no no, those are not "types of singers working in the industry." Remember, the book is designed for voice teachers and their young students. It's the Voice teacher that has to know what's required of the voice in this genre. I was very clear to say "These are categories of singers who may find themselves performing in a cabaret venue and may (or may not) know what to do once there." When a young student walks into a voice studio they're most likely going to have an identity, or a professional desire, for their voice. They're going to want to be either a music theater singer, or a classical singer, or a pop singer, etc. Like I said, nobody wakes up and says "I want to be a cabaret singer." But, when you're singing in a small venue, in a cabaret room with people who are 5 feet away from you, you need to treat that experience differently, and honor it for what it is. There-in lies the entire basis of a "cabaret performance technique," and the voice teacher (often the young singer's most valued mentor) has to know what's appropriate to the task of singing in a cabaret venue.

I had a feeling that assertion would be viewed as a bit provocative, and even controversial. It's specifically put in the beginning of the book so that as one reads the book the assertion of that hypothesis can be born out. I hope that as one reads the book, one will come to understand what I meant by that, and how those categories of singers are all valid in their own genres, but how the true "cabaret singer" needs to approach the repertoire differently.

What has been the response to So You Want To Sing Cabaret?

SM: Over all, the teachers are loving it . We sold out of our first printing before the book even got to Amazon and I personally did not get my author's copy until the 2nd printing. (I was not pleased! LOL!)

Our own community, for the most part, seems to have embraced it, but hearing these concerns you have addressed today makes me grateful that you are giving us the opportunity to address them. There is always the risk of hurt feelings from people we didn't get to interview. And certainly everything in the book will not be "accepted" by everyone. But, these are our opinions, and our techniques, and we stand by them.

DS: I don't know if I can speak really objectively about that. Everyone that would say anything to me loves it, and I certainly haven't heard anything negative about it.

The only thing that I can say with some level of objectivity is that we outsold our first press of the book, and we've outsold the publisher's expectations so far. The response that I've gotten from the actual voice teaching community, the main target audience for the book, has been overwhelmingly affirmative. Remember, voice teachers spend their life in the world of beautiful tone, training the voice as a separate and distinct instrument. They spend their life in opera, oratorio, and choral work. The entire "So You Want to Sing" series is dedicated to the professional development of the classical singing voice teacher. The idea that cabaret performance is "lyric centric" and not "tone-based" will be, for many teachers, absolutely enlightening, and for some even blasphemous. The fact that I tried to make this book equally interesting for two different demographics is one of the things that makes it different than the other books of the series. If this book had been written by anyone else, it certainly would be a different book, which may, or may not, have served the cabaret industry well.

Do you see a second book in your future?

DS: We are considering a workbook as a companion to this book. And, quite honestly, some of your questions have led me to think that maybe that's necessary. I think without the constraints of the publisher, the narrow focus of "singing," we would be able to address larger topics within the genre.

SM: We are working on a companion Workbook that will also include a lot of instruction on all the new ways of performing and the equipment needed and all of that because the clubs may not be opening for some time still and art must continue in this new paradigm of performing.

Now, about Cabaret University - what led to the formation of this new learning opportunity?

BWW Interview: David Sabella & Sue Matsuki of SO YOU WANT TO SING CABARETDS: This was always a goal of mine. I always viewed Cabaret Hotspot as an educational website. Indeed it was my original thought that, when the book came out, many of the voice teachers and academics who read the book would then go to Cabaret Hotspot for more information. In fact, that is what has started to happen. Of course, then, Covid happened, and everyone has been very preoccupied with how to continue doing what they do, now online.

The financial undertaking of creating a whole new website with an entirely new learning management system was no small endeavor. It's really only due to the success of our first class, "Online Music Collaboration Made Easy," that I was able to realize it at all. Many thanks must go to Regina Zona of for fulfilling my vision, and doing so extremely quickly, and on budget!

I really do believe that the performance techniques used in cabaret performance can benefit performers of every genre. As Erv Raible is famously quoted as saying "Cabaret does not produce chorus members. Cabaret produces stars." Cabaret teaches you to be creative artist, not a re-creative artist. Instead of chasing after some performance opportunity or job, cabaret teaches you how to create (and produce) the art, and communicate truthfully, authentically, to your audience. Every performing artist needs to know that.

Sue, you are a big proponent of continuing study - you act as both student and mentor in your professional life. Why do you think it's important for an artist to stay in class?

SM: As I said earlier, as soon as you think you are "there", it's time to close up shop. No one knows it all. I have so much respect for every teacher, musician and director I have ever worked with, and cannot begin to tell you the gratitude I have every time I take a lesson and learn something new. I'm now studying with, just trying to spread my wings once again. I have taken classes from Singnasium and am continuing my studies with Lina Koutrakos. I have always said that I only compete with who I was the last time I stepped on the stage, so taking these classes helps me to raise my personal bar each time. It's my joy to learn and grow. So much of my input into this book is first hand knowledge from studying for 30+ years with the best of the best. It is my time to play it forward in memory and honor of my mentors and my current teachers.

David, who have you enlisted to instruct the Cabaret University students?

DS: There is so much to do in this current climate to support not only the performing artists, but also engage and educate the audience on how to best participate in these types of digital offerings.

Right now I am creating a lot of the content. Christopher Denny taught our class "Online Music Collaboration with JamKazam," and I plan on asking several esteemed industry professionals to come and teach on the subject of their specialty, in our "Cabaret Master-Teachers" series.

My overall outline for this coming season is to complete our "online collaboration" series with a third class, "Online Collaboration with Internet Midi and SuperScore" co-taught by myself and George Litterst, the president of TimeWarp technologies. This class will focus on two technologies that could possibly generate additional income for our collaborative pianist community. (More on that when we unveil "Cabaret HotTrax," coming soon).

After that, we're going to offer a new series "Online Music Performance," which will be a detailed "how to" on several of the online platforms for live streaming and broadcasting. After that we'll begin our "Cabaret Craft and Business" series with classes in "Lyric Connection and Memorization," "DIY Production & Promotion," and a vocal workshop on "Finding Your Authentic Voice." These three classes will use So You Want to Sing Cabaret as their textbook. And then, concurrently, to run the Cabaret Master-Teachers series. It's going to be a busy season.

When all this started, did you have all this tech-savvy? Or have you been learning as the weeks have gone by?

DS: I swear I am not the tech guru that everyone thinks I am. I just know what I know and I'm happy to share it. Yes, I have been teaching online since 2007, so I was aware of many of the strategies and technologies for this purpose. BUT, as I mentioned, these technologies have grown exponentially due to increased need. So, while I had a very good "relationship" with the technology already, I do find myself playing catch-up with the new platforms. It's a whole new world of possibility.

As artists who are continually in a classroom situation, there are obviously factors missing when learning via remote, but let's focus on the pros of remote study - what are the advantages each of you sees in continued study in the world situation we are in right now?

SM: There have been some surprising, incredibly moving moments for me watching people perform on Zoom. Sometimes, for whatever reason, there is this connection in their performance just sitting there at their desk singing over the Yeti mic to a track that is thrilling. The work can be done this way. Good work is being done this way. I know David has had tremendous success teaching voice via Zoom with Cleanfeed and on JamKazam. The next level, now that the latency issues are being addressed, is to figure out how to do shows on a level worthy of a club. I'm very excited to try to figure this out. I have a new show all ready to go..."This Broad's Way" a show of all Broadway show tunes done my way (with Gregory Toroian's great arrangements!), we're just trying to figure out the best way to do the show.

DS: In terms of vocal study, NATS recently published an article on the cognitive benefits of online study. It seems that the brain processes this information differently and in some ways even more efficiently. Concentration is directed in a different way, making the student actually more self-reliant in all the right ways. But, in terms of a performance class, there's definitely been a learning curve, finding and using the right technologies.

In the early days of the pandemic I reached out to Lina Koutrakos and encouraged her to resume her classes online. It was definitely challenging, at first, for everyone involved. But now we are "cooking with gas." Cabaret is about intimacy, right? What could be more intimate than singing from your bedroom? I also recently introduced a new high fidelity audio technology to MAC for their virtual open mic, which offered the singers much better sound and balance against their accompaniment track.

Humans are adaptive creatures. We cannot only weather this storm, but also continue to make great art, transformative art, that reflects the time we're in.

You have both devoted your professional lives to the cabaret art form and industry. Why? What's there that we all need to work so ardently to save during these difficult times?

DS: I feel like this could be the start of an essay, but i'll try to keep it short.

I don't know if I would say I've "devoted my professional life to cabaret." But, it is true that my entire professional life has always used the techniques and principles most widely considered to be "cabaret performance techniques." Even in my classical music and opera career, I always interpreted the text from my own personal point of view. I was taught a very "method acting" discipline, and that's just what I did. I built the character from the inside out, from my personal experience. I didn't know I was doing something that might be considered "different" at the time. And, I didn't know that not everybody did that.

Cut to cabaret performance, where that's the standard, that's what's required. It was a perfect fit, and yet I still struggle with it on a daily basis. Just when you think you're being your real authentic self, somebody with a good eye (like Madame Koutrakos) can spot that you're "putting something on" and there are more layers of YOU to dive into.

And THAT'S what I think cabaret can teach every single performing artist. That's why I'm dedicated to this performance style and course of study. Even if you are singing grand opera, music theater, or contemporary commercial music, these techniques and these methods are extremely valid for communicating with your audience, and for communicating your truth within the song. Musical theater and acting schools teach you how to become another character on stage. But nowhere (except in cabaret) do you learn how to simply be YOURSELF on stage.

There are so many layers that we unwittingly place upon ourselves that it's hard to get to the truthful, authentic self. And, in the case of vocal training, so much of the voice lesson is based upon developing the voice as an "instrument," (as a separate entity from oneself) that it can become hard to find one's true, authentic voice. Cabaret training walks you through the discovery of being your authentic self, in public, and on purpose. Who doesn't need that?

SM: Whenever I have been asked, "Why do you do this? Why do you spend so much time and money on singing?" I usually just say, "Because I have to. It's how I communicate with people." And, it is always about the people who have lovingly supported my work over all these years. When I step on stage, yes, I have a ball singing but it's only because they are there to listen. To stop singing or to remove myself from this community would be to cut off part of who I am.

David and Sue, thank you so much for chatting with Broadway World today. I am most grateful to you for sharing your story with us.

DS: Our pleasure, absolutely.

SM: Like David said, it was totally my pleasure and thank you Stephen.

Photos courtesy of David Sabella and Sue Matsuki.

Sue's headshot is by Eric Stephen Jacobs.

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