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BWW Interview: Ian McQueen of CABARET ON THE COUCH

Quietly, Mr. McQueen and co. have been running a virtual open-mic program that raises the bar.

BWW Interview: Ian McQueen of CABARET ON THE COUCHSo there I was, sorting through the final nominations for the Broadway World Cabaret Awards, and I kept seeing this show, CABARET ON THE COUCH. The city had been in quarantine for over seven months and I had never heard of Cabaret On The Couch or any of the artists associated with the program that had several nominations in categories created for the 2020 virtual offerings from the cabaret and club industry. So I went in search of information, only to find a Facebook page, an Instagram page, and a YouTube channel. It turned out that Cabaret On The Couch had been hard at work for months, providing artists with a place for artistic expression, and the episodes to be found online were all well-produced DIY shows featuring a roster of talents from teenagers to Broadway professionals, a lot of young people, and possibly the highest concentration of diversity I had, yet, seen in the cabaret world since starting this job in 2019. I couldn't let a discovery like this go unreported, so I emailed Cabaret On The Couch producer Ian McQueen through the show Facebook page, and after missed emails, election distractions, and holiday delays, I am very excited to share with the Broadway World Cabaret readers the following interview with an industrious young man with his eye on the future, and the future of the industry.

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

BWW Interview: Ian McQueen of CABARET ON THE COUCH

Ian McQueen, welcome to Broadway World! Thanks for chatting with us about CABARET ON THE COUCH today!

Thanks, Stephen! Glad to chat with you too!

I'm embarrassed to say I did not know about your show until I was going through the final round of nominations for the Broadway World Awards: when I saw the nominations for the show I had to go online and research it, and I am very impressed by what you've made. So let's start at the beginning: what was it in your background that led to the creation of your online cabaret show?

BWW Interview: Ian McQueen of CABARET ON THE COUCHI graduated with a degree in film and television production, but I've been a life-long theatre fan, so I'm always looking to add some more theatre work to my portfolio! Back in February 2020, I had just finished producing the premiere of a show at The Tank. We were really happy with the response, and we'd hoped to turn it into a recurring series - once every month or so. About two weeks later was when everything shut down, so obviously, those plans got put on hold. Right around then, The Tank tweeted about how much the rent on their space was each month, and how difficult it would be to maintain the space, sans income. Since they'd just been such a great space for our team, I thought we could repay the favor a bit. We kept it realistic - obviously, we weren't aiming to raise the entirety of their rent - but we kind of used that as our kick into gear on putting some "wanting to do something" energy into action!

We reached back out to the cast of our show, as well as some musically-inclined friends of ours, and ended up premiering the first Cabaret on the Couch just over a week later, on March 28th! Making the virtual format work for us in a seamless way was definitely a little bit of a learning curve, but everyone brought more than enough passion and heart to get us over those first few technical bumps.

BWW Interview: Ian McQueen of CABARET ON THE COUCH

When you launched the series, what was the specific mission statement of Cabaret On The Couch?

BWW Interview: Ian McQueen of CABARET ON THE COUCHThat first month, our goal was just to create some creative space in that month-long hold-over, with the secondary goal of bringing some eyes, and hopefully donations, to an arts space in need. I don't think any of us, of course, anticipated how long everything would stay shuttered, so we didn't center in on a more long term goal until mid-May. Since then, we've been operating on the mission to bring diverse groups of artists together in support of arts organizations in New York and beyond.

Your program has a wonderful, beautiful, overwhelmingly youthful demographic. How did all these young people learn about the show and come to participate?

BWW Interview: Ian McQueen of CABARET ON THE COUCHI think by virtue of our whole team being pretty young, our first two slates of performers were friends or friends-of-friends who just happened to also be younger artists and musicians. But early on, we really saw a value in making our show a space for "rising stars" who now couldn't be out in the theatre and performance scene. We've been really fortunate to have some performers come onboard, enjoy their experience with us, and recommend friends for future performances (thinking of Indie Richard, who sent us the way of Lizzie Buller and Carly Gendell, to name a few!)
There are those who believe that cabaret is an art form for older people, that young people are more interested in pop music, electronica and "bops" - as a young person whose show's patronage is almost completely other young people, what are your thoughts on that philosophy?

BWW Interview: Ian McQueen of CABARET ON THE COUCHPart of the beauty of cabaret, from what I've seen, is that it's so open to interpretation. We haven't been shy about making this a space where people can bring in pop, rap, and original compositions alongside more traditional musical theatre fare. I do also think we're aided by the online factor - cabaret doesn't just have to happen in a special venue with a two-drink minimum; our artists can bring us their contribution from anywhere, in any form.

BWW Interview: Ian McQueen of CABARET ON THE COUCH

Cabaret On The Couch is also well known for inclusivity. Fifty-three percent of the past artists have been BIPOC performers. There has been a great deal of discussion in 2020 about the lack of balance in ethnicity in the cabaret and club industry.

BWW Interview: Ian McQueen of CABARET ON THE COUCHCabaret On The Couch doesn't seem to have an issue in that area: to what would you attribute the presence of all the different races represented by your show?
That's been intentional for us from day one: we knew that if we were going to highlight organizations that overwhelmingly champion a new generation of bold and diverse artists, those were exactly the artists we should feature in our shows.

Do you have any thoughts on the ongoing discussion about the cabaret industry lacking diversity?

BWW Interview: Ian McQueen of CABARET ON THE COUCHYou know, if there's one silver lining of this pause that we're all on, it's that we've been provided the opportunity to sit back and think about what the industry hasn't been doing right, and what we'll expect of it when we come back. For us and for this show, it's important that we're bringing attention to arts organizations and theatre companies striving for equity in the theatre industry, especially those elevating stories by and of performers of color.

I'm glad you bring up this discussion as part of the cabaret industry; these reckonings can't be exclusive to the Broadway community. As you mentioned, the cabaret industry as a whole largely caters to an older - and as with Broadway, a majority white - demographic. Cabaret is just as much about the honesty of a story told as any musical or play, and we're all at a loss if we don't work to be a space for the stories and experiences of a diverse group of artists.

BWW Interview: Ian McQueen of CABARET ON THE COUCH

That said, I recognize that our creative team has work to do in reflecting that diversity. We spent quite a bit of last year finding our way in a new theatre landscape and solidifying our show's goals, but I think we're all clear-eyed about the fact that the good intent of our mission starts to run dry if we aren't championing diverse artists and voices from every level. I'm really looking forward to making that an immediate goal in these next few months.

Cabaret On The Couch is a philanthropic organization: what was the driving thought behind that decision and would you tell me about some of the beneficiaries of your program?

BWW Interview: Ian McQueen of CABARET ON THE COUCHI'd actually offer a slight amendment in that none of the money passes through us - it's all direct-to-organiation donations! Part of that came by virtue of bringing about our first show so quickly, but at the end of the day, what felt most essential was bringing our audiences right to these organization's websites. That way, even if folks don't have the means to donate, they're at least afforded the opportunity to look at some of the programming on offer.

BWW Interview: Ian McQueen of CABARET ON THE COUCHLast year, we were able to highlight 8 organizations: The Tank, Royal Family Productions, Live & In Color, Musical Theatre Factory, The Fund for College Auditions, Rise and Resist, Epic Theatre Ensemble and Be an #ArtsHero. We also had a representative from join us for our October show, to help get out the vote - while we didn't raise any funds for them, we'll call it an honorary 9.
I do want to quickly shout out Rise and Resist. We'd had quite a bit of discussion with our initial beneficiary that month; this was just after the Breonna Taylor verdict, and both our teams felt as though we'd be remiss in not using our platform that month to highlight a direct action group fighting against injustice. We were able to make that switch in just under 48 hours. My enduring thanks to Jay Walker, our spokesperson from Rise and Resist, for embracing the style and spirit of our show as a way to bring some attention to a less traditionally arts-focused organization.

BWW Interview: Ian McQueen of CABARET ON THE COUCH

It takes a lot of people power to run a show like yours, even though some wouldn't think it. Would you please breakdown for me the contribution of each of your team members and the importance of what they do?

Absolutely! Our core team is 4 people - myself, Elizabeth Fahsbender, Tori Vitucci, and Hannah Hall.

BWW Interview: Ian McQueen of CABARET ON THE COUCH

Elizabeth is our social media coordinator. She runs our Facebook and Instagram, writing and scheduling posts and stories, highlighting events and opportunities in the theatre community for us to share, and keeping our social engagement up. We spread the word each and even curate some guests entirely via social media, so it's been important to have a strong presence at the helm.

BWW Interview: Ian McQueen of CABARET ON THE COUCH

Tori is our showrunner: in the lead-up to the show, she'll work with Hannah to create our setlist, and act as the virtual stage manager during the show, to cue our performers in, keep time, and help smooth us through any technical snafus!

BWW Interview: Ian McQueen of CABARET ON THE COUCH

Hannah is our talent coordinator: as we toss all of our talent suggestions in the ring, or get names from folks at our various organizations, she coordinates dress rehearsal times, performance specs, and song choices with everyone.

As the producer, I'll do initial outreach to our organizations, plot out our big picture goals and deadlines each month, and run the tech day-of-show!

Of course, there's quite a bit of overlap in what each of us does as we get into the nitty-gritty of bringing each show together. We also love bringing in creative input from our hosts and organizations month-by-month, which helps us keep each show feeling fresh!

BWW Interview: Ian McQueen of CABARET ON THE COUCH

How did you curate your (really talented and entertaining) stable of hosts?

For the first three months of our show, we had the same host. As we moved into month four, we wanted to keep the show going full-steam ahead. We branched off into our own entity and started with our rotating slate of guest hosts, which everyone responded really well to. It's been so much fun to watch each person bring their own personal touch to the show every month! Much like our performers, a lot of these folks are people we know, have performed with previously, or have connected with over the course of the show!

BWW Interview: Ian McQueen of CABARET ON THE COUCH

Ian, eventually the global crisis will end and artists will be back working in clubs. What is the picture in your head for the future of Cabaret On The Couch, and how does it fit into your own projected trajectory?

BWW Interview: Ian McQueen of CABARET ON THE COUCHWe've just started to talk about what Cabaret on the Couch might look like when folks return to live shows: we'd love to bring in-person versions of our show to a venue somewhere a few times a year (perhaps with a real couch to give the name some continuity!) We've also been exceptionally inspired by the artists we've met - and will continue to meet - through this journey, so there's also been discussion of putting our producing power behind some readings or concerts of new work.

For me, it's been so exciting to have this show to look forward to as a constant creative outlet. Along with my full-time job (currently in documentary production), I'm set to produce the off-Broadway premiere of a friend's play later this fall, but in terms of bringing me joy and keeping me creatively on my toes, I'd say this fits right in!

BWW Interview: Ian McQueen of CABARET ON THE COUCH

Ian McQueen thank you so much for not only talking with us today, but for creating something as youthful, diverse, and inclusive as Cabaret On The Couch. You guys get a lot of thumbs up from us at Broadway World Cabaret.

Thanks for having me!

Find Cabaret on the Couch on Facebook HERE on Instagram @cabaretonthecouchlive

and on YouTube HERE

BWW Interview: Ian McQueen of CABARET ON THE COUCH

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From This Author Stephen Mosher