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BWW Review: Spotlight On YOU Open Mic Focuses On Family


BWW Review: Spotlight On YOU Open Mic Focuses On Family

Spotlight On YOU Open Mic is a place for community. For three years, the MAC Award nominated show has been providing artists with a place to practice, a room in which to shine, a judgment-free audience who will support artists, whatever the level of their skillset, and an artistic family. Perhaps that is why the program is so popular, though with one show a month at the 53 Above Broadway venue in Midtown Manhattan, there was certainly a hope that the open mic night might be expanded, which is exactly what has happened, much to the delight of many members of the cabaret community.

When the shelter in place order of Manhattan necessitated that clubs be closed and the artists stay home, Spotlight On YOU producer and host Natasha Castillo took the show online. It didn't happen immediately because everyone had to get their sea legs and figure out what the next step would be, in their work and in life. As online shows became the new norm and people learned to navigate the system, more and more artists chose to dive into the waters of virtual performing. Ms. Castillo, clearly a tech savvy person, began producing the online version of the Spotlight On YOU Open Mic, one that would air in a Zoom Room once a week so that cabaret performers could find a place to commune and to perform, lest they get lonely or grow rusty with all the stages of Manhattan closed down. Online performing during the quarantine went in many different directions, from Instagram and Facebook Live shows, Youtube programs, StageIt showings, or just iPhone videos made and posted on peoples' own social media or at online communities like the Facebook page Quarantine Cabaret. Ms. Castillo simply brought her brand to a concise and controlled environment - and for the convenience of peoples' schedules, she chose to alternate which day of the week the patrons of her group would meet: Tuesdays and Fridays.

At one point during last week's Spotlight On YOU, 22 people were logged into the Zoom Room, with Ms. Castillo greeting and chatting with the members of the online party - it is obvious that the gregarious young woman loves her life in the cabaret community, and the people who make up that community. Ever the hostess, Castillo knows every person in the room by name and is excited to see them, even remembering what state each member is from. The weekly event is beloved, that much is apparent, since there are many repeat visitors. Everyone in the Zoom Room, for instance, knew and adored Jaime Dunn, an eight year old singing actor who joins the group regularly and who, on Tuesday, entertained all with a well-performed number from Matilda, singing to a recorded track. Some of the singers work from such tracks, possibly karaoke tracks or maybe tracks recorded especially for them, since the always supportive Ms. Castillo knows almost every musical director in the business and happily makes introductions for artists looking to have a track created for a tune they'd like to present. There are those performers who happen to be musicians, like songwriters Michael Colby and Matthew Martin Ward, who play for themselves; there are even singers who make like they're in the shower and sing acapella. The honest truth is that it doesn't matter how the singers make their music, all that matters is that they do make music. Spotlight On YOU isn't two hours of people watching an entertainment that has been written, directed, planned and orchestrated: it's about community and humanity, two things that Natasha Castillo obviously knows about.

BWW Review: Spotlight On YOU Open Mic Focuses On Family

In her role as creator, producer, and emcee of this program, it is transparent that what Ms. Castillo wants to do is give performers a place to play, to provide them a space to grow, to lift them into the light so that they can be seen - it's even in the name of the series: Spotlight On YOU. This is a mission that she shares with others, but the people with the intent to support and promote are not as plentiful as one might imagine, and when they come along, their place in the show business community is respected and treasured. Spotlight On YOU has always been Castillo's attempt at putting other people in the light, a task she achieves with much ease and charm, and very visible adoration for the performers. The skill level of the people who sing at her show, the one on the stage before quarantine, and the one online after quarantine, is as varied as their ages. Some of her guests are as young as Jaime Dunn, and some are as seasoned as Barbara Malley, who will definitely not mind being listed as one of the more experienced performers because her prowess is always showing, in her perfectly executed patter and acapella performance - she is as vivacious, professional and entertaining in a Zoom Room as she is on the stage at Don't Tell Mama. Looking at the Facebook archive of past shows, one can find performances by respected artists within the community like Renee Katz and Sue Matsuki, and it becomes happily clear that adored newcomer Gerrilyn Sohn attends every week, as does cabaret champion Bobbie Horowitz, who Castillo calls "my Cabaret Mommy!" but the truth is that Ms. Horowitz is the Cabaret Auntie of anyone and everyone who sets foot on a stage, always there to support and cheer, and having her be in the Zoom Room at Spotlight On YOU is a main reason to tune in, especially when she's going to sing one of her own songs.

BWW Review: Spotlight On YOU Open Mic Focuses On Family

Not everyone at Spotlight On YOU performs. Ms. Castillo stage manages the two hour program to perfection, getting the 25 (or so) singers on and off with enough time for some hello and goodbye chat before and after, and anyone who is too shy to sing or just wants to tune in and see their friends is always welcome, which is how this writer got a chance to see some favorites in action last week. It's a fun time, and since it is an open mic night happening in a Zoom Room people are very forgiving and understanding when tech issues come up or a performance isn't up to a level one might present at Birdland because that's not what this is about. It's about staying active, staying creative, and staying in touch.

It's about community - something that Natasha Castillo is also particularly good at putting a spotlight on.

See details on Spotlight On YOU directly below and visit the website HERE

Visit the Natasha Castillo website HERE

From the Spotlight On YOU Facebook event page HERE

From popular demand, Virtual Spotlight on YOU Open Mic will now be weekly, alternating between Tuesdays and Fridays to accommodate different schedules!

Here's how it will work:

1. Each event will be 2 hours long.

2. You MUST RSVP ahead of time if you want to perform (You will be notified ahead of time if you're on the roster). You can join to watch. There is no limit to that. The limit for singing participants is 25 per event (or more if time allows).

3. The event will happen over Zoom and it will be live-streamed on Facebook, recorded, and posted online after the event. I will provide the Zoom link before the event!

You can sing acapella or accompany yourself on an instrument of your choice or with your own music track. (if you need a music track, message me and I will provide you with a list of musical directors for you to pick from who can record your music and send it to you for a small fee of $20 for each song).

4. There is no fee but if you'd like to contribute, you can do it via Venmo @Evelyn-Castillo-4 or Paypal at

5. If you haven't used Zoom before, private message me and I will walk you through the process.

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From This Author Stephen Mosher