After recently turning 60, this is a subject that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately and it’s definitely not the first time. I have felt this way many times throughout my 30 years of signing. I am sure many of you have been through this as well. You know me by now, I love singing and I believe in my talent and this is not “self-deprecating”, it’s a real thing that happens to us all no matter what level we are on (or blissfully perceive that we are on) so let’s take a look at what to do when we get the “I Wanna Quit Cabaret Blues!”
So, you’ve been singing for a long, LONG time and you have gotten a few awards and a few “nods” here and there but singing is still pretty much an expensive hobby. You have never gotten to the Karen Mason level (my ultimate Diva!) by way of recognition by the press and the community. A few things may be changing in your life, like you are enjoying the process less, you are starting to sing more “covers” rather than explore other creative ways to present the same old material and you have less joy stepping on stage because you’re SO preoccupied with how many people will be in your room and about the cost to produce the show. Perhaps you are also noticing who no longer comes to your show but who you see in everyone else’s show…sigh! I know, been there!
Where are your feelings coming from? Are they ego based? Is it a temporary lack of self-confidence? Is it an emotional reaction to how you’re feeling about yourself (which has nothing to do with how you may be perceived by an audience)? OR, is it simply exhaustion? Well, it could be for all of these reasons. If it’s the “why are they not coming anymore” blues, you may have to tap into some real truths as to what your Cabaret time clock may be telling you. Could you be past your “sell by” date? Is there even such a thing? I call this phase “the shiny new penny” phenomenon. All the “shiny new pennies” coming to Cabaret can definitely deflect attention but why does this make us diminish what we of a lot of experience have to offer? By the way, some of the “shiny pennies” are not young, they are just new to the scene. And very talented of course!
Does this mean that you should no longer sing? Absolutely NOT but what it may mean is that you need to take a really deep and honest look into why you continue to sing so that you can try to replenish your energy. You must always take the stage believing that you have a right to be there. Use people like my ultimate diva, Karen Mason and the incomparable Marilyn Maye as examples of what to strive towards. Own who and what you are right now, as you are, and offer what you, and your years of performance savvy have to offer with pride. This will help you get over the “I wanna quit blues” and to move forward.
When I did a column for Stu Hamstra years ago asking singers why they sing…99% of them responded with some form of “because I have to” and that part of them is missing when they do not share their voice and express themselves in this way. This alone is a reason to continue to sing. I think that if you still feel this way, go for it! This is your life and you need to express yourself in whatever way makes you happy. However, when you get to a point where you are more concerned about the numbers in the room and whether you will even have an audience to sing to, you may have to take a hard look at performing in Cabaret. Try to seek singing opportunities in other areas so that you can still sing but this whole other pressure of singing to compete (awards) and singing to put money into the club’s and musician’s pockets can stop. You can then maybe start to enjoy the real reason why you sing… because you have to!
If you no longer have joy stepping onto a stage though…for any reason…you need to stop for awhile until you get your mojo back. This is unfair to your audience. If you are not present and joyful, you have nothing to offer to them. I mean this…take a break. Reassess.
Libraries, Church Choirs, Senior Centers, Convalescent Homes, Hospitals, Veteran facilities, and Hospices all welcome singers. You can get a group together or use tracks or find a like-minded MD who would like to just do this and then go sing! The rewards of doing this kind of work are so meaningful that you may remember why you wanted to sing in the first place, to touch people and communicate with them. If you continue to sing solely from an ego base of needing attention or recognition with awards, to me, you have already lost sight of the concept of “singing because I have to”. This is not a judgment on anyone who does this…as I said above, I feel that we all get to a point where we stop and say, “Why am I doing this? Why am I paying so much money to sing for people?” And if the joy is gone or ebbing, that’s another layer. It’s at this point you have to have a sit down with yourself and say, “Yeah, why AM I doing this?”
You can do the old Positive/Negative list as an exercise.
Positives: The joy of singing, the need to express myself, the growth and challenge, the love of communicating, the applause, the recognition, etc.
Negatives: the rejection, the money issue, the fact that no one comes, the time, etc.
Then really analyze your list to see firstly, are there more benefits to continuing to sing or more negatives. Look also at the real reasons you listed as “positives” to see how many of your comments are ego based (recognition/applause) vs. comments like the need to share and communicate and this will start to identify WHY you sing. In the negative column you will also, most probably, note that the expense is the primarily negative and then you need to ask yourself if is this a justifiable expense in your life? Does this annual expenditure “pay off” in your emotional and artistic well being? If so…SING! This is all so personal that, while I can guide you to your own answers, it will all depend on how honest you really are with yourself.
What do I do when I am trying to work my way through these times of da blues? I host and guest star wherever they’ll have me. I go to Open Mics. I take classes just so that I can sing. I sing at hospice centers. It works! It all brings me back to why I sing…to entertain and communicate. As I reassess things, the classes are amazing because, when you sing for a long time, it’s just great to be open enough to learn again and to trust that the process will bring you back to (hopefully) wanting to do a show again.
I am at a point in my life where I feel like I have to try to identify again why I wish to continue to sing and under what circumstances can I sing without the stress. Singing for me has always been about the joy of the process, creating and then performing so I need to find a circumstance that brings this criteria back to me or why sing at all?
Julie Wilson, my Cabaret mother, admitted to me years ago that she too has done this her entire life – wanting to quit and fighting her way back - and she kept singing until she was 90. She, like Marilyn Maye at 91, should be inspirations to us to just keep singing. The truth is that there are other circumstances involved when you have not reached a certain level that are just part of the business. Marilyn is still being asked to perform and gets paid because she’s established and has the history that most of us will never achieve.
The question continues to be, “WHY do you continue to sing?” For me it is also becoming, “How do you justify continuing to sing, even if your heart wants to, if all the other signs coming back to you are that it’s time to stop.” If you do make this decision though, I would say make it with a positive energy…How can I sing and not deal with the ego/stress? How can I create a circumstance that will allow me to sing in a way that I no longer feel abused by the financial aspect of singing? How do I move on without Cabaret in my life? Or, being inspired by Julie and Marilyn…taking a deep breath and asking myself… “What’s next?”