New York City stands out for many unique characteristics, but one thing’s for sure: Life in the Big Apple has NEVER been boring! Both lifelong natives and first-time visitors to Manhattan are thrilled by the city’s famous seven-day-a-week cabaret scene, which showcases some of the most colorful, talented people in the world. The recent pandemic has forced many of the cabaret world’s best and brightest to find new ways to segue their creative energies while nightlife as we know it is on hiatus. For this piece, Lavender After Dark is shining the spotlight on four cabaret movers-and-shakers: Sue Matsuki, David Sabella, Adam B. Shapiro, and Richard Skipper. From online performances to campaigns encouraging people to #StayHome to stay safe, this quarantined quartet shows that you can’t keep your optimism– or your talent– bottled up!
JR: Hi, Sue! Thanks for speaking with me. So, what was the last social gathering or event you attended before the “social isolation” took over?
SM: The last social function I attended was the 2020 Bistro Awards on Monday, March 9th. I received my first Bistro, along with my Musical Director, Gregory Toroian, for Outstanding Collaboration, celebrating our 25th year of working together. The line up of this year’s recipients was so impressive, and there we were among some of OUR favorite performers. We killed it too, if I do say so myself! We performed our version of Too Darn Hot. I invited my drummer, David Silliman and my bassist, Skip Ward from our last show, How’s That For Openers to join us for the night and to perform with us because they too are part of the whole collaboration. It was an AWESOME night and one I will never forget! Sharing this honor with Gregory and the band made it all the more special.
Separate from this event, with the joy I had performing and the honor that this was, I got to share it with a sold out house of all my friends from the Cabaret and Jazz communities. We were all there is one place together. Little did any of us know that it would be the last time we would all be together for a long time. The next day I decided to self-shelter because my husband, being a cancer survivor and older, is in the high risk category. This means we have been inside for 41 days as of today, Sunday, April 19th. WOW!
Fortunately, being regular CostCo shoppers, we were well stocked with paper products and food, so we have only gone out once to buy fresh produce and to mail our taxes. We’re doing great. Getting along, taking turns cooking, staying busy, spontaneously dancing now and again and being kind to each other as always.
JR: Wow! That’s amazing! So, while the Cabaret scene is “hibernating”, shall we say, how are you staying busy during the pandemic?
SM: It’s so funny: Everyday I come into my office to work and before I know it, it’s 5:30 and I’m out prepping for dinner…I’m a “Sue Chef”..(Laughs) Get it?! We have always had the rule that after dinner, we shut down our phones and just “be” with each other– so we’re keeping to that, and binge watching series like everyone else. We saw all seasons of Breaking Bad, Dexter, and are working on The Americans right now. I recommend them all! I stay up later so I’m almost done with Ozark (also good) and have to admit to watching The Tiger King only because it was like a car crash… I didn’t want to but I just could not look away once I started. What’s not fascinating about toothless people with drawls so thick that they have to sub-title the show all wrapped up in a murder mystery?
JR: (Laughs) Agreed. It’s my guilty pleasure too!
SM: I have just written four articles in a series called A Survivor’s Guide to the Pandemic for http://www.CabaretHotspot.com. They are called: “Activate to Motivate”; “My Quarantine Routine”; “Stress Eating”; and “At Home Fun!” These will all be up on my Sue’s Views column soon. I am the Managing Editor for this on-line entertainment magazine, so keeping up with all the daily on-line shows has been a 2 to 4 hour commitment every day. We pride ourselves on being “The TV Guide for NY Nightlife”, so it’s important to try to keep it current. Both Stephen Mosher (Broadway World) and Scott Barbarino (Nightlife Exchange) have been posting and sharing information because we are all in this together.
I am working on several mini-tutorial videos on Cabaret topics like lyric connection techniques, sub-text work, and how to sing the same song different ways by choosing a different feel, energy, and/or sub-text. These will also be posted on Cabaret Hotspot soon. They all come out of the classes that we currently teach and our techniques from our book. I have not, however, felt like doing any on-line performances yet. I’m just not motivated to do a show because I seem to have so many other things I am trying to complete during this “down time”.
Like many, I have also been writing, working on my next show, cooking, cleaning, and trying to keep a regular routine just help me feel as normal as possible. I am doing my weekly session with my Musical Director and Director via Zoom. I LOVE Zoom! What a great way to feel less lonely and isolated. Just seeing the faces of my class mates and/or friends and family makes a HUGE difference in my overall mood and day. You can get the non-professional subscription for Zoom for free…check it out y’all! It’s like Facetime with a “Brady Bunch” screen.
JR: I agree! I love Zoom because I never have to match my pants with my shirt– or wear pants at all! (Laughs)
SM: As you know Jed, my book, So You Want to Sing Cabaret, co-authored with David Sabella was supposed to “drop” in May but it looks like we’re delayed on the printing date. There are advance sales and pre-orders going on at http://www.Amazon.com and on http://www.CabaretHotspot.com. Please check out the reviews/quotes we have received so far! We’re pretty excited. We were working on a book release show including all the incredible people in the book but that will happen at a later date as well. We’ll keep you posted.
The only other thing that was going to happen but now is delayed was my brand new show, This Broad’s Way which was supposed to be on May 16th at The Beach Cafe. We love the premise of this show: songs from a show that became a standard, show songs now done “our way”, great songs cut from shows, songs I’d never be cast to sing and songs sung totally out of context to the show. We have a bunch of great tunes that we’re working on so when the clubs all open again, we’ll be ready to boogie.
We are also really missing our Saturday Jazz Brunch Open Mic at Pangea that had just gotten started. We were sold out for our January and February shows and had a wait list for March and April but this too got put on hold. We will be back as soon as we are all allowed.
JR: I can’t wait! Who doesn’t love Pangea? And who doesn’t love brunch?! So… What is the first thing you are going to do when the pandemic is over?…
SM: After I say “thank you” to all the people who stayed at work in my neighborhood (Greenpoint, Brooklyn)– the police, the firemen, the grocery clerks, the vegetable stores, the UPS/Fed Ex drivers, the pizza guy, the medical people and, most importantly… the liquor store people— I intend to selflessly “help” my hairdresser, manicurist and massage therapist to “re-build” their businesses…urgently! Right now I’m a sporting a Carol Brady mullet-esque shag… I am LOVE-ly… NOT! (Laughs)
SM: Missing everyone who is reading this and hope to see you all “on campus” soon! Stay safe, stay healthy and continue to stay home!
JR: Miss you too, Sue! See you on stage soon again I hope– with or without the Carol Brady mullet!
David Sabella is an Award-winning singer, actor, author, writer, and all-around omnipresence in New York City’s cabaret community. He is Owner/Editor-in-Chief of Cabaret Hotspot, a Reviewer at http://www.BistroAwards.com, and the Co-Author of So You Want to Sing Cabaret with Sue Matsuki. And, he’s the devoted single father of two teenage girls. David made this priceless video exclusively for Lavender After Dark. Enjoy!
ADAM B. SHAPIRO
JR: Hi, Adam! Thank you for speaking with me. So, what was the last great big memory you had before the pandemic?
AS: the night we met up at Albatross in Astoria may have been the last time I went out. It really might have been! (Laughs) A couple about two weeks before the world collapsed, I took a solo trip to Las Vegas. I’d never been there and I’d always been very curious: to really see what it’s all about, and see all these places that I’ve seen in movies and television, and really to sort of have a “Vegas experience”. And so I finally did it. I just took a quick weekend. I saw Cher in concert and that was amazing. I saw the live RuPaul’s Drag Race show. I went to the Neon Museum and saw all of the old retired neon signs. And I had the Caesars Palace breakfast buffet. I really got my Vegas experience. Of course, it was crowded and there were tons of people everywhere and I thought nothing of it.
JR: Who knew? It was like your storm before the calm.
AS: Yeah! I guess!
JR: So, how have you been dealing, emotionally, with the New York City shutdown?
AS: There’s a part of it that I don’t hate. It’s funny: When Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish closed in January, one thing I was looking forward to was having some downtime– like, having some time just to stay at home and do projects and whatever. This wasn’t what I meant! (Laughs) I’m like, good G*d… It’s one thing to not necessarily want to do these things, and it’s another thing to not have the OPTION to do things– to not have the possibility of things anymore. And that’s what I find so hard.
AS: You can definitely put THIS on the record: I think that people are just doing way too much criticizing of each other. I think everyone is dealing with things the best way that they can. Who knows who’s dealing with this well and who’s dealing with that “not well”. We’re all in our own spaces, and we’re all living our own lives and having our own feelings. I’ve been doing a lot of unfollowing on Facebook and on social media, because if all someone’s going to do is make bitchy comments and criticize, I no longer have room in my life to see that. I’m not talking about constructive arts criticism. That’s a different story. I’m talking about people who just constantly have to pick at other people. I’m no longer willing to listen!
JR: Oh, I hear you! You know what I dislike? I don’t people that just post statistics on social media, like posting how many people died today, or how many new infections appear every day. I can read or watch the news for that.
AS: G*d, I hate that. And I hate all the opinion pieces. Oh my G*d! You know the old adage: Opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one. You know, I don’t want to see everyone’s asshole. And I sure as hell don’t want to HEAR everyone’s asshole! (Both laugh.) I think most of the opinion pieces are so unnecessary. “Oh, such and such economist predicts this, and so and so such doctor predicts that… but I can’t reveal my sources.” It’s because you don’t HAVE sources honey, because you don’t know shit, and you’re just putting something out into the world to prove you’re still there. Now that in that way, I’m doing the same thing when I do my videos– but at the same time, I’m trying to uplift people. I’m trying to lift people up, and not just scare them or sow more seeds of discord.
JR: I think we are both from the generation where entertainment was meant to ENTERTAIN! Now, it’s not my right to tell people what is entertainment and what’s not. But I believe that news is NOT entertainment– especially when most of the news nowadays is not very pleasant.
AS: Exactly! A lot of the news is not real, and it’s not neutral, and it’s pushing an agenda. Nope, nope, nope! (Laughs)
JR: (Laughs) I admire the fact that you and so many other performers are finding innovative and exciting ways to channel their creative energies. How have you been doing that?
AS: When I did my Passover videos, I was already planning to do that. So then, it was just a matter of, “Well, I got the time, so I better do it!” Then when Folksbiene started doing their live online concert series, I got in touch with them and I said, “Listen guys, I would love to do one of these.” They’ve been doing a series by Jewish or Yiddish language artists, and other artists who have worked with the Folksbiene. There’s a couple coming up. I got to do mine on April 1st and then the next night I was part of another event for that series with the cast of Fiddler. We did sort of a virtual talkback where we got to talk about working on the show and our experiences– and Joel Grey was part of it. then I did my Passover video Defying Slavery the day after I did the solo concert. For me, it’s been about not only giving people entertainment, and giving them music, and giving them Jewish and Yiddish material, but it gives me something to focus on so that I feel like I’m still functioning in the world. I’ve heard people talk about other people doing things and they’re like, “Oh, they’re just doing that for their own ego!” I don’t think, especially right now, that it’s so much of an ego-driven thing. I think it’s a SANITY-driven thing. I think we’re all so confused and scared and we don’t know what the hell is going on. The only way to keep from losing our mind on an hourly basis is to do what we know and to do what we love. I can’t get up on a stage and sing to a packed house, but I can sing to my camera and send that out into the world so that people know that music is not ending, and art is not ending, and that we are still here. When I did my online concert for the Folksbiene, it was a very strange situation. You’re performing, and you’re standing in your living room, and you know that people are watching– but you can’t see or hear them! As a live performer, I’m so used to working off of an audience’s energy: You tell a joke and you see what kind of a laugh it gets. It was very weird to not have that. For me it just meant: You don’t hold for applause, you don’t hold for laughter. You still have to remind yourself of that. But on the other side of that, I knew that I was doing a performance, and that people were watching it, and it was the first time. I remember that by the end of it, I had broken a sweat and I felt like I do generally at the end of one of my solo shows– and I turned off the camera and I just sort of flopped down onto the couch and I was like, “Oh my G*d, I feel like myself for the first time in about three weeks!” I actually felt like a human and felt like me. That was really priceless to me. This was about two weeks ago…Time has no meaning for me anymore!
JR: Join the club! (Laughs)
AS: I also started learning the violin. One of my last purchases before all this was a violin, because I was part of this workshop musical which, if it continues, would require me to play the violin. I never even touched one, so I started taking some online lessons. There will be a few more videos once I will myself off the couch to do them!
JR: Wow! Virtual violin lessons. Who would’ve thought?
AS: There is an app for that.
JR: Oh, no doubt! Many people say they’ve taken up knitting, or sewing, or cooking… but that’s the first I’ve heard about learning the violin!
AS: I do some light sewing and crafting. I haven’t been cooking so much just because my roommate is a vegetarian– so a lot of what I would cook, I would only be able to cook for myself… and also we’re trying to not gain too much weight in all of this. So, the biggest new thing is the violin. Again, prior to a few days ago, I had never even touched a violin before. But it was something that I wanted to do anyway after doing this workshop in February– and I realize that I have nothing but time right now. So…!
JR: I’m a firm believer that how people respond to the pandemic will be dependent on what they were like before all this happened, as with other tragic events in history. I believe that creative people will find new ways to be creative, optimistic people will find new ways to be optimistic, the socially conscious will become even more socially conscious…
AS: I agree with you. And at the same time, it’s hard. Certainly for the first few days, but really for the first week, I just wasn’t motivated to do anything. And I’ve heard other people, including a couple of people that I love, talk about how they just don’t want to do anything. Of course, nobody HAS to do anything right now. But I said: “You know, you don’t have to complete a whole project all at once!” I knew I wanted to do my Defying Slavery video and I was putting it off cause it seemed like so much, and I was just feeling so lethargic. And finally I said to myself, “Adam, you don’t have to get up and do the whole video right now. Find an instrumental track. If you do that, you’re done for the day.” So I did that, and then the next day it was like, “Let’s record some vocals.” It’s the idea of doing one thing at a time. I would find that when I was actually doing it, my energy was up and I was feeling good and feeling productive. It’s almost like going to the gym and exercising even if you don’t want to do it. You have to will yourself kicking and screaming to do it. But then you do it, and you feel good!
JR: Oh, I agree! So, lastly, what’s the first thing you’re going to do when the pandemic is over? Remember, you have fans of all ages, from 9 to 95! (Laughs)
AS: The printable answer (Laughs) is: I’m just going to HUG everyone! (Laughs) Really and truly, that’s what I want more than anything. I am craving a hug so bad. So, I’m just gonna hug as many people as possible. Yup!
JR: I’ll be first in line! Thank you again, Adam!
JR: Thank you for speaking with me, Richard! I know that prior to the pandemic, you were in New York City performing, producing, and supporting so many other artists’ projects. What was the last social gathering or event you attended before the “social isolation” took over?
RS: The last event I went to was Jennifer Pace at The Laurie Beechman Theatre on March 10th. Sue Matsuki was my date!
JR: How jealous am I for that?! While New York City is on, shall we say, “hiatus”, how are you staying busy during the pandemic?
RS: I’ve been working on my YouTube #StayHome campaign which you graciously took part in! Thank you! I have a weekly podcast and that takes preparation. I do a weekly Facebook LIVE “coffee klatch” which gives me a chance to connect with everyone. I’ve been updating my website. I do my Morning Pages (Thank you to Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way.). I have a very structured nine to five day built around all of this. I go for a daily walk, which is easy to do where I live; I rarely see anyone on these walks. I try and shut down from social media at 5PM. At 8PM, we watch a movie with dinner.
JR: I admire your discipline! Now, what is the first thing you are going to do when the pandemic is over?…
RS: I am giving myself an additional 25 days before I “rejoin the human race”, for the sake of my health!
JR: That sounds very wise! Thank you for speaking with me, Richard! And thank you for doing what you are doing!
You can connect with Richard on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/RichardSkipper and on Twitter at twitter.com/RichardSkipper and twitter.com/Call_on_Dolly. Also visit his sites http://www.RichardSkipper.com and http://www.CallOnDolly.com.
Richard Skipper’s YouTube channel Richard Skipper Celebrates features important messages about staying home during this pandemic, with a “Who’s Who?” of transgenerational contributors from the world of entertainment, including Del Shores, Ruta Lee, Alison Arngrim, KT Sullivan, Julie Budd, Michael Musto, Jennifer Roberts, Tym Moss, and many more! See it here!