Interview: Purely Cabaret

by Ottawa Fringe

June 18, 2010

by Andrew Alexander

Lindsay Sutherland Boal of Purely Cabaret.

The stars are aligning for Lindsay Sutherland Boal. Her show, Purely Cabaret, is (as the title suggests) a Cabaret performance of a collection of around fifteen songs from the “Weimar Republic” period of the genre, or Germany 1919-1933. “I’m telling stories – my stories, Hollander’s stories, Weil’s stories, anybody’s stories, through my world. There is no plot; there’s not intended to be a plot. It’s about the music, and about the stories within the song, and I’m just the vehicle.”

The music comes from a period of great transformation in Germany’s history, and the music is a reflection of those times. “They were moving away from monarchy, because they just lost world war one, and so they were defining for the first time who they were as a country. Who do we as Germans want to be? There was this huge liberation about new things they could talk about. Some of the music is dark, but not all of it. It’s everything about what Cabaret is, and where it came from.”

Lindsay has spent many years training in Opera, but gradually became more interested in the world of Cabaret music. For the uninitiated, the essential difference between the two is that opera has the convention of fourth wall, while cabaret doesn’t: in Cabaret, it’s all about communicating personal and directly with your audience. It’s also a much more intimate venue than Opera: in an opera, a venue is typically for several thousand audience members; in Cabaret, it’s in the hundreds. “I was spending a lot of in Germany, auditioning for a job as an opera singer. What I found when I went back, the more that I auditioned and spent time in the operatic world, the more that I wanted to audition and spend time in the cabaret world.” Eventually, she decided to make the switch. “I was in Leipzig for an audition, and there’s a line I was singing – it says, if you don’t feel the love for me, I’ll kill myself. And so I’m in the middle of this audition where I know I’m being offered a job, and I thought, Lindsay, are you feeling the love for this? And I said no, so I apologized and walked out: I said, I’m very sorry, I don’t want to sing Pamina, I don’t want to sing Mozart, I don’t want to sing another operatic note in my life.”

That connection with the audience seems to definitely be a motivating factor for Lindsay. “I just want to tell stories,” she says, “I want to communicate. In opera, generally speaking, when you’re singing in a different language there’s almost a zero likelihood that the entire audience is going to speak the language that you’re speaking in, so how can you understand the nuance of that language if you don’t speak it? So I learned to speak German. I wasn’t able to communicate effectively to a three-thousand seat house, over an eighty-piece orchestra, singing about something eons ago in this giant costume that weighs fifty pounds – there are just so many blocks for me, that I felt I could not be an artist. In Cabaret, I feel like I’m at home. My audience is in my living room, or I’m in theirs.”

Her first cabaret performance was singing in an advertisement show for Figaro, in Germany, in Weimar. “They asked if I would sing some Don Giovanni, and I said no – but I am interested in singing some Kurt Weil’s Weimar songs. And they were like, cool, in Weimar… and so I was terrified of that performance because everyone showed up, all thirty singers in the show, in gowns and gorgeousness, and I show up in studs and spikes. And I’m thinking, oh my God, what’s going to happen? My set was five songs, I set it up so that the pianos played through the whole thing, so I couldn’t hear the deafening sound of silence. I hope and prayed, and got to the end. And the response that I got from them was – overwhelming. And they don’t applaud for me like that when I sang opera. I didn’t start to think about changing to Cabaret because of that, but it was affirming that you’re on the right path. And when I sing this repertoire, I feel like it’s my story.”

For Lindsay, it’s her first fringe experience, but an obvious choice for her show. “I believe that the fringe is experimental theatre, new theatre, theatre that you won’t see anywhere else. I was attacted to the fringe because I thought that my show would fit into that, that it would also be a great place to do my show several times in a row, because of course the arc of a show changes the more times you do it.” For this show, her next stop will be the Fringe of Toronto, but after that, she’ll be heading to Connecticut for the International Cabaret Conference at Yale University. “I was invited to go by Erv Raible, who’s like Mister Cabaret – as big as it gets in Cabaret, he heard me sing in Seattle, he seems to think there’s a place for me. So when I go, I’ll be working with some amazing broadway performers, legends, really, and they’ll help me along. The purpose of it is to move us forward.”

Lindsay Sutherland Boal and Elisabeth Scholtz

In addition to creating the artistic vision of the show, Lindsay has, like many other fringe shows, taken on the all the other production roles as well. Fortunately, her enthusiasm is infectious, and she’s had no shortage of support for her vision. “When I was putting the show together, I did everything. I really had no concept of how it was going to go over. I had no one to bump ideas off of. I sought guidance from people. Jean Stilwell is a very famous Canadian mezzo, so I went to go work with her: she opened my universe to visceral interpretation, which she’s known for. She put me in a position to interpret these songs as honestly as I can. Tracy Dahl, my voice teacher, was incredibly supportive.” From there, others have come to her assistance – her pianist Elisaebeth Scholtz, lighting design from Lynn Cox, a sponsor to help her hire a piano, a local billet, media promotion, even someone who is driving her costume – lost in transit from her trip over from Vancouver – from Toronto to Ottawa.

“It seems as though all the planets are aligning. When I was doing the operatic thing, I would hope and pray that a sign would come that I was on the right track, and I got a sign once a year. Ever since all this cabaret stuff came around, I get a sign every five minutes. I know that I’m doing the right thing. Build it and they’ll come.”

Purely Cabaret can be seen at the Academic Hall.