I’m tearing up New York City sufficiently as only Kate Awesome can.
It’s been a lot of fun seeing old friends, meeting new friends and experiencing the awesomeness of the city. I’ve been super impressed with the buskers I’ve seen in the subways, and while it’s just too cold outside for street shows, I’ve met some circus folks down at the New York City Circus Arts School and got to train a bit. The community is really fabulous down here!
Last night, I performed in a cabaret at Birdland, the closest I’ll ever get to Broadway unless mime shows become all the rage! My friends invited me to an open-mic cabaret there, which turned out to be mostly showtune singers and Jazz musicians looking for a place to workshop and rehearse their work. It was pretty neat! I decided to put my name into the queue after already sitting through the acts, and put out a rocken impromptu show on the fly, performing bits from my new show! The audience really enjoyed my act (considering it was classical music) and I felt AWESOME about performing a segment from a brand new show at say, arguably the most important jazz club on the planet. Ha ha! Allegedly I was the first classical pianist (and mime) to perform on the Birdland Bösendorfer. I performed on the piano Michel Legrand, Monty Alexander, Bill Evans…pretty much ALL the Jazz greats have played. It was a moment to savour, for sure (and holy crap!! that piano is to die for–the tone is AMAAAZING). If I’m ever in NYC again on a Monday night, you can bet I will be there performing again!
Afterwards, I sat with my friend with whom I’m staying in Brooklyn, as she painted in her studio, and we chatted about how enthusiastic the response was from the audience and staff; the owner of Birdland and I chatted about his friendship with Oscar Peterson, and how much he loved the concept of my show and was looking forward to seeing more of it some day, to other people (who were famous in their circle, but I couldn’t tell you who they were) asked for my business card. Essentially, I stood out last night. Among all the jazz standards, broadway ballads and original musical theatre songs, not only did I perform a different genre of music, but I performed a funny routine, and something I pretty much made up on the fly. And even if I didn’t play flawlessly, I was unique and entertaining.
My friend had asked if I was nervous or scared about a) performing something I had never really done outside of rehearsal spaces and b) playing it at a legendary club such as Birdland.
To be honest, I wasn’t nervous at all. My take on the whole situation of performing is: I’ll most likely never see this crowd again, so the worst that can happen is that they forget who I am. The best thing that could happen, of course, is that they love my act, laugh, and thank me afterwards for a great show (which they did, so I guess I got the best-case scenario there!) And really, I have no dignity to care about failure as deeply as I probably should.
But, seriously: if it’s one thing I’ve learned in show business, it’s that crowds are forgiving. People will forget a bad show, but they never forget a good show (although sometimes they do that, too). And there is always room to grow and learn from bad experiences, if things go poorly for me. And one of the most important things I’ve learned is that being unique and having your own style is what makes you stand out and memorable when you do succeed.
One of the reasons why I like to perform when I’m not at home is that it is quite literally easy to walk away from your crowd; you’ll never see them again, so you can do ANYTHING in front of them. I’ve workshopped some of my best stuff overseas in front of people without a care in the world about whether or not I’m gonna fail. Any time I am concerned about whether or not my crowd will like me, I curl up in a fetal position and freak out. There was a time where I used to compete as a pianist, and perform publicly quite often. Eventually one day, I snapped from the pressure of trying to make my work perfect, and I couldn’t go back. The thought of playing piano in front of people petrified me.
In the last year or so, I’ve decided to get over that fear and build this new show, and so far I’m doing very well! I’ve realized that I needed the separation between me the person playing piano, and me the character artist performing, and it takes that pressure off and allows me to play beautifully. As well, with a character it’s easier to assume that audiences will like whatever I do (and I admit, now I have a lot more material to work with), and for the most part it works. I do bomb occasionally, as all performers do, but the severity is less than it used to be. And I know from every failure grows an amazing piece of work. It just takes the confidence. And that grows over time.
In the immortal words of Frank Herbert, in the littany against fear, from Dune, “Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.”
And, I suppose, a lack of dignity helps, too! :p