Catching Up with The Mabel Mercer Foundation
“The Future of Cabaret”
February 25, 2017
By Alix Cohen for Cabaret Scenes
As I write, The Mabel Mercer Foundation is revving up for the first Chicago Cabaret Convention to be held since 2006. A fortuitous legacy bequest by über-fan Phyllis Hamabe—a supporter of the Convention from its inception—coupled with the welcome of a Midwest cabaret community, make the event possible. “We didn’t really know her; it was a surprise,” comments the Foundation’s Artistic Director, KT Sullivan. Twelve artists will travel to the windy city to participate in a gala cocktail party with entertainment at the Empire Room of the Palmer House Hilton and two nights of Convention concerts at Park West April 19-21, including performers from the Chicago area.
Also, in the immediate future, is the continuance of a concert series at Lynn University in Boca Roton, Florida: Live at Lynn, The Mabel Mercer Foundation’s Jazz at Lincoln Center solo events. Next up are A Fête with Liam Forde on March 29, You’re Getting to be a Habit with Me: The Songs of Harry Warren featuring Kristoffer Lowe on April 26, and Natalie Douglas in Four Women: Nina, Lena, Abbey & Billie May 17. http://thingstodo.palmbeachpost.com/event/lynn-university-launches-2017-season-of-the-mabel-mercer-foundation-s-cabaret-at-lincoln-center-comes-to-live-at-lynn584b5e9716db8
In New York, denizens look forward to the June 20 concert at Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall, Dietz & Schwartz and Friends (the addendum: in order to showcase new songs that might be worthy of the pantheon). “It was Donald Smith (creator of The Mabel Mercer Foundation) who introduced me to Dietz & Schwartz,” KT Sullivan tells me, “’That’s Entertainment,’ ‘Dancing in the Dark’—people forget who wrote those songs. That’s what we’re about. Dietz worked publicity for MGM and knew everybody; he was a very funny man. I’ve got stories. (Arthur Schwartz was a lawyer.)”
As sure as the leaves turn color, autumn will bring The 28th Annual Cabaret Convention, October 16-19. This year’s concerts will include: Opening Night hosted by KT Sullivan, which will feature young singers and new songs as well as veterans; Andrea Marcovicci & Jeff Harnar’s celebration of George Gershwin and his various lyricists; James Gavin’s Intimate Nights, an illumination of iconic cabaret history; and an evening devoted to the work of Hoagy Carmichael and Richard Whiting helmed by Klea Blackhurst. Among artist CDs on the table outside Rose Hall, one will be able purchase the DVD (because he has to be seen!) ofSidney Meyer’s unforgettable Laurie Beechman show benefiting the Foundation. The brochure goes out in May.
Speaking of the Convention, are you aware—I wasn’t—that every event since its inaugural in 1989 has been videotaped and is available to view at Lincoln Center’s Library for the Performing Arts?! Imagine the treasures. Additionally, as of 2016, each artist who performs receive, upon request, a video of his or her Convention performance for private or professional use.
This year, in addition to their annual gift of the Donald F. Smith Award of $5000 (begun in 2012), cabaret angels Adela and Larry Elow have endowed a fund specifically intended to “encourage teenagers 13-19 to learn and perform The Great American Songbook from 1900-1970.” A first, second and third financial prize will be awarded with the overall winner performing at The Cabaret Convention. Details to be announced.
Efforts to draw in talented young performers (and songwriters) are also being championed by KT, who can ubiquitously be found at showcases like those produced by The EMG (Eric Michael Gillett) Collective, multi-performer cavalcades such as Scott Siegel shows at Feinstein’s/54 Below, and competitions including the Metropolitan Room’s MetroStar Talent and Don’t Tell Mama’s Mama’s Next BIG Act and NiCori Studios New Works Cabaret Showcase.
This year, Sullivan was additionally a judge at Michael Feinstein’s Great American Songbook Competition and, with Natalie Douglas, taught a Master Class for Tim Sullivan’s Jim and Elizabeth Sullivan Scholarship program in Durango, Colorado. The winner of the latter, 17 year-old Lyric Peterson, will appear at the 2017 Convention, courtesy of that program. With funding for the arts seriously cut even prior to our current president’s threats, being able to offer direction to 30 kids over 3 days is a luxury. “You really get to know them.” In direct contrast, Sullivan’s Master Class for The Fiorello H. Laguardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts is relegated to five students for 50 minutes.
Let’s talk about exposing young people to cabaret. While we see an increase of other-than-traditional material which might attract a new audience, the preponderance of next generations are still unfamiliar with the art we value and support. Any number of veteran artists are willing and able to conduct Master Classes in New York and environs, yet next to no institutions ask. Every year The Mabel Mercer Foundation offers free Convention tickets to schools, yet next to none even respond.
If anyone reading is connected to a high school, college, or arts institution, please make contact, suggest Master Classes, consider fundraising or endowment to support this, offer Convention tickets (and follow up). In many ways, we’ve become too insular, depending on those same few who thankfully aid and abet efforts. Who will help the community besides the community? Are you listening?