Allan Kollar was looking for some kind of performance series that would keep Venice Theatre busy in the summer and provide new opportunities for many of the area’s actors and singers.
He came up with the Summer Cabaret Series, and the results were far better than he expected.
“I could not be happier with how it turned out,” Kollar said, and that’s not just because his wife, Kim, starred in one of the many sold-out shows.
There should be no surprise that the cabaret series will be back next summer, good news for audiences and performers.
“It went far beyond my expectations in terms of talent that showed up, in terms of tickets sold and the number of people who came back night after night,” he said.
Twelve different shows were featured over five weeks, with each act (solos, duos and groups) given two performances. “Random Acts: The Musical” sold out so quickly that a third performance was added, and the series ended with the last-minute addition of a new Ann Morrison show that she will present on Labor Day at 54 Below in New York.
Kollar estimates that ticket sales were “well over 80 percent, and that’s just amazing for the first time.” Performers got a share of the box office, and the theater also benefited from sales at the bar conveniently located in the back of the Pinkerton Theatre, dubbed Pinky’s Cabaret for the series. Most of the performers self-promoted their shows on Facebook and through email blasts.
Word of mouth on individual performances and the series itself was strong, and by their second performance, most of the acts were sold out or close to it in the roughly 90-seat theater.
“In the beginning, people were coming out to see their friends, and by the end, people were coming on Thursday night just to see who was there,” he said.
The 12 acts were chosen from submissions, auditions and proposals from about 30 possibilities. Kollar’s focus was on “good singers singing good songs.”
(I’m not sure that “Random Acts” really fits in with that idea, but the group’s assortment of risque and raunchy songs and sketches has certainly built a strong following.)
There were a lot of Broadway and off-Broadway show tunes, some comedy, acoustic music and a folk show included. I got to see four of the acts, and most of them were far more polished than I expected. They were long enough to be satisfying and short enough to make you wish they included a few more songs.
With its initial success, Kollar said it was an easy decision to bring the series back next year, with a few tweaks. He’s going to start the search process a little earlier “to widen the net on people who might want to perform.” He’d like to find a couple of male-female cabaret duos to complement the female duos featured this summer.
He is considering adding a fourth night to the Thursday-Sunday schedule to include more acts than the schedule allowed this year.
He’s also taking my suggestion that the theater offer area performers some training in how to build a cabaret show. They’re fragile creatures that need to entertain while revealing a performer’s personality and talent through varied tones and tempos among the song choices, and the right musical arrangements.
So Kollar said the theater is looking to create what he calls a “cabaret boot camp.”
“There are a lot of really good singers out there who might be intimidated by the prospect of putting a show together. We want to give them a chance to work with some experienced people who have done this before, and increase the talent pool that way.”
The cabaret series will be scheduled again for late summer, when most of the area theaters are closed and more people might be available to take part.
That means a busy summer for Venice Theatre, which also will hosts its second AACT World Fest, a week-long showcase of shows and performers from around the world put on by the American Association of Community Theatre. Venice hosted the 2010 festival. Next year’s event is scheduled for June 16-21.
For more information: venicestage.com
ay Handelman is the theater critic for the Herald-Tribune and president of the Foundation of the American Theatre Critics Association. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to “like” Arts Sarasota on Facebook, Follow me on twitter at twitter.com/jayhandelman.