Image of cabaret stage, artwork by Michele WoodTeam Cabaret: Sharing heart and meaning through story and song ...

The room was dark and the lights were focused on a young woman telling a story about an intense, personal relationship. The song she sang next was a perfect extension of that story, and seemed to have been written for that purpose, though everyone knew it wasn't. The audience was truly moved and as she finished, for a moment, there was not a sound in the hall. Then, one by one, the people listening began applauding, mixing cheers and vocal approvals with the loud hand clapping.

This is a scene that is very familiar to cabaret clubs throughout the world. A great story and a great song move us all. But this singer was a 16-year-old girl, who was new to the stage, and whose story was about her mom who had been a crack addict. The audience consisted of her family and peers, and other community members. She was one of twelve young people who had been working together for twelve weeks as participants in a performing arts program called Team Cabaret in Fullerton, California.

The story of Team Cabaret

Doug Simao and Kate Peters were introduced to each other in 1996 by their two teenage daughters, Katy and Katherine, who were best friends, having met in The Fullerton Children's Repertory Theater company. One thing led to another, and they became a blended family. The two Katherine's were entering high school, and with the addition of coming together as a family, Doug and Kate knew the girls were possibly at risk for having some problems in high school. They began looking for ways to stay involved in the girls' lives and also for places where the girls could talk about some of the challenges they were facing. The couple came up with very little to support this transition. However, both were believers in creating opportunity if you don't find it, so they put their heads together and came up with Team Cabaret.

It was actually a natural choice because of their backgrounds. Kate had been a voice teacher and performer for over 20 years, and Simao, a business man who was very involved in the arts in the community. They both enjoyed the medium of cabaret together, and felt it was a natural tool for self-expression. The Team Cabaret Manual explains it this way:

"This project began in and is heavily influenced by the genre of cabaret. There are some important reasons for this. First, the world would probably be a better place if everyone had a safe place to express who they are and what is important to them. The art of cabaret encourages this. Second, cabaret-style delivery is" up close and personal." It is a delivery method that takes down "the walls" that separate the performers from the audience. And third, it is a place to share stories. When we listen to another's story, whether they speak it or tell it through a song, we cannot help comparing it to our own. Sometimes we find how we are similar, sometimes how we are different, but always we find our common humanity. This reminds us that we are not alone."

The mission of Team Cabaret

Team Cabaret was piloted at the Fullerton Union High School Academy of the Arts where Katy and Katherine were students, in 1998. There were 30 students in the first session. The program evolved to be a 40-hour program that can be taught as a once-a-week workshop (or more weekly meetings, up to 40 hours in a one week intensive.) It is taught as many performing arts programs are taught, with acting exercises, songs, and stage presentations, but the difference is that the goal of the program is "To give young people a safe place to express what has heart and meaning through story and song, and be applauded for it." With that in mind, the emphasis is not on how well they perform, but on how well they find what is important to them and learn to share it with others.

Lisa (age 17) says, "I like Team Cabaret because I can talk about things that are important to me and personalize them by singing songs I love.

Image of Team Cabaret participant"Christine (age 16) says, "It teaches me to be honest and open with other teens, because it is a safe place to talk about important issues.

"Tina (age 17): "It feels good to be able to share personal stories on another level like this."

Team Cabaret is a unique experience that enhances the performing abilities of the students in your choral music program. Through the use of story telling and imagery, the students are able to truly find their passion for the music they are singing. As they become comfortable with themselves as individuals, they are able to be open and vulnerable to their own feelings and can relate to the music on new and exciting levels. Musicianship, vocal technique, and performing skills are all naturally enhanced through this approach. The bonding that occurs between the students can be invaluable in building leadership within a strong choral program, and the opportunities to expand your programs through the offering of Team Cabaret are endless. Team Cabaret should be a standard augmentation to everyone's choral music program.

Scott Hedgecock, Past President Southern California Vocal Association

The results

Since its inception, Team Cabaret has touched over 100 families, and many other community members. This year, it has expanded to include other high schools in Orange County, and has become a non-profit corporation in order to allow for fundraising to expand the program. Team Cabaret has developed further to include schools outside of California through its national support program. This support includes a manual that helps others to use the tools that make the program unique, and a network of artists who are willing to lead workshops for young people. The program has been recognized by the Orange County Business Committee for the Arts, as well as the City of Fullerton for its commitment to the young people and the community.
Image of happy Team Cabaret participants

"Performing with Team Cabaret was different than anything else I had ever done. Instead of memorizing lines and stage directions, I was learning about other people, life, and myself. My eyes were open to not only issues in other peoples lives, but in mine as well. It really felt safe! I never felt like any of my or my teammate's words were being documented! That was not necessary, the adults and students who worked with us really cared about our expression and our lives. It was such a great experience! and i would reccomend it to anyone! The really neat thing is that no one had to be an expert singer, or even a singer at all! I was shocked at the some of the things that I did, musically and emotionally. I LOVED it! " Luis, age 18.

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