After cruise ships, country clubs and churches, Georgia Rogers Farmer had one more venue to conquer with her cabaret — Richmond Triangle Players.
With its open space and well-used bar, the theater seemed like the perfect place for cabaret. When she worked on a musical there three years ago, Farmer asked the company's artistic director, Phil Crosby, about performing one of the shows she'd developed through the years.
Farmer's Richmond cabarets not only have sold out every show since, but also have almost single-handedly launched a local cabaret movement.
"It's a very unique form, in terms of how it works," says Crosby, whose theater company is host to the majority of the homegrown cabarets. "It's a very intimate form of performance. You need to give the audience a sense that it's being created right before their eyes."
Cabaret originated in the nightclubs of Europe in the 1880s, but recently has seen resurgence in America. Instead of having a master of ceremonies oversee different musical acts, many modern cabarets feature a lone performer relating stories from their life between songs.
"Mine are very personal," says Farmer, who's created seven different cabaret shows. "My travels, my husband, embarrassing things, I just put it all out there."
Though Richmond Triangle Players had been host to traveling cabarets, it was only when Farmer began performing her shows that other local performers really started getting in on the act. Since Farmer's first Richmond show, more than half a dozen other theater artists have staged cabarets, including Scott Wichmann and Jason Marks.
As these shows draw strongly from the performers' lives, every show is unique. Where Georgia Rogers Farmer makes snacks and crafts for her audience, Billy Christopher Maupin takes his on a journey into his personal relationships, romantic and otherwise.
"In theater it's about connecting with the character, but in cabaret it's about the audience connecting with the performer," Maupin says. "It's very therapeutic to take these things that have affected you and put them out there. And cheaper than a psychologist."
Maupin credits Farmer for much of the recent foothold cabaret has gained in Richmond.
"She is the goddess of cabaret," he says. "Having someone with that much experience with the art form sets the bar really high, and it's nice to have that to look to."
Another way that local cabaret is gaining traction is Ghost Light After Party, which is described by its founders as an "improv cabaret open-mic night."
"It's theater nerds meet 'Coyote Ugly,' and everything in between," says Matt Shofner, who co-founded the monthly event with fellow actor Maggie Roop. "Essentially you're walking into something you've never been a part of before."
Loosely moderated by Shofner and Roop, Ghost Light invites both theater professionals and civilians onstage to belt out the tunes — or do whatever they feel like. The show takes place once a month at Richmond Triangle Players and serves as a fundraiser for local theater projects. The next event, May 4, will be a cross-dressing competition titled "RoopShof's Drag Race."
On May 7, Richmond Triangle Players will play host to "Edie Beale Live at Reno Sweeney," re-creating a real-life cabaret act that Little Edie performed in 1978. Capitalizing on her fame from the documentary "Grey Gardens," Beale staged a cabaret act at Reno Sweeney Nightclub in New York, which will be re-created by actor Jeffrey Johnson.
Farmer hopes to stage a new cabaret at Richmond Triangle Players this summer, but be warned — there's a waiting list of sorts for tickets. In the meantime, she's planning her show.
"She is so methodical," Crosby says. "It comes off as improvised and off the cuff, but all of it is really carefully planned. She puts it together like she's mounting a military campaign." S
Ghost Light After Party's "RoopShof's Drag Race" is May 4 at Richmond Triangle Players. "Edie Beale Live at Reno Sweeney" is May 7 at Richmond Triangle Players. For information, visit rtriangle.org or call 346-8113.