It’s been quite a journey for James Lee. A few years ago, he was another punter at a cabaret show. Fast forward to 2014 and he has a London Cabaret Award nomination under his belt, has tried his hand at boylesque under the name Vince Moon and is now co-producing his first show which launches this Friday. We asked him: how did this all happen?
My introduction to cabaret a little over two years ago was largely accidental. Things have sort of spiralled out of control from there, and I’m just starting now to find out exactly how much work is involved in actually producing a show. It is quite a shock to the system. So here is the abridged tale of my journey from cabaret virgin to…Vince Moon, cabaret producer?!
It all began in a pub, the Cavendish Arms in Stockwell. I went along with a friend who was a regular there, and ended up watching a show by the name of A Little Cabaret, run by producer and burlesque teacher Little Lady Luscious (who, for the sake of brevity, I’ll call LLL). I thought I might as well have a look. I didn’t really know what to expect; I thought cabaret was something naff that happened on cruise ships and in nightclubs in Bolton. I was utterly wrong and I had a great evening watching burlesque, comedy, magic and music. That was that: I was hooked and ended up returning every month.
The first few shows are a bit of a blur now, but I do recall that they featured some of the rising stars of cabaret. Violet Blaze performed there several times in the months before she won Burlesque Idol and it was plain to see she was going places. Vivacity Bliss, Canadian creator of the brilliantly unpredictable Cabaret Roulette, performed her Northern Exposure act, which to this day is still my favourite burlesque routine. Rosie Kohl, an amazing belly dancer who now has her own cabaret podcast, was there as were comic turns Laurence Owen and Lindsay Sharman.
It wasn’t just the show and the performances that attracted me. It was the whole atmosphere. The Cavendish is one of those very friendly pubs and cabaret folk on the whole are a welcoming bunch, especially when the notorious bubbly wine is flowing. It didn’t take long before I got talking to performers after the show, got invited to more shows, and before I knew it I couldn’t walk into a cabaret venue in London without bumping into at least half a dozen people I knew.
During a chat with LLL one day, an idea popped into my head for a boylesque act. She said “that’s brilliant, you have got to do it”. I explained to her that it wasn’t an idea for me to use, but for someone who perhaps knew what they were doing. The battle of wills was brief, and there was only ever going to be one winner.
And that’s why shortly afterwards I was taking her classes and performing my boylesque act under the name Vince Moon. I am happy to say it went down pretty well and, just as importantly, I had a great time doing it. Once again, I found myself hooked and have performed the routine a few times since, with new act ideas invading my head frequently (i.e. every time I’ve been drinking).
Meanwhile, LLL was moving to a new venue in Battersea, with a larger space and bigger ambitions. She prepared a theme for each show, taking inspiration from the 1940s for her Swing-Time Cabaret and the Nineties for Hooch Cabaret. It was around then that I lost my job, which was possibly the best thing that has ever happened to me. I had plenty of spare time to help out and made the happy mistake of letting LLL know this.
It wasn’t long before I was carrying tables, working on the door and spending my afternoons before a show holding the bottom of a stepladder while LLL swore at the lighting rig. It didn’t hurt that I then got to watch an amazing show at the end of the night. It was a great experience, and it was nice to see the show I’d played a small part in building a loyal following.
Then, around the time I started working again, the venue was sold off and LLL took a break from producing shows to plan the next step up. A few months later she returned, announcing a season of shows inspired by the film noir genre. It was only natural that I’d be involved in some way. I assumed it would be shifting chairs and stamping hands.
Instead, after another one of her persuasive conversations, I find myself in the role of the co-producer, learning what goes into making a show. And that’s where I am now. The first show is just a week away and suddenly I’m a hermit, coming home from work to hammer out emails, write Facebook posts and send messages to everyone I know. Why? Because I know we’ve got an amazing line-up but a cabaret show is as much about the audience as the performers. One thing I know, my respect for and appreciation of a well-produced cabaret show has increased tenfold.
Luscious Cabaret Does Film Noir will be the first Friday of every month, starting 3 October 2014, at the Roxy Bar and Screen, Borough High Street. Details for that show can be found here and tickets can be booked through Eventbrite.