I left drama school 12 years ago, having done Acting and Musical Theatre at Mountview Academy. One of the things I remember most keenly from my time there was a certain teacher telling us that there were too many actors in the world and not enough jobs and advised us to think about creating our own work.
Previous to moving to London for my training I had run four annual Variety evenings to raise money for a local charity my family were passionate about. The shows were a mixture of comedy sketches and songs from musicals all performed by a bunch of precocious teenagers with myself at the helm. The shows were always sold out and we raised over £5,000 throughout the four years.
After my training I worked, like a lot of actors, as a waiter. My job in Old Compton street meant coming across some outlandish characters, and one particular lunchtime shift I was serving two flamboyant guys who engaged me in conversation and found out about my real career. They informed me that they worked around the corner in the world-famous drag club Madame Jo-Jo's as showgirls and did I want to audition? A job had become available.
I'm not sure why I was so excited by this proposition as I had never dreamt of dragging up before but I jumped at the chance and applied to audition. It's a little known fact that not many drag queens have any training as performers, so I stood out at the auditions and began working as ‘Trinity Million' a couple of weeks later.
I was tired of the make-up ravaging my skin, the heels ruining my arches, the corset scarring my chest and the job putting off potential suitors.
I worked at Jo-Jo's for 5 months and then moved on to run my own weekly club night called Trinity's in a club on the Charing Cross Road. Trinity was the star and we introduced singers and comics doing open slots – not a million miles away from the variety nights of my teenage years. Trinity's ran every Thursday for seven years in three different London venues, until I killed her off. I was tired of the make-up ravaging my skin, the heels ruining my arches, the corset scarring my chest and the job putting off potential suitors. I resurrected myself as ‘Paul L Martin'; a cabaret singer much like Trinity – to begin with at least – but in trousers!
During all this time I had been running my shows under the company banner of Millionth Muse Productions (now MMP Ltd) –
14and had been joined by director and writer Simon James Green. We began expanding our portfolio of cabaret shows and also successfully produced a number of plays on the fringe. Fellow performer Sarah-Louise Young joined Simon and I in producing regular cabaret shows at Theatre Museum, Lost Society, Battersea Barge, The Space, Leicester Square Theatre, Arts Theatre and many more.
I began running lectures and workshops on cabaret in drama schools and The Actors Centre and then acquired the cabaret and burlesque agency Better Chemistry in 2007 to add to our portfolio. Our shows have also been seen up and down the country and I have personally performed in Melbourne, New York, Berlin, Milan, Rome and Paris as well as nationwide.
I quickly became more and more interested in cabaret as a genre and how intimate, raw and dangerous it can be for both performer and audience. There is no fourth wall, and the script – if there is one at all – can be thrown out the window at any moment. It is a difficult skill for some, and second nature to others, but with clubs, bars, restaurants and theatres finding platforms for such entertainment wherever they can, it would be a shame for any performer to not consider whether there might be a place for them within the artform. Whether that be to earn some extra cash, keep your hand in with a live audience, hone a skill, or all three! Think about it – can you juggle? Sing? Fan-Dance? Eat fire? Tell a joke? Do you excel at clowning? Hanker to drag up? Have an outlandish character you always wanted to show the world? All of these things – and more – can be classed as cabaret.
In 2010 I will celebrate 20 years working as a cabaret performer, promoter and producer, and I am proud and excited at what a thriving sub-culture I have been a part of building in the past decade. With burlesque having been enormously fashionable in the last few years and cabaret sure to become even more popular.
I still work as an actor on television and on stage and always have, but what was to be a side-line of that to keep me going has become the passion of my entire life. After all, it is a cabaret. ●
This article is published in Issue 5 of The Drama Student Magazine – subscribe now