NEW HAVEN — The annual two-week cabaret conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Conn. — a mainstay for supper club warblers for 12 years until it got the heave-ho when new management took over five years ago — will be returning to the arts center this summer, but not with the conference’s original leadership and with a different identity.
It won’t be the only Connecticut cabaret gathering in August.
After its 2000 ouster because the conference — though profitable — didn’t match the center’s overall mission, the exiled cabaret folks found a new and welcome home at Yale. The School of Drama/Yale Repertory Theater, under James Bundy, has hosted the conference in New Haven for the last two years.
The Yale conference will remain for its third season, run by Erv Raibel, who had a long association with the O’Neill. Raibel says he hasn’t heard any word about the O’Neill conference restarting and has not received any communication with the Waterford institution.
But starting this summer, the O’Neill will present the (renamed) Cabaret and Performance Conference Aug. 1-13. Michael Bush, director of artistic production at the Manhattan Theater Club, will helm the conference. The focus, says Preston Whiteway, general manager at the O’Neill, will be an expansion of what had run in the past to include sketch acts, comedy routines and performance art.
“Yale is doing a great job with its conference,” Whiteway said, “but we thought it was best to start anew and not just be an exact copy of what we did before.” He indicated that it needed a new approach to the art due to changes in the entertainment biz.
“It’s not just about torch songs,” he says. “It’s more modern performance based. It’s just not a world of Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland anymore.” Whiteway says he is seeking to form partnerships with venues in New York and Connecticut.
The O’Neill conference will include about 15 students for the first year but hopes to expand in successive summers. Expected to be included in the faculty are actress Penny Fuller and composer-lyricist-director Barry Kleinbort. Auditions will be held in late May. Tuition will be $3,500. Information can be found at www.theoneill.org.
Raibel said he is happy at Yale and plans are well under way with much of the faculty in place including Tovah Feldshuh, Amanda McBroom, Sally Mayes and Julie Wilson. He said 36 students are already accepted for this summer in New Haven. The conference will run July 29-Aug. 7.