Backstage With... Emily Leatha Everson Gleichenhaus

Q. Emily, how did you come to join the DC Cabaret Network?

A. I came to the DC Cabaret Network through Wendy Lane Baily and George Fulginiti-Shakar and a song performance/cabaret class through Theatre Lab. This would have been in 1999, probably. The rest is a blur... I went to open mics, got private coaching from Wendy (and through her Erv Raible) and also private coaching from George. That led me to the Cabaret Conference at Yale in 2003, which is when I met Judy Simmons.


When Wendy left for NJ/NYC, Judy became Executive Director of DCCN and I got an invitation to serve on the board, which I did with great love. It was a great honor to serve on the board and I learned so, so much.


I had to leave DCCN board (with heavy heart) due to growing success of my Sing Books with Emily program. I’d started the Sing Books blog (to archive and document the wonderful world of illustrated song) and gotten a grant from Arlington County Commission for the Arts to do a show and create a CD and I began performing 1-3 performances each day, which along with being a mom was (and still is) as much as I can do.


Q. I think your work as an educator, turning books into songs, must keep your imagination fresh and active. How do you bring that spirit into song selection for your own repertoire?


A. Sing Books with Emily (an expansive repertoire of illustrated songs) and the art of cabaret are completely intertwined.


I apply everything I ever learned through cabaret (acting and music theatre, too) into every Sing Books performance. Every song is a story and has a story. I work to understand the song and to put my own stories and personal experiences into each one. Also, each song has a context (who wrote it, when and why, what does it say, etc) which is important to know and understand. And, each Sing Books performance is a conversation between me and each person (regardless of age) in the audience. I never sing down to children. I give them the same level of commitment and brain power that I would give to any grown up. The music and the stories are magically engaging.


I’m amazed every time how it works. It’s a variation on the cabaret theme, but the technique is the same. It is only effective, however, because of the homework that goes into it. I like to know everything I can about a song and my personal experience with it. Over the years, I developed a technique for working on songs and I apply that work (admittedly to varying degrees) to every song. Much of this work is what gets published in the posts for each song in my blog. I started the blog to collect and share all that work in one place.


In terms of repertoire selection, I must admit to being a sort of jack-of-all-trades with the songs. If I have any glimmer of connection to a song, I am weirdly compelled to explore and document it, make the music for it, arrange it and sing it. This is why my top favorite songs include WINTER SONG (words by William Shakespeare, music by 18th c. composer Thomas Arne), TAKE ME HOME COUNTRY ROADS (words and music by John Denver, Taffy Nivert and Bill Danoff), THERE’S A TRAIN OUT FOR DREAMLAND (music and lyrics by Frederich H. Heider and Carl Kress).


I love them all. Singing these songs weekly (and often daily) for children, their teachers and caregivers has deeply embedded them in my heart and soul. The most magical part of all, though, is developing relationships with my repeated audiences who come to know and love these songs along with me, as they then attach their own stories to the songs, and together, we write new chapters to the stories.


Of course there is a lot that would not be appropriate as Sing Books/Cabaret crossover repertoire, but there is a surprising amount that would work in either context. In a cabaret performance for adults, of course I would not hold a book, but songs like THE CIRCLE GAME, RHODE ISLAND IS FAMOUS FOR YOU or I’M IN LOVE WITH A BIG BLUE FROG are joyous, wonderful songs for most folks, just about anywhere.


Q. Where will we see and hear you next?

A.What’s next?  I’m looking forward to the 2015-2016 school year, visiting about 20 classrooms at 4 schools on a regular two-week rotation. I’m planning to present a 4-week program for this autumn to help parents and caregivers learn to sing songs in 4 themed songbooks (lullabies, poems, Mother Goose and many songs/one twinkly tune) one of which we’ll assemble in each session. There are a few private event and library gigs on the schedule. And, as always, I’ve got about 25 cabarets percolating in my brain. I’m sure one of them will come to life before too long.