Backstage With... Pamela Jackson

What drew you to cabaret?

I am an equity actress, trained and experienced in music theater, who has been performing since I was 4. My first gig was up on "the big stage" in nursery school, wearing a Shirley Temple-type white and polka dotted dress, lacy anklets and black patent leather Mary Janes, in a play about animals. My big number was singing “How Much Is That Doggy In The Window?" and I remember feeling at home up there. Not afraid, not "hey look at me, I'm a star,” but a place where for a bit I got to be someone else, somewhere else and when done have it go back to  my "regular life" Lofty thoughts for a little kid, but I loved the idea that make-believe didn't have to be forever.

I loved the idea of performing as I saw it as a safe place. A chance to perform and through that performance have a chance to sing/act/be another and the critiquing or judging of that song/scene/part was not personal, just based on the performance I gave though the use of someone else's words, directions, music. It wasn't personal, so if they didn't like me, they weren't not liking me, just the character/music/play/how/

performance. I would say 90% of my "wonder years" were wonderful. Not bullied too much, defended by so many when the very few decided to profess their distaste with "one of those people" living in "their" neighborhood.  That didn't happen on stage.

Fast forward, quite honestly I wasn't too familiar with the cabaret genre, but I knew a few people who had one woman/one man shows who are pretty successful and travel the world with orchestras. I was searching for open mics and I saw DC Cabaret Network about 5 years ago and when I contacted DCCN, it was the end of the "year" party and it was a pot luck, I believe at Emily Leatha Everson Gleichenhaus’ house. I remember speaking with Terri Allen for the first time and when I arrived with a buddy (who also sings and her little son sings cabaret-style too) People were milling around the pot luck and some had on feather boas. I met Michael Miyazaki, then Emily, then Terri. I paid my dues got my pencil and someone wrapped the feather boa around me and their arms around my heart. I felt immediately comfortable. Everyone was great.

From then on, once a month I would be there, with binder in hand, excited to know that I would be not only able to sing, but do so in a nurturing, fun, loving and laughing environment. So, you lose you place in the music, you stop and pick it up. The papers all fall to the floor and it happens this one time they are not in a binder or taped? You exchange songs, websites, you visit with people who are genuinely happy to perform.

You are a sought-after teaching artist. How does teaching enrich you as an artist?

I am a certified teaching artist. I was working full time in dinner theatre, traveling with the outreach and education program with Round House Theater, doing kid's shows. A castmate mentioned that he was not going to be able to direct Round House theater’s summer Arts Day Program, so I raised my hand. I then added theater education programs at Round House during the school year, becoming an associate artist. After a dozen years, I made the decision to use my experience to become certified to teach language arts-based original programs in education systems.

I was among the first people in the area to go through the teaching artist certification program sponsored by the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County, administered by UNC Greensboro. There I learned that everything is connected and through that connection, you can bridge the gap between frustration with learning and joy for the student. It also affords students a chance to master the skills and subjects they are “supposed to learn" in the fun, nurturing arms that the arts provide.

A six-year-old student referred to my programs as "serving broccoli dipped in chocolate; you are getting your nutrition, but it still tastes so good." Another of my favorite reviews (from a grown-up) is ”Pam Jackson is the Pied Piper of arts integration. The kids follow, learn and grow without them even knowing they are practicing their curriculum and learning  with the joy and excitement that learning should be."  

As a teaching artist, vocal and acting audition coach and glee choir director, I get to see young people celebrating the joy of being themselves, singing with their whole hearts and sparkling. A piece performed with someone's whole being, no matter how off-key or off-rhythm can and does still bring happiness. The “mistakes” are forgotten and there is just the joy and laughter and applause and then the child running to her parents and getting a hug and the look on the parents’ and grandparents’ faces. The whispered “thank yous” remind the cabaret artist in me that cabaret is all about sharing, from my heart to yours.


What is your dream project and where will we next see and hear you next?

My dream project would perhaps have one of my original musicals performed full scale. I would like to be booked to sing in a venue like Strathmore and to find a collaborative project with a small orchestra. I am working on the musicals and I have just set my home studio up in my "new" place and am working on a new cabaret.