By Tom Alvarez, UNITE Indianapolis
August 8, 2015
In Indianapolis and in the gay community in particular, the name Shannon Forsell is synonymous with cabaret. Not only is the beloved LGBT ally a highly regarded cabaret performer in her own right, she is also the artistic director and CEO of the Cabaret at the Columbia Club and regarded by many as the driving force behind its runaway success.
Recently, UNITE sat down with Forsell, known for never taking herself too seriously, to chat about her dual career as an entertainer and arts administrator.
You are kind of the Liza Minnelli of Indianapolis. How did that happen?
(Laughs) That’s a good question. I think part of that has to do with the fact that I am a local performer. There are not a lot of folks that do cabaret, and the cabaret performance style does seem to resonate with the gay community. When I first started out, I was at the American Cabaret Theatre. I also performed at Jimmy’s (a gay bar/restaurant) when it was around during the ‘80s. I tried out some of my cabaret shows there. That may have been the start of that.
Would you also say you have always had gay friends as a result of being involved in theater?
Right. I have always been open to the LGBT community and obviously the Cabaret at the Columbia Club is where I have also become known. I am a peripheral part of the community. I am not gay but a lot places where I perform are gay friendly. Theater and musical theater in particular is naturally gay friendly.
You have also been involved in a lot of nonprofit activities on behalf of the LGBT community, haven’t you?
Yes, I’ve tried to do that a lot. I don’t have a lot of free time or money to give because I work in nonprofit, so I try to give back by doing benefit concerts for organizations such as The Damien Center and Lamda Legal. I also did Spotlight shows when I was at the ACT.
In addition to your job at the Cabaret at the Columbia Club, are you still actively performing?
I am less active because of the work it has taken to build the Cabaret. My standards are really high. I don’t want to just to go out and not be great. (Laughs). It takes a lot of work to make it look effortless. Because of my role at the Cabaret, there is a lot of pressure on me that I damn well know what a good cabaret show is (laughs). I am not just going to throw something together, because I don’t have that luxury. My other challenge is that the Cabaret has forty performances a year on weekends so that cuts into a lot of valuable time that I would be able to perform. Lots of folks have been great to me and have asked me to perform. I do perform at the Jazz Kitchen a couple times a year and I try to perform at the Cabaret. However, I do that sparingly so that it does not seem like I am trying to promote myself as a performer.
What is it about the Cabaret art form that resonates with gay men in particular?
(Laughs). You tell me! Cabaret is definitely a welcoming art form. It can sometimes be very main stream, it can sometimes push political boundaries, it can be comedic, and also has that big diva element that really appeals to the gay men. I am the kind of person that likes a lot of things that gay men do. I like strong talent and someone who can really put on a good show. I like someone who is not afraid to be sassy. It’s also very powerful to be up close and personal with talent.
What would you say to people who have not been to the Cabaret?
We have deliberately created the Cabaret to be accessible to a lot of different folks. That is very important to me. Cabaret has never been an elitist art form and I certainly don’t want that here. We have young people, we have folks who are wealthy and those who are not. We try to make it affordable and have tickets that are $25. We want people to feel like they are having a special night out but they don’t have to work hard at that. We want everyone to feel like they can go and have a New York experience. It is not elitist – it’s welcoming, very comfortable and the world is their oyster when they are here.
Are you available to sing at weddings?
(Laughs). Yes, I am available for gay weddings. They don’t mess around (laughs). I will definitely sing at a gay wedding because I know it will be awesome. It’s its own show (laughs).
Click here to read the full interview.
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