Arden’s Next Generation Cabaret spotlights women and genderqueer artists

Philly performer Alex Keiper helms the Arden's latest cabaret. (Photo courtesy of the Arden Theatre.)

Alex Keiper is well known to Philadelphia theatergoers: nominated for three Barrymore Awards for her work in Down Past Passyunk (InterAct), Parade (Arden), and The Flea and the Professor (Arden), she gets cast in musicals and nonmusicals alike.

Keiper was honored when the Arden’s artistic staff approached her about sharing her talents in the theater’s solo cabaret format. The Cabaret Series provides an opportunity for artists to perform, develop, and present work that is important to them and offers a unique and intimate conversation between Arden artists and audiences. 

Life lessons wanted?

Arden artistic associate Matthew Decker says, “When we opened the Hamilton Family Arts Center, we realized we have the perfect space for cabaret in our 100-seat Studio Theatre. Many of our cabaret performers work regularly at the Arden and at other theaters in the region, and the intimacy of the Studio Theatre gives our audiences, and perhaps new audiences, a chance to see their favorite performers in an up-close-and-personal way.”

But Keiper, who is a fan of the cabaret shows she’s seen as part of the series, didn’t feel she was ready to take on developing and starring in her own solo cabaret. “A lot of the shows that have been featured in the series have artists sharing big lessons to take away, and I just didn’t feel like I had that kind of big lesson to share yet,” Keiper says.

Rounding up the Next Generation

But Arden staff had faith in her, inviting her to take the lead in creating a cabaret featuring an all-woman cast, rather than creating a solo show. That felt better to Keiper, who acknowledges that even though contemporary theater is working to create more expansive roles for women, opportunities are still limited. As Keiper started thinking more about gender equality and the Philadelphia theater scene, she realized that genderqueer artists similarly lack opportunities to find their stories on stage. Keiper asked the Arden about making the solo cabaret feature both emerging women and genderqueer artists, and the Next Generation cabaret was born.

Running June 23 and 24, the cabaret will include a long list of Philadelphia “up-and-comers,” including Leigha Kato, Pax Ressler, Madison Auch, Suzanne Collins, Jenna Pinchbeck, Maggie Johnson, Amanda Jill Robinson, and Madi Juleskusky. Two artists will perform on only one of the two nights — Alina John (Friday) and Chelsea-Ann Jones (Saturday).

“This is a chance for these artists to grab the spotlight and show what they can do,” says Keiper, who chose the featured artists based on her own experience of their work in the community.

Avoiding the “ballad trap”

“So many top-notch artists go unheard. What I want most is for them to tell the audience what this generation looks like, what struggles they’ve faced, and how they are moving forward. It’s also worth noting that they are all women or genderqueer, and that there will be a lot of discussion about identity and inclusion in the show.”

The audience will hear a wide variety of songs, including folk, rock, and musical theater, highlighting their talents in musical theater storytelling. “Musical theater is changing drastically,” says Keiper. “These artists are learning how to tell stories differently. I encouraged them all to choose strengthening songs and to avoid the ballad trap.”

As Keiper has been steeped in working on the show, she realizes that its message of empathy and not making assumptions about other human beings is the story that she wanted to share with Philadelphia’s audience.

“The more that we are all given an opportunity to learn, the more that our community can grow,” Keiper says. “I would love to encourage young artists of all different backgrounds to stay in Philadelphia and know that there is work for them here.”

The Arden Cabaret Series’s Alex Keiper and the Next Generation Cabaret is coming up on Friday, June 23, and Saturday, June 24, at 8pm at the Studio Theatre at the Arden’s Hamilton Family Arts Center, 40 N. 2nd Street, Philadelphia.