by MK Scott
March begins next week, which means that Cabaret Month at Egan’s Ballard Jam House (1707 NW Market St.) is about to begin. Arnaldo Inocentes helped create the Pacific Northwest Cabaret Association in 2006 and starting March 2nd they in association with Cricket Foundation and Brian Silkworth and Bill Colter will present March is Cabaret Month with two sets at 7pm and 9pm every Friday and Saturday night starting March 2nd. I have personally known Arnaldo for almost 20 years and I jumped at the chance to chat with him earlier this week (2/19) about the lineup as well as his own legendary career as Arnaldo! Drag Chanteuse.
MK Scott: Hello Arnaldo! You helped create Pacific Northwest Cabaret Association/Cabaret Month 12 years ago. What can we look forward to this year?
Arnaldo Inocentes: First of all thank you to SGN for the many years of support. So very grateful, always. This is the 11th Seattle’s March is Cabaret Month Festival. When we started in 2008, it started as a one-night showcase for local performers. In the early years, we had a workshop for new cabaret performers followed by a recital showcase that mixed the workshop attendees with veteran performers.
Today, the festival has evolved. We have mostly veteran regional performers like Joanne Klein and Jayne Muirhead along with some new talents like Gabrielle Nicole and Sweet Spot Combo. Festival participants go through a jury process with our artistic team of Angie Louise, John Engerman and me. Also this year, we have three non-local talents – two from the Bay Area: Bistro Award Winner Linda Kosut and Benn Bacot, and one from the LA area Broadway World Award Winner: Robyn Spangler. Our dream is to become a National Cabaret Festival someday and we are taking it one step at a time towards that direction. Last year, we were added into Shunpike as our fiscal sponsor and their support has helped us in leaps and bounds. Pacific Northwest Cabaret Association is the producer of Seattle’s March is Cabaret Month and we are powered by Shunpike! The concept of the festival is to provide a platform for cabaret artists to have their own solo shows. By pairing two acts in a one-hour cabaret show, they cross pollinate their audience and expose both to a wider base. We do two shows every Friday and Saturday in March with different acts in the 7pm and the 9pm. We also like to keep our ticket prices accessible at $15 and that’s why I say it is the best $15 you will spend on live entertainment. We also give back 85% of the ticket sales to the performers directly – only keeping 15% for our administrative costs – and if you are a businessperson, you know that is NOT a sustainable model. That’s why we rely on donors, grants and Shunpike to keep us fiscally afloat. Our festival focuses on what I call ‘American Style’ cabaret – what you would have seen in the bars and clubs of New York and urban American cities during the Golden Age of Cabaret in the 1940’s and beyond. All live singing and live instruments – mostly piano and voice – a style which is dear to my heart. Of course, it is updated with current nuances and styles. Egan’s is also the perfect venue for us! You’ll feel like you’re in some club in the heart of the East Village but you are actually in the heart of Ballard!
MK: What will you be performing and how many times?
Arnaldo: I traditionally open and close the festival and I host in between as well. March 2 is when we open and I am at the 9pm slot with Sweet Spot Combo. We chose to create one show for the one hour and our show is titled ‘What is This Thing Called Love?’ from a famous Cole Porter song. Sweet Spot Combo is composed of three handsome and very talented gentlemen: Ben Lang on the acoustic guitar, David Salonen on the upright base and Matthew Stull on the snare. They sing and play! We are having a blast rehearsing and melding our musical styles and I am learning a lot from them. For closing on March 31 at the 9pm, I will be partnered with Angie Louise and we are doing two solo 30-minute shows for the one hour. For this closing show, I will be Arnaldo as opposed to Arnaldo! Drag Chanteuse and performing songs that have a personal meaning to me interwoven with personal stories. I hope that the audience will also like me without the bling, hair and makeup.
MK: You should know a little about Cabarets, didn’t you win an Award for your Cabaret in New York in 2008?
Arnaldo: Yes – I was honored with a Bistro Award in 2008 by Backstage East. I attended the International Cabaret Workshop at Yale University in 2005, the first and only drag performer accepted and who performed at the recital, and met all these NY performers and club owners. It took me a year to muster the nerve to perform in NY – so in 2007 I did three shows in NY in February with ‘An Evening with Arnaldo!’ and sold out the three nights and then came back in the fall to do another three shows called ‘Just an Old Fashioned Girl’ at THE DUPLEX. That’s the show that earned me the Bistro Award. I also performed in Manila in 2014 and was awarded ‘Most Innovative Concert Artist in Manila’ that year by Gawad Musika. Both have been unexpected recognitions and very, very much appreciated and honored to receive them. In 2016, the Filipino Community of Seattle also awarded me with a Lifetime Achievement Award in Arts & Culture. Now THAT was really a surprise! So very thrilled to receive that as well.
MK: You have sung songs from Judy Garland, Billie Holiday, and Eartha Kitt. Who speaks to you the most?
Arnaldo: EARTHA of course! Though I love Judy, Billie, Ella, Rosemary, Peggy, Anita, etc., it’s Eartha Kitt who continues to inspire me especially knowing more of her story. So misunderstood and so bedeviled by the Lyndon Johnson Administration and the FBI after she spoke out against the Vietnam War. They tried to ruin her career and she became a pariah in the US …and yet she persisted. I also love her song choices. She was a unique artist and strong human being and humanitarian. Totally under appreciated.
MK: Didn’t you first start this in the Seattle Men’s Chorus, The Sondheim Concert I believe?
Arnaldo: Yes, I started with SMC at The Sondheim Concert singing Madonna’s ‘Sooner or Later’ in 1991. At that time drag was not mainstream even in the Gay and Lesbian community. I did a very risqué move as part of the ‘Madonna’ act – the audience loved it and even the SGN reviewer at that time loved it (check my website www.dragchanteuse.com as it is quoted there in the ‘MORE’ tab under reviews) but the chorus got some complaints from more conservative audiences. I called Dennis Coleman, my beloved mentor and artistic director at that time, as I was upset by the news. He calmly said ‘Arnaldo, people will say what they want to say. You have no control over that.’ And that was my very first lesson in dealing with the public. After that, I did Carmen Miranda for SMC’s Lawrence Welk show and then Patsy Cline for the holiday show and then Honey Bun for the Rodgers and Hammerstein show which is the one you mentioned and other solo characters for SMC. And yes, I will be forever grateful to SMC for trusting my talents and giving me those solo opportunities,
MK: You have been doing this act for over 25 years. How have you changed as a person?
Arnaldo: Maturity comes with the 20 years. I am more forgiving – both to myself and others… although some say I am still very hard on myself. My priorities have shifted, too, and I am more focused on family and very close friends … and, of course, my husband, Steve.
MK: What is next for you?
Arnaldo: My priority right now is my Mom so I am staying close to home. So working with Sweet Spot Combo and thinking of doing more events locally and more local fundraisers for Pacific Northwest Cabaret Association.
MK: Finally, you have influenced other queens in town from Aleksa Manila to Gaysha Starr. Describe their best quality in one word.
Arnaldo: I am not sure I was an influence to many other queens as I am least well known among the younger ones unlike Aleksa and Gaysha. Aleksa has been a dear friend for many years and she has influenced me as much I have her. Aleksa to me continues to inspire! She is a smart, talented, kind and motivated human being and we are only starting to see the many achievements she will do in and outside the drag world. Her future is very, very promising! Gaysha and I know each other but are only now starting to get to know MORE of each other. I so appreciate what she does with her philanthropy work and I have always admired her and her work from afar. Seattle is very lucky to have three active and very civic-minded Filipino American queens in Aleksa, Gaysha and Arnaldo! … sharing what we can in our own unique ways to help make the world a little better for all.
The full schedule of performers and ticket information can be found at www.marchcabaret.com.