The term “hyphenate” may have been invented for Seth Bisen-Hersh. He’s a composer-lyricist-accompanist-vocal coach-and occasional performer who has been making quite a name for himself in musical theater and cabaret circles around town for the past few years. He has written and performed six cabaret acts of original material – including The Gayest Straight Man Alive, Neurotic Tendencies, and Why Am I Not Famous Yet? – and composed the original musicals The Spickner Spin, Meaningless Sex, and Trivial Pursuits. He also works steadily as a musical accompanist and vocal coach (whose students, by the way, get their own weekly showcase at Don’t Tell Mama).
This week, Seth reprises Writer’s Block, his cabaret show about…well, just what the title promises. The show’s five-person cast (including Seth himself on both piano and vocals) sing songs about having sex with your co-workers, how your girlfriend’s mother really feels about you, and a multitude of other emotional and sexual barriers.
With a week to go before the show’s opening night on Restaurant Row, Seth visited the ol’ blog to talk more about it, his background and training, and some other projects he’s working on. Enjoy!
I’d like to start by asking you to talk a little bit about what Writer’s Block is about.
Writer’s Block covers a period in my life from where my fifth cabaret act, Why Am I Not Famous Yet?, left off. The songs cover reasons I felt blocked from being creative. I hesitate to give too much away, but the audience can expect an emotional journey replete with tears and laughter.
Why’d you decide to revive it for a second go-round?
When you do a show, inadvertently, not everyone who wants to come can see it. Thus, I always reprise my shows. Furthermore, the show resonates differently upon a six month reflection, so I can bring more depth to the songs.
The show features 16 original songs. That doesn’t sound like writer’s block to me. What gives?!
The title refers to an existential crisis I was having about what to write next. The show follows my process in trying to figure out the next step on my path, as I tried to work through what was blocking me creatively.
You wrote and star in the show, but there are other performers also. Who do they play?
After doing two solo cabaret acts, friends suggested that it might behoove the material if I wasn’t singing it all myself. Therefore, I took their not-so-subtle hints. For my third act, I expanded to do a two-person show, and since my fourth act, I have settled on the formula of three girls, a guy, and myself. Having a full cast allows for group numbers, harmonies and diversity in deliverance of the material.
How did you first become interested in theater, composing, and songwriting?
My first lead role was in 4th grade as the Giving Tree in The Giving Tree. From there I went to star in 5th grade as Captain Hook in Peter Pan, and the summer after elementary school, as Winthrop at a high quality community theater production of The Music Man. Before I knew it, I was doing two shows at a time, all year round through college.
My first song was called “I Love My Mom.” I wrote it for my Mom’s birthday when I was 12, and to this day it is still my mother’s favorite song of mine. From that moment on, I wrote frequently. I have always been prolific, which I blame on my over-active mind that refuses to relax. I have a Bachelors of Science in Music Composition from MIT (besides the more practical Bachelors of Science in Computer Science and Engineering), and I took classes in musical theater writing and joined the songwriter’s club while getting my Masters in Music Technology at NYU. Both helped me immensely in honing my craft.
You’re also a successful vocal coach and accompanist. What made you break into those fields as well?
Necessity. Not having a nest egg, I needed some way to garner income. While at NYU, I started accompanying vocal lessons. Some of the teachers told me I could make a career as an accompanist, and rather than get a computer job, I thought I’d make a go of it. It took a few years, but I finally found my niche in cabaret, as well as accompanying auditions – both situations where my quick sight reading skills and flourishing flair were a boon rather than a detriment. I started developing skills as a coach as I watched and listened attentively at auditions to the reactions and feedback given by directors, casting directors, etc. Plus, I am an obsessive cast recording collector, so having over 1600 cast recordings was a big help to clients in finding new repertoire.
What’s up next for you after this?
More pounding the pavement. I have written the score to a children’s musical, Stanley’s Adventures, that is tentatively slated for Manhattan Children’s Theatre this fall. I have almost completed the score to a charming musical comedy, More to Love, which is currently being shopped around to Off-Broadway producers. I have just begun a new musical satire. Starting in the fall, I’m planning to do a series of concerts of the best of my over 100 cabaret songs with Broadway talent. Additionally, I’m working on my seventh cabaret act, I’ll Relax When I’m Dead. Other than those projects, I’m doing my audition workshop again this summer, as well as continuing my weekly talent showcases at Don’t Tell Mama to infinity and beyond!