Abigail Collins performed her first street show in 1995, and has toured widely ever since. Abi has worked extensively in Europe and Australia, and has also performed in Brazil, Colombia and Japan. She can perform her entire show in French, Spanish and Portuguese, and has a smattering of Dutch and German.In 2008 Abi appeared in the five-star Edinburgh Fringe smash, “The Office Party”, and made her West End debut as a guest act in “La Clique” the following year. She has received the CAV “Best Street Performer” award twice (Australia), ARCA “Young Jury Prize” (Spain), MBA “Best Comic Act” (Italy) and two nominations for LCA “Best Variety Act”.She holds a BA in Theatre Arts and a Masters in Drama Studies and is currently writing two novels.
“Absolutely brilliant” Alan Davies”Terrific skills-based character comic” Time Out”Multi-talented… sharp as a whip… cabaret’s triple threat” This Is Cabaret
“The hilarious and flexible Abi Collins” The StageWinner “Best Actress” Comedy Film Festival of America 2017
Winner “Fool of Muncaster” Fool 2014
Winner “Best Comic Act” Milan Burlesque Award 2012
London Cabaret Award Nominee
Abigail Collins – Comedy, Cabaret & Circus
1) How long have you been a host?
About 5 years. Prior to this I was doing variety spots and I’m still known as a variety act. I like being able to do both. It means a great variation in shows and gives me the flexibility to be booked as a host or an act (and sometimes both).
2 How did you become a host?
Promoters and producers kept asking me if I hosted. And as my acts often involve a lot of chat it was a natural progression.
3) Did you have any previous hosting experience?
I’ve performed in theatre and for a long time I was a street performer. I’m used to doing a lot of stage time on my own and holding an audience’s attention – if you can’t keep an audience engaged on the street they will walk away. This was the perfect training ground. As a host you need to be able to think on your feet and communicate directly with the audience. You are the link between the audience and the cast for the entire show so you need to be “on” for the duration.
4) Mistakes promoters make with hosts?
Most of the promoters I work with know their stuff and there are rarely any issues. The only problems I’ve come across have been with the shaping of the show regarding runtimes and the order of acts. If a show has a longer second half than first act or if I think my acts should be in a different order I’ll politely mention it – but ultimately I’m aware that I am the host not the producer and it’s not my place to criticise. I’m there to faciliate the smooth running of the show and to continually monitor the temperature of the audience, to keep the energy flowing and to act as a conduit between the auditorium and the stage.
5) Favourite shows they have done, worst
I work with a lot of producers and there are several shows that I return to time after time because I like the ethos. Producers who are clear and direct and put on a cracking line up are a pleasure to work with. I am a regular act and occasional host at several venues in London and at many events regionally. These shows all have something unique about them, are incredibly well organised and well attended – and that’s down to the tireless work, expertise and love for cabaret and burlesque from the producers, who are often performers themselves. If you see my name on a poster you can be sure it’s because I want to be there.
Worst experiences – few and far between. I’m not high maitenance. Sometimes we have to get changed in a toilet or corridor and that’s just the way it is. Bread and circuses. Having been a street performer I am always infinitely grateful to be inside on a stage with light and sound. There have been a few occasions when audience members have been tricky to deal with, but again that’s just part of the job. Audiences that chat through acts are annoying, and I do my best as a host to gently reprimand these people. There have been abusive people on occasion but I’m quite good at dealing with hecklers. The easiest way to shut them up is to thrust a microphone at them and put them in the spotlight, “Sorry, how rude of me to interrupt you. What do you want to say?” It usually does the trick.
One time at Edinburgh a well known female comedian decided to pastiche my act after I’d just been on. She was having a whale of a time writhing around on her hands and knees and had roped another comic into the roast, a chap who had the hots for me. So I stripped naked and walked back onstage behind her and when she turned around she had my bare crotch in her face. Needless to say I didn’t go on a date with the chap after his bizarre mating dance.
6) What is the most crazy thing you have had to do on stage as a host.
Wedding proposals. I actually love them. The craziest was when I was asked to give the groom-to-be a lapdance and then he proposed to his fiancée onstage. Fortunately she said yes.
7) What do you love most about hosting.
Seeing an audience laugh, cheer, whoop, forget their troubles and have a wonderful night out. I love watching acts from the wings. It’s a pleasure and an honour to be the link between the acts and the audience. It’s like a being glamorous coach driver, I’m there to make sure that everyone is onboard and happy for the entire journey.
8) what do you hate most about hosting
Nothing. Life is too short and precious to do anything that you don’t like. Some shows are easier than others but you can’t do this job on the equation of effort+time=money/job satisfaction. You have to want to give people a good time, you have to frame the acts and be mindful of energy in the transitions, you have to be more concerned with the show as a whole than your individual performance in it.
9) How do you handle difficult members of the audience? How to handle a heckler?
As discussed above, thrusting a heckler into the spotlight is usually the best way to shut them up. I also have an artillery of tried and tested put downs ranging from mild to downright mean. Depending on the severity of the heckle and the persistence of the heckler I will fire back accordingly. On very rare ocassions I have stopped shows and said that we won’t carry on until the person shuts up. It’s such a fine line.
People who come to cabaret may never have been to a show before. They are unaware of the etiquette. Unlike most theatre cabaret encourages participation, it’s part of the fun of it, but add alcohol into this mix and it can be a recipe for trouble. But I havent come across a situation yet that couldn’t be remedied. As a host I have a responsibility to the perfomers and the audience to keep the show on track. I also have a responsibility to the producers to deal tactfully with difficult punters because these people are still customers.
10) Favourite unexpected interaction with an audience member
I once pulled up a volunteer, dashing and beefy. He looked a bit bashful and indicated his leg. It turned out he was an ex service man with a prosthetic lower leg. I asked him if he was okay to stay onstage and if he could bear my weight. He said it was fine. We did the routine (my song and splits on the shoulders of two volunteers) and he got the biggest round of applause I’ve ever heard. Total hero.
11) How do you manage the dreaded raffle…raffle wrangling advice
I can’t stress this enough – as a host you are a facilitator. You’re there to help the producer continue to be able to produce shows. Raffles, give aways etc raise funds and raise the profile of the event. Plus they’re heaps of fun. You get to improvise and bring people on stage. No dread on my part. If hosts aren’t great improvisors I’d say have some stock lines up your sleeve along the lines of Bingo.
12) Have you ever had a crowd you couldn’t gee up and what did you do?
If you talk to an audience and not at them it really breaks the ice. In a theatre I’ll often ask to bring up the houselights. Being able to look people in the eye is essential for cabaret. It’s far more intimate than theatre, there is no fourth wall. I often use a technique my ex husband taught me during my street theatre days called “anchoring” – you find the 5 people in the room who do want to engage. You talk to them and make them feel special. The rest of the audience want to be part of that however reticent they may seem. They will come onboard. Also I’ve found that audiences the world over are the same. We are tribal. You can guarantee if you make quips about the town/county/country next door that people will laugh. Find the local, it shows the audience that you care about who they are. Find the universal. There’s instant laughs and warmth in shared humanity.
13) If you aren’t given material beyond theme, how do you write your own?
I ask the acts how they like to be introduced. I find out a little about the area where I’m performing. If I’m in a foreign country I learn a few words of the language. I speak French, a fair bit of Dutch, some Spanish, I can sing in Portuguese and Russian, I know several words in Swedish, Japanese, Romanian, Polish… busting out a word or phrase in someone else’s language makes the audience feel instantly at home with you. In fact I even do this in the UK, especially in London where the audience is very diverse and often full of tourists.
14) How do you edit it on the fly by the audience reception?
It’s all about gauging the temperature of the audience. If the energy if flagging you need to keep it snappy. If they are on board from the get go you can take your time and riff and improvise more. And with the effects of alcohol a quiet audience can turn rowdy quickly. You have to be able to keep your own energy up, which can be hard as you’re pretty much on your feet in killer heels for three hours. You have to constantly be feeling the atmosphere in the room. You have to make sure the show isn’t going to overrun so be prepared to cut your own songs, acts and material as required. I am well aware that as the host I am the link and not the main event. Delivering the acts to the audience is my prime objective.
15) How do you like to interact with the stage hands, do you bring them into the show or keep them in the background or does it depend?
I always interact with stage hands. The technical people make a show, we are nothing without them, so I always try to show them the utmost respect. If stage management aren’t comfortable with being in the spotlight I never force it, but if they are happy to play along then we’ll go as far as we can.