'Tis the season for holiday benefit shows, and cabaret artists being amongst the most generous of people, are usually on the forefront of such events. For over a decade, Ruby Rims has put on a series of benefit performances called Teddy Care.
Jonathan: Welcome to Talkin' Broadway, Ruby. I've been hearing so much about Teddy Care, the event you put on during the holidays. What exactly is Teddy Care?
Ruby: Basically, it's a series of cabaret shows that feature about a dozen performers per night. To get in, people pay a cover charge and bring a teddy bear. In the beginning, we only charged $5 and a teddy bear, but now the cover is $15. I try to keep it reasonable so people can come to all the shows. The proceeds go to various charities and I get dressed up in a big silly bear outfit and go to various hospitals and visit the children's wards and the AIDS wards to give out the teddy bears.
JF: How long have you been doing this?
RR: This will be the 13th year.
JF: What brought about your desire to do this?
RR: First of all, I love teddy bears and I used to have a ton of them; it got to the point where I thought, "I really have to do something with these!" A friend suggested that I should collect even more and give them out to the hospitals, which is a wonderful thing, since, as I'm sure you know, teddy bears have a wonderful therapeutic quality. I've also been diagnosed with AIDS for ten years, so it's something very close to me, personally.
JF: Congratulations on being a long-term survivor.
RR: Thank you - I keep trucking! I'm cutting back this year, however. Usually I would do two shows a night, but this year I'm only doing one show a night; it's just become a bit too much. Doing two shows a night means being up until 2am, which throws off the medicine a little bit. So I decided to do one a night.
This year the shows are being performed at The West Bank Café in the Laurie Beechman room, and the proceeds are going to the Manhattan Plaza AIDS Project. I try to give back to the organizations that have helped me, because I've been very blessed that way. It's my way of saying "thank you."
Last year it also went to the Manhattan Plaza AIDS Project. The year before that it went to the Actors' Fund and we raised about $8,000 for them. Over the past 12 years I figure I've given out 5,000 teddy bears.
JF: Who were the first performers involved in your show?
RR: Oh dear lord, that was such a long time ago ... Nancy LaMott ... Marta Sanders has been in it every year except one, because that one year she lost her mom. Teri Lynn Paul has done it throughout the years. Charles Cermele has done it, I think, every year. I get a lot of the same performers year after year, but I always try to get new blood in as well. This year Jarrod Cafaro will be doing it for the first time, and Michael Holland too.
JF: This year I noticed the shows are all in November. I thought Teddy Care usually went on into December ...
RR: Not this year. For years I did it in December, but Steve Olsen, who owns West Bank, couldn't give me the room in December because that's one of their prime moneymaking months. Which is just as well, since there are some things I have been wanting to do in December but haven't been able to because of the show ... it's a love chore! So this year I get to relax and enjoy the holidays.
JF: Are you affiliated with any of the other Teddy Care events around the country?
RR: Do you mean the one in San Francisco? That's because of me. A lovely man named Willis Moore, who is also a cabaret performer, loved what I do and called to ask my permission to do a similar thing in San Francisco. The first year they had it at the Plush Room and they brought me out to perform.
JF: How many songs do each performer get to perform?
RR: I ask all the performers to sing two songs or to limit themselves to five or six minutes of comedy, if that's their thing. I love the fact that the cabaret community is so supportive.
JF: It is quite an impressive line up, which includes some of my favorite performers: Mary Foster Conklin, Tom Andersen, Lennie Watts, Karen Mason ...
RR: Oh yes! Karen is performing on 'Drag Night!' The last night of the series has always been traditionally Drag Night and we'll be having Richard Skipper, James Beaman, Flotilla De Barge ... Tommy Femia couldn't do it this year, unfortunately. But this year it's going to be 'diva night' since it's the only night that Karen Mason was able to be there! I jokingly say that there will be somebody there performing as Karen Mason, but it really will be her.
JF: Do you perform throughout the year, or is this your one time to shine?
RR: Oh no! I perform throughout the year. I've been performing as an impersonator for 27 years.
JF: Do you do a specific personage?
RR: I do anyone I can! I do different voices. I work live ... as opposed to dead. (laughs) Years back I was a star at the Anvil, which was a famous after-hours club in the late '70s/early '80s and was probably the most famous one of its time. Upstairs had a disco and a bar and shows, and downstairs was a backroom.
JF: So it was on par with the Continental Baths of Bette Midler fame ...
RR: That's it ... I was the Bette Midler of the Anvil. (laughs) In those days I lipsynched to records, but for the past 20 years I've graduated to using my own voice.
JF: Do you have any performance dates coming up?
RR: I will be doing a brunch show on Sunday, December 29th at 2pm at Regents.
JF: What characters will you be featuring?
RR: I do a mixture. I'll do Carol Channing, Bette Davis, Eartha Kitt, Bette Davis, Peggy Lee ... [Breaks into a flawless Carol Channing voice] I only do their voices, see? I weigh 225 pounds so I'm not going to look like anyone except maybe Mamma Cass! (laughs)
JF: That's still a lot of wig changes!
RR: Oh yes. In my regular show, I usually end up out of drag by the end of the performance, and do all the changes on stage. I transform a lot on stage.
JF: Who's your favorite person to channel?
RR: Bette! [and does the voice to prove it]
JF: You know, I that Bette can only be impersonated by men ... I've never heard a woman do a satisfactory version.
RR: Sharon McNight does. Have you seen her new show? You have got to ... her show at Judy's, Songs to Offend Everyone, is fantastic! Sharon regularly performs at Teddy Care, but isn't able to do so this year.
JF: Best of fates with them and enjoy the holidays!
Teddy Care is performed at 7pm on Sundays in November at the West Bank Café, located at 407 W. 42nd Street in New York City. Cover is $15 plus a teddy bear and there is a $10 minimum (no credit cards are accepted). For reservations call 212-695-6909.
Teddy Care began on November. The line-ups for remaining performances are as follows:
November 10th: Tom Andersen, Jarrod Cafaro, Rick Crom, Natalie Douglas, Lucille Carr-Kaffashan, Karen Mack & Michael Holland, Teri Lynn Paul, Marcus Simeone, Rochelle Seldin, Michael Vaccaro, Margaret Wright
November 17th: Leslie Anderson, Elaine Brier, Charles Cermele, Courtenay Day, Scott Coulter, Paul Greenwood, Annie Hughes, Lina Loutrakos, Judy Kreston & David Lahm, Rick Jensen, Sue Matsuki, Carolyn Montgomery, Maureen Kelley Stewart
November 24th: James Beaman, Scott Cooper, Flotilla De Barge, DAR & Christy Vanndecamp, Joseph "Go" Mahan, Karen Mason, Jay Rogers, Richard Skipper, Rick Skye.