Astoria Characters: The Cabaret Singer

Cancer and cabaret. Those are the two Cs that have defined Becca C. Kidwell’s life in the last year.

To allay alarm, she wants you to know that the cancer’s gone. The cabaret, she says, is here to stay.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Becca beat cancer — twice.

Becca, who has cropped hair the color of caramelized carrots, zips off her charcoal-grey hoodie to reveal a low-cut, high-voltage red-hot cocktail dress. Rhinestone drop earrings studded with purple stones and black patent-leather Doc Martens that shine like stars complete her costume.

A lot of things — good and bad, memorable and forgettable — happened to Becca before 2017 changed everything.

As a child, Becca was painfully shy. That could be because her family moved around a lot.  Becca spent her first 13 years in Piscataway, New Jersey. Her high school years were divided between Winter Springs, Florida and Marietta, Georgia.

“Ever since elementary school, singing was how I expressed myself,” she says. “It was easier for me than talking.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Becca recently became a cabaret singer.

Becca’s mezzo-soprano voice filled the awkward silence of adolescence with show tunes she learned from the cast recording of productions like The Secret Garden, The Phantom of the Opera, Falsettos, The Will Rogers Follies and Into the Woods.

In between trips to the theater, she and her Barbie dolls acted out the plots.

To make her voice heard, Becca joined the school chorus and the church choir.

“For a long time, I thought I was going to be a music major,” she says. “But by my junior year in high school, I abandoned that dream because I realized that the only way I could make a living was by teaching, and I didn’t want to do that.”

That’s why she majored in liberal arts and drama at the University of Georgia, where she immersed herself in theater.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Becca’s arm tattoo is the chorus to her favorite song — Tracy Stark’s Right Where I Belong.

“By my junior year, though, I questioned my decision,” she says. “But I wanted to graduate on time, so I stuck with it.”

Graduation only made her more indecisive.

“I had no clue what I wanted to do,” she says, “so I moved in with my parents in Marietta.”

After working at a department store for a year, Becca did the unthinkable: She took an office job.

“I vowed I would never do that,” she says. “But I realized I could make more money that way.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Teaching English was one of Becca’s previous careers.

For four years, she worked as an administrative assistant at an accounting firm.

“I liked it so much that I had gone back to school to get a master’s in accounting,” she says. “But when I was six credits short of graduation, I took an entrepreneurship class and realized how much I missed being creative.”

She changed course and enrolled at Boston University to earn a degree in English education so she could teach.

She was surprised that she found teaching fulfilling. After several years of teaching, first at a public school then a private one, Becca found herself at a new crossroads.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Becca’s also studying to be a Reiki master.

“I kept telling my students to follow their dream,” she says. “But I realized that I was not following mine.”

As she started to question the direction of her career and her life, Becca met Brendan. It was 2007, and she was 31.

“I answered a Craigslist ad for a third roommate,” she says. “I was broke after I went to grad school, and $433 a month with off-street parking in Boston sounded great.”

Six months later, Becca and Brendan were having a serious discussion about dating (not each other), when he asked her out. On their first date, they saw Wicked on stage.

“He proposed to me six months after that in 2007 on the beach in Hyannis,” she says. “He’s a computer programmer and a technology geek, and he had written down all his talking points on his PDA. He pulled a Tiffany ring box out of his pocket and started reading them off.”

Before Becca said yes, she had to make sure of a few things.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Ready to embrace the world.

“I had over $30,000 in student debt, and I wanted him to know that,” she says. “He also said that he wouldn’t mind if our apartment wasn’t always clean.”

Her life change also led to a career change. When the private school that she was teaching in closed, Becca decided to pursue more creative endeavors.

“I started a regional theater blog, and that was my ticket back to theater,” she says. “I wanted to direct, but the Boston scene is small and cliquish. I knew I had to come to New York City.”

Brendan was fine with moving and telecommuting, so the couple came to Astoria in 2013 when Becca started the Swiftly Tilting Theatre Project, which produced several shows.

“I didn’t like the producing part because it took away from the creative energy,” she says. “I saw that there were a lot of opportunities to sing, so I took them.”

It was, she admits, a risky decision.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

Becca was nominated for a MAC Award.

“I have a pretty voice,” she says. “But I didn’t think I have immense talent.”

That’s not what her peers thought. After only three cabaret performances, Becca was nominated for a MAC Award.

“I realized that singing is what I want to do professionally,” she says. “I also realize I’ll never make money doing it.”

As she continues talking about her stage career, she remembers that there are a couple of things she forgot to mention.

In October 2017, as she was refining her cabaret show, she was diagnosed with colon cancer. A month later, she discovered she had thyroid cancer.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling

She and her patent-leather Doc Martens are ready for new adventures.

“The thyroid cancer was scary because it could have damaged my vocal cords,” she says. “I went on complete vocal rest two weeks before my surgery and went one month afterward without singing.”

The cancers made Becca more aware of healthy choices, which is why she is studying to be a Reiki master.

The combination – of singing and healing – appeals to her.

“I’ve learned that everything does happen for a reason,” she says. “I’ve had some really rough stuff in my life, and I’ve adapted. I’ve grown stronger.”

She is more than ready, she says, for this new chapter in her life.

“I’ll take as many opportunities as I can get,” she says. “And I’ll see what happens now that I’ve opened myself to the opportunities that arise around me.”


Astoria Characters Day: The 2nd Family Reunion is Sept. 23, 2018. Sponsored by Bareburger and Salt & Bone, it’s a free, public event.

Support Astoria Characters at GoFundMe.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at;
@nancyruhling; nruhling on Instagram,,

Copyright 2018 by Nancy A. Ruhling