Cabaret takes many forms. Its range includes singers who keep the embers of great ballads alive, to the somewhat naughty Kit Kat Klub portrayed in the show and film Cabaret. But lately it is being reinvented especially by The Performance Lab in Boston. We'll get to them in a moment, but first some background.
Cabaret as an art form was born in the clubs of France and Germany in the late 1800's and became burlesque when it was transplanted to the United States. Baggy pants comedy soon gave way to fans, feathers and strippers and the last vestiges of that form died in the latter half of the 1900's. In Boston burlesque and pasties died when the Old Howard Casino in Scollay Square was razed to make room for Government Center. The Naked Eye bar continued the strippers, but not the art.
Cabaret as personal music evolved separately. It sprung up in nightclubs and other small venues where the ladies like Eartha Kitt purred the lyrics, and men like Tom Anderson could bring tears to your eyes . It was Nancy LaMott and Michael Feinstein and it tended to bloom in upscale supper clubs like the Hotel Carlyle and the Rainbow Room of New York City,
Many Broadway stars found sustenance in cabaret when between shows. In Boston there was Blinstrub's until it burned down, and Freddy Taylor's Paul's Mall and sometimes even the Jazz Workshop. Lenny Sogoloff's Lenny's on the Turnpike even offered a chanteuse or two over the years.
But less visible have been the experimental cabaret practitioners like drag queens, experimentalists, and those who deliver acidic social commentary. For every Peggy Lee there has been a Tom Lehrer.
In my mind, Cirque du Soleil has its roots more in cabaret than circus. All Cirque shows feature a smallish band and live singers who act as the thread that holds the whole colorful tapestry together. And Baggy pant comedians? Well, more like clowns trained by Grotowski, and very sophisticated.
Cabaret then is a living art, still evolving. This spring and summer we will see a bit more of it in the Berkshires than in seasons past. In fact, 2010 kicks off with a Cabaret night at Taylor's in North Adams on April 16 with an open mic hosted by local favorite Katie Johnson. Katie and I are having an email discussion of the art form right now, which we will publish in April.
But now, to the main feature of this story, The Performance Lab, a new experimental theatre company based in Boston. They represent the new directions that cabaret as theatre is traveling.
Certainly The Berkshire Fringe has nibbled at the edges of this new form, as have many other groups. But the concept of The Performance Lab goes beyond anything most of us have seen before.
They will open their inaugural show, Le Cabaret Grimm –on April 8th in Boston.
Their first week features The Hubbub - a variety of performers drawn from the rich underground performance scene in Boston. The plan is to rotate the performers each week. Included are singers of songs, performers of poetry, and practitioners of burlesque, circus and more. They call this "a punk cabaret fairy tale (sans fairies)."
Le Cabaret Grimm and The Hubbub runs at The Boston Center for the Arts, April 8-24 in the Plaza Theatre. Performances times are Thursdays at 7:30, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00. The Hubbub will be hosted by its co-producer Johnny Blazes, a Boston-based cabaret performer whose gender-bending shows have toured throughout the US.
“We’re bringing a lot of cool things together in one place,” says Artistic Associate and Hubbub co-producer Rachel Hock. “There are so many exciting fringe happenings in Boston. This showcases what not a lot of people know about.”
The Performance LAB has partnered with Johnny Blazes to work with the fringe community. “Johnny has sharp insights putting together shows like this and is deeply connected to the alternative scene,” says Hock.
“I’m excited to work with some of my favorite people on the performance scene,” says Blazes. “It’s an opportunity to bridge two worlds that are important to me: the theatre scene and the variety arts scene.”
The mission of The Performance LAB includes broadening the live entertainment offerings in Boston and expanding the audience for them. The LAB does this by bringing different audiences together and exposing them to new things.
“Boston has a history of being segregated – racially, geographically, culturally and sexually. We think of ourselves as an enlightened city, but to be that you have to experience things beyond your own comfort zone,” says Blazes. “When different communities interact there’s learning and exchange. That’s paramount to becoming a better society. We can’t call ourselves ‘the Greater Boston Community’ if we don’t have something connecting us across lines.”
Here's the line up for the three different shows:
Walter Sickert & the ARmy of BRoken Toys, combining music and performance art they create a SteamCrunk, Organic-Industrial experience. "Really, any fan of the Velvet Underground, the Dresden Dolls, or those haunted merry-go-rounds that turn up in horror movies shouldn't miss Walter and the Toys, who elegantly merge the essence of all three" (The Boston Globe)
Jojo, The Burlesque Poetess, a personal commissionable wordsmithy known for her Betty Boop antics and "accidentally fanny flashing".
Madge of Honor, a queer performance artist who tells stories through drag, burlesque, movement, innovative costuming, clowning and poetry. Madge of Honor is a regular performer with the Femme Show and at Traniwreck, Jacque’s Cabaret, the Middle East, Great Scott, and the Midway.
Week 2 April 15-17
The Boston Typewriter Orchestra, a collective endeavor which engages in rhythmic typewriter manipulation combined with elements of performance, comedy and satire. BTO has been featured on NBC Weekend Today, WCVB Chronicle, FOX 25 News, Fox Cable News, National Public Radio, live on WMBR (MIT) and in several major newspapers.
Ms. Lolita LaVamp, a proud Puerto Rican transgender female Burlesque Artist. She has worked as a professional domme and was featured in the PBS Lesbian and Gay television news magazine "In The Life." She has also performed for Boiling Point Burlesque and The Slutcracker: A Christmas Burlesque. Ms. LaVamp has been involved in HIV Prevention and Education for the past 14 years, advocating for LGBTQ individuals.
Mighty Tiny, a journey into the depths of musical madness guided by six masked lunatics playing tunes dating back to the golden days of Tin Pan Alley - those days where songwriting meant more than a weepy man with a guitar at your local coffee house.
Dominique Immora, a hula hooping, fire eating, burlesque dancing, stilt walking, poi spinning, whip cracking and aerial hoop artist. Dominique, is one of the longest running fire acts in the northeast. She has won a number of accolades, including Best Solo at the 2007 Boston Burlesque Expo, and appears on Season 4 of America's Got Talent. She has been called "a one woman Cirque du Soleil" by the Boston Phoenix.
Tickets are on sale at www.BostonTheatreScene.com or by calling 617-933-8600, $20 for students and $35 for adults. Discount promotions are available from www.performancelaboratory.com, through Twitter and Facebook. To preview the music, see a webseries of the show or for more information go to www.performancelaboratory.com.