Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome! This column is dedicated to all things CABARET!
Here, I will discuss the multi-faceted world of this unique art form – from craft, my own personal experience, history, and interviews with people in the local and broader industry. So, étranger, if you are curious about the Wonderful World of Cabaret, read on, s’il vous plait…
The Big Question: What IS Cabaret?
Cabaret to many people seems to be quite an elusive art form, for the genre makes use of many mediums and is diverse within itself. A ‘Cabaret’ performance can feature music, song, dance, spoken word, comedy, or drama – or a combination of all these theatrical elements.
The word ‘Cabaret’ is defined as: “entertainment held in a nightclub or restaurant while the audience eat or drink at tables.” A typical Cabaret performance is more informal and relaxed than a typical theatre show. The casual atmosphere allows for a more intimate connection between the audience and performer, and creates the chance for audience involvement akin to a stand up comedy show or gameshow.
The history of Cabaret performance dates back to the late 1800s, first appearing in France. The shows consisted of a series of amateur acts, linked together by a ‘Master of Ceremonies’ (MC). One of the most iconic cabaret venues of the time is ‘Le Chat Noir’ which is thought to be where cabaret was born. This venue served as a hub for aspiring artists, musicians, and writers and became an underground movement for people who could poke fun at conventional bourgeois society. The Cabaret movement then spread to Germany in the 1900s, and to other countries such as Holland, Russia. It eventually made its way to the USA during the second half of the 20th century.
Perhaps the most commonly understood idea of Cabaret would be the 1972 film “Cabaret” starring Liza Minelli and directed by the legendary choreographer, Bob Fosse. The film takes place in ‘The Kit Kat Club’ in 1930’s Berlin, just before the Nazi uprising in Germany. The film mirrors the ideals of the Cabaret genre: entertainment as an escape from mundanity and hardship encompassing political satire, “gallows” humor, and the challenge of conservative beliefs. It is a wonderful film which won many awards, and I would recommend this to anyone who is unfamiliar with the genre as a great introduction.
In Australia, we have a unique Cabaret scene – some Melbourne-based artists of note would include: Tash York, Dolly Diamond, Gillian Cosgriff and Valerie Hex who leads the Queer performance troupe “Yummy”. Some of Australia’s most iconic cabaret venues are located here in Melbourne: namely, The Butterfly Club on Flinders Lane; also Chapel off Chapel in Prahran and The 86 in Fitzroy.
Cabaret is a forever growing and changing art form: always pushing boundaries and providing an open platform for a diverse array of performers and followers alike. I look forward to sharing more about the wonderful world of Cabaret in the next column, but for now: à bientôt!
By Jack Lynch
About the Author
My name is Jack Lynch and I work as a host at Jimmy Hornet, as well as being a musician, songwriter, and cabaret artist/creator. I hold a Bachelor of Music from Monash University in Popular Voice, and have performed my own self-devised cabaret “Confessions from the Bell Jar” – a show exploring mental and emotional health through the work of Sylvia Plath – at the Melbourne Fringe in 2019 at the Butterfly Club and at Adelaide Fringe in 2020. I am currently working on a new cabaret show about Diana, Princess of Wales which I premiered at Chapel off Chapel in July this year.