Welcome, mes aims! In this month’s edition, I would like to look into the craft of a cabaret from a performer’s perspective and provide some guidance on a unique element of the cabaret genre: the art of ‘Patter’.
What is ‘Patter’, exactly?
The dictionary defines ‘Patter’ as: “The talk with which an entertainer accompanies a routine”. In the context of a cabaret, the patter in performance is used between songs to provide a sense of added meaning and context to the overall show – it links the songs together and provides an arc for the show.
What makes for GOOD patter?
Good quality patter in a cabaret performance should make for seamless transitions between your songs. Ideally, you want every member of the audience to come out of your show feeling as if they have spoken with you directly and had an honest and meaningful conversation. This is where cabaret differs from musical theatre – you get to show your authentic self and involve the audience actively within your show. Patter provides the chance for the audience to see you as a PERSON as opposed to just watching someone sing: it breaks the fourth wall and lets the audience join you for the journey on stage.
How to write and prepare your patter
Write down your ideas/stream of consciousness: Begin by writing down any ideas you may have – good or bad. This just helps to get them OUT and once they are on paper you can find the ‘diamonds in the rough and start developing what you want to say.
Record yourself saying it aloud
Recording your patter can help you understand if your patter ‘flows’ and helps to keep it in a conversational tone – you don’t want to sound like you are reading a script when chatting to the audience.
Show a friend or mentor
Showing your work to a friend or a professional can help you get out of your own head and see what works and what doesn’t. Going to Open Mic nights is also an excellent way to test out an audience!
Create your own ‘queue’ lines
Once you have figured out what you are going to talk about within in each patter section, I would suggest creating numbered ‘queue cards’ from the start to the end of the performance. Instead of writing out your patter ‘word for word’ – just give yourself simple queue lines, or a phrase that you definitely want to include. This allows you to ‘ad lib’ in between your queues – this keeps the patter fresh, whilst still having anchor points to ground yourself.
How to get your patter ready for performance
In order to get your patter ready for your performance, I would suggest to not script your patter ‘line for line’ or memorize it as a monologue – you want to be having a conversation WITH you audience – not talking AT them. Bear in mind, that every night your patter will be slightly different depending on the audience and their mood, this means that you can adapt and change things throughout your run. Don’t be afraid to IMPROVISE…if you give yourself the freedom to riff off your queues and audience, you will often find ‘nuggets of gold’ lines that come to you in the moment – you can then write these down and use them again!
I hope this article has been helpful and provided some insight and direction into creating great cabaret patter. Cabaret patter can be a difficult and to some, intimidating art to master; but once you have the knack – it can make you a much more versatile, honest and endearing performer!