Cabaret is a form of entertainment featuring comedy, song, dance, and theatre, distinguished mainly by the performance venue — a restaurant or nightclub with a stage for performances and the audience sitting around the tables (often dining or drinking) watching the performance. The turn of the 20th century introduced a revolutionized cabaret culture. Performers included the spectacular Josephine Baker and the legendary infamous Brazilian drag performer João Francisco dos Santos (aka Madame Satã), both of African descent. The venue itself can also be called a "cabaret." These performances could range from political satire to light entertainment, each being introduced by a master of ceremonies, or MC.
The term is a French word for the taprooms or cafés, where this form of entertainment was born, as a more artistic type of café-chantant. It is derived from Middle Dutch cabret, through Old North French camberette, from Late Latin camera. It basically means "small room."
Cabaret also refers to a Mediterranean style brothel — a bar with tables and women who mingle with and entertain the clientele. Traditionally these establishments can also feature some form of stage entertainment: often singers & dancers — the bawdiness of which vary with the quality of the establishment. It is the more sophisticated, classier cabaret which eventually engendered the type of establishment and art-form which is the subject of the remainder of this article.
The first cabaret was opened in 1881 in Montmartre, Paris; Rodolphe Salís' "cabaret artistique." Shortly after it was founded, it was renamed Le Chat Noir (The Black Cat). It became a locale in which up-and-coming cabaret artists could try their new acts in front of their peers before they were acted in front of an audience. The place was a great success, visited by important people of that time such as Alphonse Allais, Jean Richepin, Aristide Bruant, and people from all walks of life: women of high society, tourists, bankers, doctors, journalists, etc. The Chat Noir was a place where they could get away from work. In 1887, the cabaret was closed due to the bad economic situation which made amusements of this kind seem vulgar.
The Moulin Rouge, built in 1889 in the red-light district of Pigalle near Montmartre, is famous for the large red imitation windmill on its roof. Notable performers at the Moulin Rouge included La Goulue, Yvette Guilbert, Jane Avril, Mistinguett, and Le Pétomane. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec painted numerous pictures and scenes of night life there.
The Folies-Bergère continued to attract a large number of people until the start of the 20th century, even though it was more expensive than other cabarets. People felt comfortable at the cabaret: they did not have to take off their hat, could talk, eat, and smoke when they wanted to, etc. They did not have to stick to the usual rules of society.
At the Folies-Bergère, as in many cafés-concerts, there were a variety of acts: singers, dancers, jugglers, clowns, and sensations such as the Birmane family, all of whom had beards. Audiences were attracted by the danger of the circus acts (sometimes tamers were killed by their lions), but what happened on stage was not the only entertainment. Often patrons watched others, strolled around, and met friends or prostitutes. At the start of the 20th century, as war approached, prices rose further and the cabaret became a place for the rich.
Twenty years later, Ernst von Wolzogen founded the first German cabaret, later known as Buntes Theater (colourful theatre). All forms of public criticism were banned by a censor on theatres in the German Empire, however. This was lifted at the end of the First World War, allowing the cabaret artists to deal with social themes and political developments of the time. This meant that German cabaret really began to blossom in the 1920s and 1930s, bringing forth all kinds of new cabaret artists such as Werner Finck at the Katakombe, Karl Valentin at the Wien-München, and Cläre Waldorf. Some of their texts were written by great literary figures such as Kurt Tucholsky, Erich Kästner, and Klaus Mann.
When the Nazi party came to power in 1933, they started to repress this intellectual criticism of the times. Cabaret in Germany was hit badly: In 1935 Werner Finck was briefly imprisoned and sent to a concentration camp; at the end of that year Kurt Tucholsky committed suicide; and nearly all German-speaking cabaret artists fled into exile in Switzerland, France, Scandinavia, or the USA. What remained in Germany was a state-controlled cabaret where jokes were told or the people were encouraged to keep their chins up.
When the war ended, the occupying powers ensured that the cabarets portrayed the horrors of the Nazi regime. Soon, various cabarets were also dealing with the government, the Cold War and the Wirtschaftswunder: the Tol(l)leranten in Mainz, the Kom(m)ödchen in Düsseldorf and the Münchner Lach- und Schießgesellschaft in Munich. These were followed in the 1950s by television cabaret.
In the 1960s, West German cabaret was centred around Düsseldorf, Munich, and Berlin. At the end of the decade, the students' movement of May 1968 split opinion on the genre as some old cabaret artists were booed off the stage for being part of the old establishment. In the 1970s, new forms of cabaret developed such as the television show Notizen aus der Provinz (Notes from the Sticks). At the end of the 1980s, political cabaret was an important part of social criticism, with a minor boom at the time of German reunification. In eastern Germany, cabarets had been growing more and more daring in their criticism of politicians in the time leading up to 1989. After reunification, new social problems, such as mass unemployment, the privatisation of companies, and rapid changes in society, meant that cabarets rose in number. Dresden, for example, gained two new cabarets alongside the popular Herkuleskeule.
In the 1990s and at the start of the new millennium, the television and film comedy boom and a lessening of public interest in politics meant that television cabaret audiences in Germany dropped.
Famous Kabarettists Edit
- Karl Farkas
- Werner Finck
- Erich Kästner
- Klaus Mann
- Jura Soyfer
- Kurt Tucholsky
- Karl Valentin
- Cläre Waldorf
- Moulin Rouge and Lapin Agile in Paris, France
- Cabaret Voltaire in Zürich
- Els Quatre Gats in Barcelona, Spain