Cabaret Dramaturgy: The Impossible Dream by Jaz Dorsey — Jaz Dorsey , Roxie Rogers — AAPEX

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Cabaret Dramaturgy: The Impossible Dream by Jaz Dorsey

My own personal approach to dramaturgy has always been rooted in the artform known as cabaret. This has it's origins in my early career as an actor - my first paying job, at the age of 13, was in Bertolt Brecht's play CAUCASIAN CHALK CIRCLE playing the child nephew of some despot. This introduced me to Brecht and the theatre of the Weimar Republic, which was a golden age of cabaret, as artists reacted, first to Europe's financial debacle of the 1930s and then to the rise of the Nazis.

Destiny next took me to London at the age of 14, where I saw the actual musical CABARET starring Judi Dench and the wife of Brecht's collaborator, Lotte Lenya. I was very happy to come home to the US with Lenya's autograph on my CABARET program and also completely mesmerized by the idea of cabaret. Poor young fool I for not chasing down Dame Judi - but who knew?

As a German major at University, I took two semesters of Brecht and then, in 1975 studied on Scholarship at the University of Goettingen in what was then West Germany. That was a year spent running around Europe checking out cabarets from Vienna to Munich to Paris.

Today the most brilliant cabaret scene in the world is in New York city. I was fortunate to play piano in NYC cabarets from 1990 - 1999, primarily as accompanist to a wonderful chanteuse named Topaz. We met at a New Years Eve party when I sat down at the piano and started playing LA VIE EN ROSE. Across the room Topaz started singing and walking towards the piano. By the time she got there, we had a Valentine's Day gig in a lesbian bar. Only in New York, folks, as Cindy Adams says.

But here's my point - cabaret is the best artfrom for self expression - in fact, self expression is at the core of the cabaret aesthetic. And while contemporary cabaret has been disturbingly shunted towards what tends to smack of "nightclub" acts, there is still hope for - and a serious need for - cabaret and what it has to offer. Why? Because things are edgy, there is social friction. History is working our last nerve (again) and cabaret is where we vent.

The problem is that cabaret is still somewhat esoteric in our land and therefore tends to get very inbred. Artists pour themselves into putting an act together and producing themselves only to play mostly to an audience of sympathetic peers, who want the performer on the stage to in turn come to their cabaret next week, same time, same place. And this is a damn shame because it reduces a great artform to "vanity" status, and that is really unfair (in most cases).

And a shame, because what goes on in the cabarets of New York City is honestly the pulse of what makes NYC throb - but how can the cabaret artists go after the tourist dollars when they are up against Lion King advertising budgets and campaigns? Can you sing "to dream the impossible dream"?

When an acquaintance asks me what I recommend in NYC, my first note is to go and check out what's going on at DON'T TELL MAMA which is the premiere cabaret in the Broadway district. Many of my coolest connections in Manhattan came from sitting around the piano bar crooning Jerry Herman tunes before or after a show and enough $$$ for a bourbon or four. One night I met a bunch of kids from the cast of PARADE - a musical which was at Lincoln Center and which featured my grandfather as the villain. They all knew exactly who I was. Now that was weird.

Only in New York.

Many wonderful artists who have starred or are starring in or will star in Broadway or Off Broadway or off off broadway shows hone their crafts and promote themselves between theatre gigs by channeling their talents into their cabaret, and what Duke and Doris from DeBuke are missing when they bypass the cabarets while on their New York adventure is the gourmet experience. Because in the cabarets you will come face to face with the very dna of New York's genius - the brilliant miracle of individual talent and perseverance.

Which brings me to "cabaret dramaturgy." What the fuck is cabaret dramaturgy?

If regular theatrical dramaturgy is about where the play meets society in the hands of directors, actors, designers, conductors et al. cabaret dramaturgy is about where the individual artist meets her or his self in a very mystical place and where the artistic seed, which so much of the time must submit to the artistic vision of a greater conglomerate, is able to blossom in the small garden of the self.

If that's a dainty image, just be alerted - the sprout that springs from cabaret soil is just as likely to be Audery the man-eating-plant as it is to be a-rose-is-a-rose-is-a-rose.

Come to the cabaret! And say "Hello!" I'll be performing with Roxie Rogers at the Metropolitan Room in NYC September 18th at 7:00 PM.

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