Sunday 13 June 2021

Blogjune Day 13 - life is a cabaret

As established, I love musicals. I also love cabaret. "What is cabaret, and how is it still a thing," I hear you ask.

Many are familiar with the Kander and Ebb musical, adapted into a film in 1972 starring Liza Minelli, Joel Gray and that guy who was in Logan's Run. People get up in a poky little 1930s Berlin Club and sing songs that make commentary on society and their lives.

Beyond that, I become familiar with the modern concept of cabaret when I attended Eddie Perfect's show 'Angry Eddie' in Duckboard House at the Melbourne Comedy Festival in 2004, which soon led me to find other up and coming stars, such as Tim Minchin, Sammy J, Yana Alana, Reuben Krum, Geraldine Quinn and the rotating program of shows at the Butterfly House. Of course, I'd associate these acts with other similar musical comedy acts, such as Tripod and the Doug Anthony All Stars.

So, cabaret = musical comedy, right? Some might say that it's a question of semantics. But one thing that I strongly associate with cabaret is an element of social commentary - usually through parody or satire - and a small performance space, sometimes up close with the performer, with no real chance of escape until the curtain closes.

Take Bo Burnham, for example - somebody whose work I've followed for over ten years now, and is a solid musical comedian, whose uses his edginess in both progressive and problematic directions.

I sat down and watched his recent 'Netflix comedy special', expecting another hour of standup and musical comedy schtick. But this was something else.

His first solo performance in around five years, this was written, performed and edited by Burnham over the past year, and takes place in one room. The premise - he's in lockdown and he's trying to write and record a show for you, the audience. Right from the outset, he's almost resentful of having to do this, and satisfy his unknown online audience saying, 'Here's some content', and then reflecting on how messed-up the world is, and yet here he is trying to succeed by making jokes, and sarcastically sets out to 'heal the world with comedy'. The problem is that he's a privileged white guy - something that he's quite conscious of, and appears to be constantly attempting to make amends for his problematic past, but self-sabotages his attempts to do so because, as he knows, it's a self-indulgent medium that just serves to continue to centre himself on the world's problems.

It's an hour and a half of continuous spiraling into further self-doubt, stubborn persistence and depression, as his hair and beard grows longer. It's no longer an exercise in 'musical comedy', but severe self-analysis and self-deprecation in the context of an increasingly unjust and online society. And, as the audience, we're right there with him, in that small room, as he slowly sinks to an 'ATL' (all-time low - not Atlanta).

This show had a profound affect on me, both as I watched it, and afterwards, considering myself as an artist, as an audience member, thinking about how I choose to exist in the world, how I relate to technology and our current online society - and how this all affects our mental health, especially during a pandemic.

And despite the recorded, online nature of this show, it feels like a cabaret in its most raw form - intimate - claustrophobic, even - personal, political... and in a small room with songs.

(That aside, I'm soon heading to interstate for the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, for a very different experience - one full of large spaces with live performance. I am very excited for this.)

No comments:

Post a Comment