One of the greatest explosions of creativity in the 20th century, and some would argue, ever, occured in Germany between the end of WWI and the rise of Hitler in 1933. It was called the Weimar era after the city in which the new Parliamentary government assumed power in 1919, replacing the long history of monarchy and imperialism that had existed in the German states beforehand.
The list of advances in the sciences (Hesienberg’s Uncertainy principle and the development of quatum mechanics), architecture (Bauhaus anybody?) painting (Paul Klee and his lectures on modern art), philosophy )Heidegger and Hursserl), etc could go on and on, but we’re concerned with a particular theatrical movement which reached one of it’s zeniths in this era, the Cabaret.
We’ll go into it’s French origins in a later post. After WWI the Victorian era was annihilated and all of it’s conventions with it. Frank discussions of sex, existentialism, political and social issues were now open, and in Germany especially, the lifting of a long ban on any political discourse in theatrical works meant that satire was allowed to flourish, although it was this same freedom to satire politics that would ultimately be a major cause in the Nazis shutting down the theaters in the 30s. (The other issue was their disgust at its decadence.)
This first video is from the film The Blue Angel with Marlene Dietrich made in 1930 and generally accurate in it’s picture of a type of Weimar era cabaret. (It’s also the role that first made Marlene Dietrich famous)
The setting and show was smaller and more intimate than proper theaters. The audience sat at cozy tables and consumed alcohol and food while the performers performed music, sketches and other ecclectic one person acts, often interacting with the audience.
This next vid is of a modern, Weimar era inspired performance of the song Pirate Jenny. The song is from The Three Penny Opera, which premiered in 1928 and was a cabaret staple of the day.
This last clip is the Spielpalast Cabaret. They’re out of, strangely enough, Burlington Vermont, but they do the most accurate Weimar era cabaret you’re likely to find.
Yes, i am well aware of the elephant in the room. That is: Bob Fosse’s Cabaret and the book I am A Camera. We’ll be covering this tomorrow as it deserves it’s own post.
For more exploration of weimar era cabaret i HIGHLY recommend perusing this great blog Cabaret Berlin.