Grange’s new book explores the roots, the pleasure of cabaret | Nebraska today
William Grange, drama teacher at the Johnny Carson School of Theater and Film, recently published his 13th book, “Cabaret”, which is part of Methuen Drama’s Forms of Drama series in London.
In the book, Grange brings together for the first time the range of practices now associated with the form of cabaret. Beginning with its origins in northern Paris as poetry readings, the cabaret quickly spread to specialist German, Czech, Hungarian, Polish and Russian theaters. The development of both the sheet music and record recording industry spurred the growth of the cabaret, which Grange followed from the late 19th century to the 1950s.
“I had no idea cabaret was such a multinational thing in Europe,” Grange said. “Because it starts in France, then goes to Germany, but then it spreads very quickly throughout Europe and even in the United States. There’s a little happening in New York City, but it’s during the Prohibition period.
Grange and other scholars define the cabaret as a nightclub where patrons sat at tables with alcoholic drinks and enjoyed variety shows on stage, presented by an emcee and interacting with the audience.
Grange also defines it as “the small space which implies an acquired set of coherences”.
“That is, people enter the cabaret recognizing the targets of the cabaret performers,” he said. “They made fun of politicians, artists, pop songs, ways of dressing, ways of speaking. It is very close to the pulse of the countries in which it has flourished and prospered.
Its birth in Paris dates from the moment when a liquor merchant named Rodolphe Salis invented the master of ceremonies. He was the creator, host and owner of Le Chat Noir cabaret, the first cabaret hall in Montmartre, a village in the far north of Paris.
“Salis really started what we now think of as a cabaret,” said Grange. “Before him, there were only poets who came to read their work for free, but Salis made the public pay a ‘blanket’ (entrance fee) while offering beer, wine and especially liquor to grossly inflated prices. His father was a distiller who supplied the liquor.
While sexual innuendos are a hallmark of cabaret, Grange has discovered through his research that they are also intellectual.
“Cabaret performers have often subjected politicians and other establishment figures to abuse, as if they were abstract pinatas,” Grange said. “But at the cabaret, it’s much more intellectual. The impact depended on the sense of coherence acquired collectively among the audience. To do cabaret, you really have to be topical because if you make a series of jokes about a politician, who does something this week, everyone will have forgotten about it a month later.
“Cabaret” and his other recent book, “The Business of American Theater,” were both published during the pandemic.
“’Cabaret’ really saved me because it was more fun than anything I’ve ever written,” said Grange. “All of these books that I have written are very academic. It’s a bit more on the lighter side. You can laugh while you read it.
Learn more about “Cabaret” and other Grange publications.