Recently, while walking on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where I live, I saw a woman who made me think of Nora from Henrik Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House, more than a hundred years later, of course, and considerably older.
The woman was inching a number of upright shopping carts along the pavement. She would move one, then stop and move another, herding them, as it were, down the sidewalk. Each cart was crammed with her personal items and each was covered with an industrial-size, black plastic bag. She could have been in her late fifties or early sixties, and she looked healthy and well-groomed. She had just been evicted from her apartment, she told me, after losing her job and not being able to pay her rent. She was heading toward a shelter.
I am a dramaturg. I am also a biographer.
As a dramaturg, I try to help a playwright tell the story of her play. As a biographer, I try to tell the story of a life. Does one role feed the other? Do the skills required for one art overlap with the skills needed for the other? Is there a dramaturg-biographer collaboration?
Cabaret is intimate. Or as Tovah Feldshuh says, “A good nightclub act is a bit like a date: it has a sexual factor in it, it has an entertainment factor in it, and it has the knowledge that people are eating while they’re watching.” In a theatre, there’s an invisible wall between an actor and her audience, and chances are nobody is eating. But despite those differences, cabaret can be the platform where the most vital elements of a stage musical—its songs—first find an audience, and where songwriters who want to bridge both worlds can hone their craft and maybe change musical theatre as we know it. More and more, songwriters forge careers in cabaret, where they can try out their numbers before trying the world of musical theatre.
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