This is a follow-up recap of our recent Education workshop that was all about Patter composition. Les and Heidi had done some great research that was enlightening for us and a great conversation starter.
He began with both the roots and meaning of the word and we found that it differs much from the semantics that we use it in a cabaret setting. By definition; it is just "meaningless chatter," "gibberish," and "talking at length without saying anything significant." All of these are in complete opposition to our intent as performers. It harkens back to the early stage days of vaudeville where it was likely meant as filler between acts to stall for time.
Next came a very pointed critique of patter and how it relates to cabaret work that we strive for now; this is from critic Roy Sander who writes for the Manhattan Association of Cabaret. "Time was when cabaret was a performing arts form in which audience members sat at tables and the people on stage had a job to do: to entertain the audience. Period. Rather simple, eh? Alas, at some point during the past decade or so, cabaret took a wrong turn. Today, a growing number of people, especially recent entrants into the field, seem to think that cabaret is something else—some kind of mushy, touchy-feely group-therapy session, in which we are all there to share in the performer’s life and feelings." Roy goes on quite extensively in a tirade about the lack of need for any of this sort of patter. A complete link to his query "It's Not About You" is below.
Sander - It's Not About You
All of this generated much reaction, especially from our veteran members that attended the Yale Conference which is founded on the exact opposite point of view. Unless you are exposing yourself and being authentic in your storytelling, it is not true cabaret. We continue to have very good open conversations on what balance to follow. Icons like Mabel Mercer use little if any dialogue at all. Bobby Short plays the piano and only introduces historical context about his songs. We talked about the fine line between rehearsing your patter, keeping it spontaneous, and then being able to ad lib without hitting roadblocks. Some of us navigate this slippery slope differently. Our recent showcase challenged the notions of narrative while being true to patter by tying story into song - not necessarily by the same person. I even brought up the concept of performing an entire cabaret set as an alter-ego like Bette Midler has done with "Delores Delago" - or we recently saw our own Barbara do with a ukelele and hula-hoop. How about the stretching the truth to make a story more interesting? - Sure! All of these push the limits of what we expect and define as cabaret. TCCAN is trying to establish parameters to follow while also giving freedom for each member to be genuine and unique. All food for thought!