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Improvisation (Berliner Cabaret #AtoZChallenge)

I (AtoZ Challenge 2019)

Because the empathy with the audience was so important, the chief skill of a cabaret performer was improvisation. The nature of cabaret was always shifting as it tried to intercept and react to the audience’s feeling, so good cabaretists needed to be ready to any events, quick to caught the audience’s mood and adjust to it.

Frank Wedekind, German actor and dramatist who became an intense personal force in the German artistic world on the eve of World War I
Frank Wedekind in Hidalla

The conférencier more than any other needed to be a master of improvisation. He or she needed to be well-versed in literature, possess an acid wit and be fully in tune with the street politics. In short, they needed to speak the same language as the audience but be smarter. They also needed to be skilled in manipulating the artistic material at hand and change the roster of a night if the audience’s reaction so demanded.

Beside, very little was fixed and decided in the cabaret. Songs and skits were very often written the same day of the show and very sparsely rehearsed. As many avant gardes advocated, the rawness of the product spoke of authenticity and freshness. Cabaret artists rarely searched for smoothness and perfection. They preferred a rough sketch that would allow them to create on the fly on the base of how the night went.
Even songs were rarely rehearsed. Classical vocalists strived for purity of sound. Cabaret singers didn’t sought pretty sounds, they wanted to be realistic.

Improvisation (Berliner Cabaret #AtoZChallenge) The cabaretist would react to the audience on the spot and so improvisation was his/her strongest weapon #history #cabaret #Germany Click To Tweet

Berlin Witz

One reasons why the cabaret took such a strong hold in Berlin was widely believed to be that Berliners were natural improvisators.
Life conditions in the city in the modern era were quite harsh and the heterogeneity of the population added to the confusion, especially considering that the melting pot was never fully realised. This forced Berliners to keep mentally alert and was in fact the element that ultimately permitted the emergence of a recognizable type of Berliner that was characterised not just by their culture, but rather by their attitude. Berliners were pushy, and disrespectful of authority, quick-witted and even rude, but capable of face any circumstance.

You don’t get very far with your politeness, because such an audacious race of men live there that you need to have a sharp tongue and also be rather rude in order to keep your head above water.

Wolfagang Goethe


Guide to Musical Theatre – The German Cabaret

Peter Jelavich, Berlin Cabaret. Harvard University Press, Harvard, 1993


  • Birgit
    Posted April 10, 2019 at 03:26

    I just never thought of Germans being improvisational but this was a very interest Read

  • Kristin
    Posted April 10, 2019 at 16:59

    “In short, they needed to speak the same language as the audience but be smarter.” I like this.

  • Post Author
    Posted April 10, 2019 at 17:32

    I’m finding this aspect of cabare, of the interchange between performes and adience sooooo fascinating.

  • Roland R Clarke
    Posted April 11, 2019 at 07:09

    Some of the greatest actors improvise, so must have learnt from cabaret. Robin Williams?

    • Post Author
      Posted April 16, 2019 at 07:54

      I’m not an expert in any form of entertainment, but I find that in the 1920s, a lot of entertainment relied on improvisation. Not just cabaret, but jazz as well. Maybe the fact that so many things in life where changing so fast required artists to be more alert?

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