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Physical Theater Puppetry Vaudevisuals Interview Video Women

Vaudevisuals interview with Hilary Chaplain

The Last Rat of Theresienstadt

Sofia Brünn, a Weimar cabaret star from the 1930’s Berlin finds herself transplanted to Theresienstadt, a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. During her time in the camp, she forges an unlikely friendship with Pavel, a rat. Despite the lack of food that has driven away the rest of his kind, Pavel remains with her out of his love for her and her art.

This is a show about resistance and hope, and the need to fill the soul as well as the body. A dark comedy, The Last Rat of Theresienstadt is a low tech, multi-media play with music, puppetry and live-action projections that incorporate original songs, artwork, poetry, and humor created by prisoners in Theresienstadt.

Starring
Hilary Chaplain
Mindy Escobar-Leanse
Ariel Lauryn

Directed By Nancy Smithner
Lighting Design by Sabrina Hamilton
with Technical Direction by Kris Anton

TICKETS HERE!

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Categories
Cabaret Performing Arts Photography Variety Arts Video Women

Breaking Records and Spinning Heart-Shaped Hoops

Being in the Guinness Book of World Records twice isn’t enough for hula hooper Dunja von K. In between performances and teaching hoops three times a week, she’s in training for her third world record – being suspended upside-down hula hooping with multiple hoops.

She failed by a narrow margin in her first attempt a few months ago. “I can do 10,” she revealed, “but I needed to do 20 with a minimum of 3 rotations. I failed by half a rotation.” She is trying again before April to be in the next book. Out of the 40,000 record holders in the Guinness World Records database, only about 10% are published in the book, and even a smaller number are featured with a photograph. Dunja is in the 2019 book with a photograph and she is determined to be in the 2020 book.

She wasn’t born with a hoop on her hip. Hailing from a small town in northern Germany, she didn’t pick up a hoop until after she moved to London.  There, she got involved in theatre to improve her English, but this didn’t entirely satisfy her penchant for the weird and unusual. Through a workshop at the Roundhouse, she discovered that cabaret was more her métier. Then she saw that the Roundhouse was offering a hoop workshop by the legendary Marawa the Amazing. “I took the workshop for fitness,” she confessed, “I never thought I could do any hoop tricks.”With the encouragement of Marawa, she persisted in hoop training and her efforts resulted in her becoming one of the original members of Marawa’s Majorettes. She performed at the Olympic Games in 2012 and then at Glastonbury FestivalBestival, the Secret Garden Party, and at Kensington Palace.

As part of Marawa’s Majorettes, Dunja was one of the ten women who collectively rotated 299 hoops and set a World Record for the Most Hoops Spun by a Group. Then she decided she wanted a World Record of her own and got one for spinning 43 hoops on multiple body parts. She has since broken her own record by spinning 59 hoops.

After nine years in London, she decided to move to Berlin. “I felt like I couldn’t go any further in London. I wasn’t really growing anymore,” she stated and adds with a laugh, “I also wanted my own flat.” In Berlin, she teaches hula hoop workshops three times a week and performs at burlesque clubs and major events. “If I would’ve known how great the scene was in Berlin,” she said, “I would have moved earlier.”

Dunja von K at the Full Moon Cabaret, photo by Steve Gregson.

Her acts are different than other hoopers who create routines to show off their skills, “I come from a theatre background and a cabaret background,” she explains, “Usually, my hoop acts tell a story. It’s not just amazing tricks.”

Most of her storytelling has a sense of the macabre that fits well with Berlin. In one act, she is a bloody Jesus with barbed wire wrapped around a hoop. Another act is a frenetic hooping homage to Pulp Fiction complete with a tray of cocaine. Though she can spin 80 hoops at once and simultaneously keep hoops going on all four limbs, she continually looks for ways to expand her skills. She started training in aerial silk and now has a silk-and-hoop act where she is a spider.

But one of her favorite activities is hula hoop training. “I love teaching beginners who never thought they can hoop, because I felt like that,” she said, “It took me three months to keep the hoop up. I was really shit in the beginning.” From one beginners class in Berlin, her workshop series has now expanded to three classes per week and the addition of an intermediate hoop class.

Back in London for Full Moon Cabaret at the Vault Festival this past weekend, she strutted on stage with heart-shaped hoops in her high-energy Summer of Love act. Then she picked up four LED hoops and the audience went wild as the lights went off, leaving nothing other than the psychedelic flashing pink, yellow, and green lights of the hoops. For a grand finale, she picked up a massive stack of hoops and gleefully flung her arms up, wildly gyrating all the hoops at once. Revolutionary in more ways than one, Dunja von K is sure to set several more world records.

Here’s a video of Dunja setting her World Record.
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Categories
Bouffon Burlesque Clown Comedy Coney Island USA Juggling Performing Arts Photography Sideshow Street Performing Tattoo

Roc Roc-It, the Clown Prince of Berlin

Roc Roc-It makes carny gold out of everyday objects. Grinning like a roly-poly overgrown tattooed child, he ambles onstage declaring, “This is the most dangerous stunt ever!” Then he reaches into a black drawstring bag and pulls out an ordinary disposable latex glove.

Making a big hoopla over stretching the glove out, he finally manages to distend the cuff over the top half of his face. Then he proceeds to huff and puff, inflating the glove on his head until it resembles a bloated coxcomb or a balloon mohawk. The audience laughs at the ridiculous sight of a potbellied man wearing a blown up glove on his head, but as the glove gets larger and larger, the laughter turns to cringes and cries of protest. Roc-It jacks up the mounting anticipation with goofy pratfalls and sideshow banter until the glove finally bursts all over his face.

With ingeniously simple acts like these, Roc-It has earned the monicker Clown Prince of Berlin. He has indeed lived in Berlin for about ten years – in a caravan outside a squat in an industrial part of Kreuzberg – but Roc-It was actually born in a small town near the Black Forest. “I’m a country boy,” he says with a wide smile that reveals several missing teeth. After several failed apprenticeships, he finally found his calling on a trip to Barcelona. “I saw all these street performers working on the Rambla,” he recalled, “and I was like, yeah, wow, that’s what I want to do.”

Sleeping on the beach and practicing everyday, he built up skills in Diabolo and fire. He learned to hammer a nail up his nose and juggle balls. Then after five years performing throughout Europe, he found himself in New Orleans breaking up with an ex-girlfriend. “I had two weeks left on my visa,” he said, “and I thought, fuck it, I’m going to go and visit some friends in New York.”

It was on his very last day in New York that he made a fateful visit to Coney Island with no other desire than to do a final show on the beach. “I knew nothing about what a sideshow is,” he said, “My friends were jugglers, guys riding a toy unicycle, doing all this classical stuff, and my show was always a bit weirder. And I was always a bit weirder character. So for me, it was basically, like, okay, there’s the main show and I’m the sideshow.”

With that in mind, he put his kit an old green suitcase and painted the words CIRCUS SIDESHOW on it. He was carrying the suitcase when he strolled past Coney Island Circus Sideshow and caught the attention of impresario Dick Zigun, who invited him to perform. Roc-It was a hit and stayed on for the next three years. “They fired the midget,” he laughs.

“While I was in New York, I did a thousand shows a year,” he estimates, but his visa had run out and living illegally finally wore him down. “I was working so much and so intensively, I got injured quite a lot,” he remembers, “I knocked my teeth out. I broke several ribs on stage. I burned my face off. And at one point, it just got to be like, it’s too much.”

Since returning to Europe six years ago, he continues to wow crowds in burlesque shows and street festivals. Twice a year, he performs with Kabaret Kalashnikov, a variety show with an Eastern European storyline. On summer nights, you can find him in the middle of a circle of people at Alexanderplatz during Berlin Lacht Fest. He also regularly performs with the Squidling Brothers Circus Sideshow when they are in Europe.


“Dazzle them with brilliance or baffle them with bullshit,” he declares, rolling up his sleeve to display a motto tattooed on his arm, “Either it has to be really poetic or just so ridiculous, that it’s just as good.”

Roc Roc-it at Baum Haus Comedy Open Air 
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Categories
Burlesque Cabaret Music Performing Arts Photography Video

Weimar Cabaret and Le Pustra’s ‘Kabarett der Namenlosen’

This blog post is authored by our Berlin Correspondent Victoria Linchong.

For most of the world, the mention of Berlin invokes a decadent underworld of androgynous women in beaded gowns and men in monocles smoking from ebony cigarette holders while Marlene Dietrich straddles a chair and tosses out a saucy song. But you would be quite disappointed if you were trying to find that vanished world in Berlin today.

True, state-run varieté exists in every city, but these are mainstream family-friendly dinner theaters. They are not the underground cabarets of the Weimar era with its barbed political satire and transgressive sexuality. It’s hard to believe, but with the Nazis and the war followed by the division of the city, it’s only now that Berlin is recovered enough to start revisiting the legacy of its underground cabarets.

The glamorous mother of all Goldene Zwanziger parties in Berlin is the Bohéme Sauvage and that only began in Else Edelstahl’s apartment in 2006. The following year, neo-burlesque found its way from New York City to a Berlin tiki bar and this activated a new generation of underground cabaret. Since then, a dozen or so burlesque and cabaret shows have opened in various bars in Berlin, most notably Pinky’s Peepshow and Fête Fatale at Bassy Club, and Sunday Soirée at Primitiv. One of the latest and most exciting additions to this burgeoning scene is the Kabarett der Namenlosen, which premiered in Berlin two years ago. Invoking the unsettled ghosts of Weimar cabaret, it almost immediately was a legendary hit.

Kabarett der Namenlosen is the brainchild of Le Pustra, a performance artist originally from South Africa who performed for many years in London. On a visit to Berlin in 2012, he took a walking tour through Christopher Isherwood’s haunts in West Berlin. The tour guide mentioned the Kabarett der Namenlosen, a notorious open stage of the 1920s, where amateur performers were often reduced to tears by malicious audience members. Le Pustra was struck by the evocative name and after moving to Berlin, he set about creating a cabaret-theater piece around the idea of the nameless lost performers of the Weimar era.

Kabarett der Namenlosen is essentially a classic varieté revue with several international performers doing their signature acts loosely framed by a story. But it’s a vastly different experience from any other varieté in Berlin, with its lush visual style, copious nudity, and dark subject matter. Yes, there are plenty of comedic moments – a British Music Hall number with Miss Annabel Sings, a gag with Julietta la Doll as a telephone sex operator. But Le Pustra also plays a drag artist who is betrayed by a friend (performance artist Reverso) and London burlesque sensation Vicky Butterfly is heartrending as a flighty party girl who accidentally overdoses on cocaine. It’s an immersive experience that leaves you feeling like you’ve somehow traveled back in time to 1930, went on a bar crawl from the Kadeko to the Weiss Maus to the TingelTangel, and got to know some of the fragile and needy nightlife denizens of that fleeting time period.

The most evocative moment in this cabaret-theater piece comes at the end. The audience is given little pieces of paper with what looks like a German poem and the cast comes out with a large board with the same writing. Le Pustra begins to recite the English translation:

“What makes them think they have the right
to say what God considers vice?
What makes them think they have the right
to keep us out of Paradise?
They make our lives hell here on Earth
poisoning us with guilt and shame
If we resist, prison awaits
so our love dares not speak its name.
The crime is when love must hide
From now on we’ll love with pride.”

These are the lyrics to Das Lila Lied (The Lavender Song), the hugely popular gay anthem of Weimar Berlin. At the end of the Kabarett der Namenlosen, everyone is encouraged to sing along using those little pieces of paper, which have the refrain in the original German. It’s a powerful moment, even if most audience members don’t know the song and have no idea that they are participating in a remarkable homage to all the nameless artists lost in the untimely end of Weimar cabaret.

Written by Russian émigré Mischa Spoliansky and native Berliner Kurt Schwabach, Das Lila Lied was first recorded in 1921 by the Marek Weber Orchestra. Even though censorship was relaxed and there were several gay cabarets in Berlin, it was still illegal to be homosexual, not to mention socially taboo. Spoliansky wrote the song under a pseudonym and no one knows who sang the original recording. Most people think the uncredited singer was Leo Monesson, one of the most popular crooners of the Weimar era, who is credited on over 1,400 recordings for all the major labels of the era and starred in 11 films.

Spoliansky, Schwabach, and Monesson were all Jewish. One by one, they fled Berlin as the Nazis rose to power. Spoliansky emigrated to London where he eventually became a film composer and never returned to Berlin. Schwabach had a more difficult time and hopped from London to Prague to Palestine during the war years. Although he found relative success after returning to Germany in 1949, he never recovered from the persecution he suffered and committed suicide in 1966.

Monesson also never recovered from the Nazi era. He went from Paris to Spain to New York, where he settled in the town of Ardsley and became a postage stamp dealer. In 1952, he applied for compensation to the Berlin State Office, asserting, “I managed, after 1933, never again to earn money by singing. My playing has been developed by German culture and elsewhere is strange and unpopular.”  

It’s the tragedy of these artists that gives the Kabarett der Namenlosen its profound depth of poignancy. At the end of the show, when Le Pustra has the entire audience singing Das Lila Lied, it feels like a bridge is finally being created between the underground cabarets of the Weimar era and Berlin today. After all this time, Berlin is finally able to pick up the threads from the 1920s that were so untimely cut short. The ghosts have been summoned, a ceremony has been performed, and at last, Berlin is free to embrace a part of its past.

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Original version of Das Lila Lied

 DAS LILA LIED (“THE LAVENDER SONG”)
Original German Lyrics by: Kurt Schwabach
English Translation by: Jeremy Lawrence

What makes them think they have the right
to say what God considers vice?
What makes them think they have the right
to keep us out of Paradise?
They make our lives hell here on Earth,
poisoning us with guilt and shame.
If we resist, prison awaits,
so our love dares not speak its name.
The crime is when love must hide.
From now on we’ll love with pride.

CHORUS:
We’re not afraid to be queer and different.
If that means Hell, well, Hell! We’ll take the chance.
They’re all so straight, uptight, upright and rigid.
They march in lock-step, we prefer to dance.
We see a world of romance and of pleasure.
All they can see is sheer banality.
Lavender nights are our greatest treasure,
where we can be just who we want to be.

Round us all up, send us away,
that’s what you’d really like to do.
But we’re too strong, proud, unafraid.
In fact, we almost pity you.
You act from fear. Why should that be?
What is it that you are frightened of;
the way that we dress,
the way that we meet,
the fact that you cannot destroy our love?
We’re going to win our rights
to lavender days and nights.

Kabarett der Namenlosen is playing from February 24-26 in Berlin. You can find out more on their Facebook event page. Hendricks Gin is a creative collaborator of Kabarett der Namenlosen. The show is produced by Boheme Sauvage.

 

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