Feature: Featured: Contempt of Cabaret
Recently, I was in a nightclub (one of the biggest) to see a performance by a cabaret artist (one of the biggest), and it was a memorable evening… more than a title. Everywhere you looked there was a show business notable, a celebrity, a big name person. There were revered artists, impressive industry professionals, nominees and winners, cabaret journalists and photographers, and all with the same goal in mind: to see this singular and superb cabaret artist at work. . And we saw the artist of our idolatry at their craft; we have seen them and we have heard them.
We also heard the ladies sitting at home leaving.
There’s an epidemic in this country, and it’s not the one that locked us up for six months, it’s the one that holds us hostage for sixty to seventy moments when we go out to see a show. It’s an epidemic of etiquette, or, to be precise, a lack of etiquette. People are less well behaved in today’s world: there are notorious incidents of skirmishes on airplanes, temper tantrums in coffee shops, and bad behavior on Broadway. People in today’s society seem to have made a conscious decision to give up observing good manners, and that is a crying shame. It is also a nagging irritation.
Throughout the seventy-five minute performance given by one of the industry’s most respected entertainers, in one of the industry’s most expensive venues, a group of women seated against the club wall insisted on chatting, laughing and raising cain, so much so that the prominent (no, not prominent: important) members of the cabaret and concert community seated directly across from my table became increasingly visibly upset. In an evening that was at least seventy percent tender, quiet, heartfelt ballads, these women continued to raise their voices in not-so-private, joyous conversation, voices that could be heard clearly across the room. room. It was inadmissible, it was unbelievable, and it came from another member of the cabaret and concert community. We could all see the faces of the courtesy criminals, plain and simple. The cabaret halls are not large and the lighting casts a glow over an entire venue, and these inconsiderate people might as well have been sitting in the stands at a sporting event, their faces glued to the Jumbotron, so much their features were visible. Every person in the theater could see them, including the eminent (no, not eminent: important) person standing on the stage singing the songs. As minute by minute the chatter from the bench grew louder and louder, heads turned as grimaces were thrown at the unconscious offenders, until finally the program was over and members of the cabaret and concert community come together vexed at each other. congregations to discuss the infraction and raise the question: who will be the one to approach their colleague and verbally slap him on the wrist for his unfathomable breach of etiquette?
Whether or not someone has approached the person in question remains in between. And there is every chance that such a meeting will include apologies and surprise, even sincere explanations. People seldom care to have the mirror of self-reflection up to their mistakes and flaws. Everyone knows what happened was some inconsiderate people went to a night club, had a few drinks and showed what little respect they have for the people around them, by starting with the artist on stage and ending with those other patrons who have paid a hundred dollars to sit in a cabaret and watch an artist whose work they admire. There is no excuse good enough, no explanation reasonable enough, no excuse acceptable enough to assuage the anger of everyone else in this club who was there to witness the rudeness and see their enjoyment of the evening diminished. Excuses and explanations do not clean up this behavior. It was a program of several quiet ballads – no mere enthusiasm for a show could explain the ruckus of their response unless it was a rock concert, a Gay Pride celebration or the New year’s eve.
There is a famous saying: familiarity breeds contempt. In context, it refers to the concept that knowing a person or thing too well leads to a loss of respect. There are, however, two ways to look at these three words – familiarity breeds contempt – and this is just one of them. The Talker, being a member of the cabaret and concert community, being a member of the family (so to speak) feels empowered to behave however they choose, during a performance. After all, they will be excused for their bad behavior, right? How many times have people abused us because we are their parents? We can treat our family less than we treat a stranger because they have to forgive us – they are stuck with us. Why not apply this to the artistic environment in which we evolve? If we are members of the community, won’t our colleagues forgive us for our lack of respect? They are our artistic friends and family – why not treat them with the familiarity with which we treat our loved ones? Why not treat them with contempt? The answer is simple: because now they will despise us. And there’s contempt for the Gossips who ruined the show for some audience members who couldn’t drown out the gibberish, and those are people who know the face and name of the offending party. The familiarity of this concert party has led other prominent (no, not prominent: important) members of the community to feel a well-deserved contempt for them – and, from experience, this is a pattern of behavior that this author has witnessed no less than four other shows that involved this same person talking and texting from his table, throughout the performance.
So what should a person do? When you’re sitting in a nightclub and faced with the difficulty of hearing the artist sing into a microphone above an audience member who doesn’t even have the benefit of an amplification system, but who surpasses the interpreter, what to do? Are we silently waiting and wishing for a waiter to speak to the manager to intervene? Do we stand still, while being dragged out of the costly experience by our frustration and outrage, while remaining silent? Do we draw the noisemaker’s attention to his offense, ourselves, somehow? Do we confront and run the risk of uproar?
I remember a story I heard on the last Clint Holmes show, a tribute to Peter Allen called BETWEEN THE MOON AND NEW YORK CITY. In it, Mr. Holmes describes the origin of a famous composition written by the prolific songwriter. Mr Allen was in a nightclub watching Julie Wilson perform and a nearby talkers table was getting louder and louder, so he took out a pen and scribbled on a napkin, “Quiet Please, There’s a Lady Onstage,” and thus was born a song that became as famous for its existence as it was for being dedicated to his late stepmother, Judy Garland. There was a Lady on stage that night, and another member of her own community displayed, throughout, a ride more befitting a Monster Truck Rally than a nightclub. That won’t be enough. It was pure, old-fashioned, garden-variety rudeness, inconsiderate behavior by the performer on stage, the art form presented, and the audience who paid to be there. And it’s a shame because this behavior is going to scar her and her own personal industry, because you can bet the day after the performance (perhaps on the trip home after the performance), these important members of the community cabaret and concert were telling their friends and colleagues everything, and they were telling the story with names, and with a certain contempt.
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