Have the shady establishments off Wenceslas Square given cabaret a bad name? The actual definition of cabaret is innocent sounding enough: ‘entertainment held in restaurants or clubs while the audience eats and drinks at tables.’ The entertainment usually comes in short bursts – a little singing, a little dancing, a little comedy.
Then you have burlesque, which is a variety show as well, with some nudity thrown in. In cities like Paris and Berlin, venues regularly hold high-quality ‘true’ versions of both cabaret and burlesque.
The musical entertainment actually has a history here, dating back to early 20th century Prague.
“There were famous clubs on Wenceslas Square in the 1920s, the Alhambra was one, it was the nightlife of the time, lots of politicians, actors, but it ended after World War II,” said David Jahn, director and producer of Prague Burlesque.
Jahn was doing a males-only funny cabaret when he thought it might be fun to add females. He discovered burlesque, and while doing research learned his grandmother actually did something similar, the girls were called ‘beauty behind the veil’ back then. Prague Burlesque formed in 2007 and Jahn says the show is fresh and has been successful because no one else is doing it.
“It’s different from other burlesque shows, this is our own way of seeing burlesque,” he said. “I’m focused on humor, satire, parody, it needs that touch or it isn’t burlesque.”
Prague Burlesque is in English and has nudity. Jahn says the group’s biggest problem has been finding a venue to regularly perform in. For the past two years, they’ve been based at the Vinohrady Bars and Books, but it’s gotten a bit small. Beginning in April they’ll be performing at Buddha Bar.
Venue space was a problem for Kabaret Falešná Kočička as well. The show has been going on sporadically for about three years, most regularly at Roxy NOD. They too hope to have found a permanent monthly place in La Fabrika. Kabaret Falešná Kočička is a typical cabaret, but is only in Czech.
“This is an old form of theater, a mixture of everything,” said Igor Kozák, the show’s production director. “It started out just several people, singing, talking, different musicians, special guests. After a time it lost its dynamic so we decided to make a formal cabaret, it’s still open, but a fixed performance.”
The cabaret’s main ‘star’ and host is well-known entertainer Ester Kočičkové.
“It’s about the songs, stand-up comedy, a little bit of dance, the musical background is very rich,” Kozák said. “Fifty percent of the program is fairly stable but otherwise everyone introduces new ideas and Ester fits it all together. It’s a fast-moving 2-hour performance.”
For a similar show, with no language barrier, famous beer hall U Fleků introduced a cabaret show in spring 2013.
“Kabaret U Fleků is a musical cabaret show, based on a simple story from a cabaret backstage, combining great music, typical Czech humor and delicious dark beer,” said Dalibor Zurinek, the show’s director.
“We produced a musical cabaret show for audiences in the 21st century, so we’ve developed a truly unique show based on the roots of cabaret history in big cabaret cities like Paris, Berlin and naturally Prague.”
According to Zurinek, the decision to start cabaret shows in the beer hall was a natural one.
“Cabaret has a great history in this beer hall; it is not a coincidence the beer hall is named Kabaret Hall.”
Inspiration from cabaret and burlesque around Europe is what motivated the duo behind Viva Cabaret to launch shows in May 2013.
“We started to discover the traditional genre of cabaret a bit more and also the genre of burlesque during our travels,” said Eva Špidlová, partner, co-owner and co-organizer of Viva Cabaret. “This genre is undergoing a big boom in surrounding European countries or it’s still alive in countries like Germany, France.”
Špidlová said they connected elements of both cabaret and burlesque when designing their show.
“Viva Cabaret includes elements of amusement, nostalgia, meeting people, desire, art, eroticism, fantasy, generally the topic of a woman,” she said. “We would like to show a woman as a real woman, the woman that should present herself as a woman.”
Viva Cabaret is in Czech but Špidlová says because it is so visual it can be enjoyed by non-Czech speakers. Plus, it’s held in the beautiful Boccaccio Hall in Grand Hotel Bohemia.
“Cabaret and burlesque are also partly connected with the eroticism, there always should be an erotic point,” she said. “And it is everywhere around us as well – we would like to offer some nice and sophisticated eroticism.”
Audiences to all four shows are a mixed bag. Jahn says the Prague Burlesque audience is 50-70% tourists, and skews female. Local attendees are mainly from the creative world – actors, producers, fashion designers. At U Fleků, Zurinek says it’s about 60% tourists and 40% locals. Viva Cabaret and Kabaret Falešná Kočička audiences are mostly Czech. Kozák says it’s a range of ages from 25-55.
“Information about us is usually spread by word of mouth,” he said. “It’s for people who are looking for something different, not commercial, not for people looking for serious theater.”
Four very different shows and many reasons to go, according to their reps.
“It’s great entertainment!” said Zurinek. “If you want to have a night full of music, if you want to taste unique Czech dark beer with positive humor and even be part of the show yourself, Kabaret U Fleků is the place to go.”
“We have to keep it classy, dramatic, so people understand we aren’t the other cabaret,” said Jahn. “There is visual style and possibilities, costumes, an interesting theme ,and story line. But number one is it must be entertaining.”
“At the end of the show, the audience and the performers all move to the theater bar and the entertainment continues, now improvised with everyone singing, dancing and having fun,” said Kozák. “It’s very free, very funny and you will drink a lot, stay after to make it a real party.”
“We have a different program every time and we are offering complex amusement for demanding and intelligent people,” said Špidlová. “We are a kind of social event for cultivated hedonists.”
Have you been to the Prague cabaret?