Cabaret kicks off

Performers and organizers pool local talents for eclectic genderbending amateur show

Jacky Pearl, one of the Mascara Cabaret’s organizers, enjoys the fun and sexy side of drag performance, one of cabaret’s components.
Jacky Pearl, one of the Mascara Cabaret’s organizers, enjoys the fun and sexy side of drag performance, one of cabaret’s components.

Cabaret conjures up a hazy picture of a smoke-filled nightclub, a circus of performers oozing seduction and an enchanted and intoxicated audience. While its modern embodiment retains the sass, it ups the politics, setting the stage for a variety of acts from spoken word to tap-dancing to fire-spinning with playful gender-bending and sex worker-positive themes.

Variety shows drawing from cabaret and burlesque are popular in more urban areas such as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, but a local group interested in cabaret decided to bring the show to town by drawing on the community’s performers.

The local variety amateur show, Mascara, will conjure its own version of cabaret when it hits the Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre tomorrow night. The product of more than a year’s worth of thought and meetings by the organizers will bring together local performers and draw a crowd looking for something outside of Kingston’s typical entertainment.

Organizer Jacky Pearl, MA ’08, and his friends began talking last February about putting together a cabaret-style show to see what would arise.

“It kind of came out of conversations about performance and community that I was having with some friends. We also talked about the tradition of cabaret and how Kingston, to our knowledge, hasn’t really seen a lot of classic cabaret numbers like burlesque or drag,” Pearl said.

Cabaret doesn’t strive to be a cohesive show; it’s a mish-mash of styles and performances united under the freedom of expression.

“Cabaret is kind of interesting terminology because the amateur variety shows or those kinds of performances happen all over the place. But one of the things I really like about cabaret is that I can also combine traditions,” Pearl said.

“Mascara tries to blend traditions of the elementary school talent show and the carnival and sex workers’ rights, politics and queer cabaret.”

Mascara’s your school talent show all grown up and having fun with sexuality. Burlesque and drag, though often staples of amateur, sex-positive variety shows are only a couple of facets of the show. On Saturday, performances will include drag shows, burlesque, juggling, poetry, dancers, music and possibly a fire-spinning spectacle—perhaps with LED lights instead. The performer-audience connection is a crucial part of the show.

“[Burlesque] is a choreographed seduction between audience and performer,” Pearl said.

“I think it’s very accessible and political and sexy at the same time.”

The drag element adds another dimension to the show. Traditional drag and non-traditional drag will be present. The show will be a space where people can genderfuck—play around with gender, make it queer and expand and transcend defintions, Pearl said.

“The funny thing about the drag world of drag kings and drag queens is they’re very revolutionary, very challenging, exciting and fun and, really, this thing that I’m calling non-traditional drag doesn’t exclude that at all. But it sort of also opens up more avenues for playful performance.”

At the moment Mascara’s just a one-time show, but if it piques enough interest, it could become an annual tradition of its own.

“It could probably be something people remember for a long time even if it doesn’t happen again soon. But certainly there’s potential for it to be a recurring event like a yearly or bi-yearly event.”

With enough support, the volunteer-run Mascara could make a mark in Kingston both politically and personally.

“My hope is that people will go home together from it,” Pearl said.

“And that it’s an inspiration to suit people’s intimate lives or their political lives as well.” Mascara begins March 1 at Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre. Doors open at 9 p.m. Tickets are on a sliding scale from $5 to $10 at the door.

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