Manifesto for a Cabaret Theatre

Otto Julius Bierbaum (1865–1910) was a German novelist and poet in the Provençal troubadour tradition. In his worm-eyed novel Stilpe (1897), he wrote a fictional description of a cabaret theatre that was a major influence on the first literary cabaret in Germany, the Berlin Überbrettl (‘Super-Cabaret’), founded in 1901. Here’s an extract from the theatre’s ‘manifesto’:

Yes, yes: all art and all life, to be reborn, by way of the music hall! . . . We’ll drag everything into our net: painting, versifying, singing, everything that has beauty and the joy of life in it. What is art nowadays? A minuscule, shimmering spider web in a cranny of life. We will spread it as a golden net over all the people, all life. All those who have hitherto avoided the theatre as anxiously as they do the church will come to us. And even though they come only for a bit of entertainment, we’ll show them what they’ve been missing: the true gaiety that enlightens life, the art of dance in words, sounds, colours, contours, gestures. Naked joy in loveliness; wit that takes the world by the ear; fantasy that juggles with the stars and rope-dances on the whiskers of the Cosmos; the philosophy of harmonious laughter; the hurray of a soul in torment . . . ah, we shall work in life itself as the troubadours did! We shall bring a new civilization dancing into the world. We will give birth to the Superman in our halls! We will stand this silly world on its head; crown indecency as the only decency!

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