Interviews

Chicago and Paris Band Together for Cabaret: An Interview with Claudia Hommel

Photo by Charles Glenn.

Chicago Paris Cabaret Connexion is a week-long festival running October 28 through November 4 that brings together cabaret performers from the U.S. and France to explore the artistry and history behind cabaret singing, as well as its current form. The week is full of diverse activities from film screenings, roundtable discussions, master classes and razzle dazzle performances to visits from prominent international songwriters and performers.

The entertainment scheduled for the October 30 concert features performers Spider Saloff, Faith Prince, Cindy Firing, Johnny Rodgers, Denise Tomasello, Claudia Hommel and Cynthia Clarey. Over the weeklong event, workshops will be hosted by master teachers including Spider Saloff, Elizabeth Doyle, Greta Pope, Faith Prince, Elisabeth Howard, Paul L Martin, Clotilde Rullaud, and Christian Pagès.

We had the pleasure of speaking to the festival organizer Claudia Hommel, a well-known fixture in the Chicago and Paris cabaret scene, whose mission it is to enrich both places by cross-pollinating resources and talent pools.

How did you get interested in cabaret?

Portrait by Jen Stanko.

I loved theatre, I loved to sing. Cabaret was the best way to put them together. Cabaret allowed me to sing any song I felt connected to.

What is the definition of cabaret? 

Cabaret is more than a place, a repertoire, or a style. It is a spirit of connection between artists, the public and creation. Although our work starts solo, our creation relies on a community to give it life. The intimacy of cabaret allows us to share the microcosm of our experiences.

How strong is the cabaret tradition in France currently?

It’s hard to find intimate cabaret in France these days. Other than the larger music hall spectacles, what is called cabaret has disappeared from much of the French cultural landscape. Intimate song (as one type of cabaret) exists by virtue of artists and public looking for each other, but its commercial viability has been greatly reduced. The need to revive it, to redefine it for the 21st century is one of the key reasons we launched the Chicago Paris Cabaret Connexion.

Why is the time right now for a festival/conference about cabaret?

In spite of all the “social” media, people are in need of real connections, ways to experience each other “live,” and to find each other in places where speaking the truth about our experiences and feelings is encouraged.

Who is the audience that would be most interested in these multi-faceted offerings?

Anyone willing to take a chance on love. I mean that most sincerely. For example, even though live performance up close and personal may be a new experience, I find high school students surprised and eager to connect with me as a performer the same way their elders do. The audience comes away feeling like we’ve made new friends.

What is the highlight of the week?

You’re asking me to choose among my favorites?! The entire week comprises performers and coaches, singers and historians that I have always wanted to work with, to see their magic up close. While I’m eclectic in my tastes, for sure, there’s something in our lineup that can appeal to just about everyone.

Cabaret Connexion runs from October 28 until November 4 at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont. Ticket prices range from $10 suggested donation to $37 per show. Visit Chicago Cabaret Connexion for more details.

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