Montmatre & Me

On a street called Rue St. Vincent, there sits at the corner Au Lapin Agile – the famous historical cabaret venue in Montmatre, Paris. I discovered this cottage on a walk of the neighbourhood. I am currently residing in an apartment – small – studio – compact but enough and more importantly, close by to all the things that have brought me to Paris.

The little place, Au Lapin Agile, was a ‘to-do’ in the schedule but i failed to recognise its place in the history of my work. It wasn’t until I did further research that I became aware of who’s space it actually was. There was Piscasso, and later down the track there was Charlie Chaplin. This place was in hot competition with Le Chat Noir. One of the many stories delivered tonight.

I was no ‘plus one’ tonight but it did not have me feeling slightly left out because to go to such a place, one does not need a crew or other to feel ‘together’ in public. When you arrive (you must make sure you have a reservation), they take your coat and escort you to a wooden stool at a table where you will find many other locals or some tourists (that tend to flash their cameras many a time in the night). You are then offered a complimentary cherry liquor to ease yourself into the beginning of a glorious chorus, chanting local French chansons and folk songs from the wooden table in the middle of the room. There are about ten of them, two women. They are dressed in black, some gypsy and others tending to the appearance of previous cabaret ancestors.

The room is like a cosy tavern, kind of like the gypsy tavern – the kind I imagine described in Carmen, or an Irish pub way out out of town. The walls are dressed with paintings, and sculptuors, and framed photos from way back when. The ceiling lights are draped with a red fringe to add that special ambient sultry touch. An upright piano is to your left, right next to the entrance curtain.

The performance varied, from chorus, to chorus with soloists, to solo performance, duet, female with accordian, man with guitar x3, comedian, poetry recital, and solo piano. My favourite part was the chosen repertoire. All the composers mentioned in my previous post were performed tonight. More importantly, there was a French chanteuse in the group who performed Brassens, Brel and Piaf on voice and accordian. No Barbara, but what I needed was there. She was powerful, she was sexy, she had all the qualities I needed to witness in order to play my cards right with my newly discovered repertoire.

Two other favourite things about this place was that firstly, all performers never appear above the audience. They remain always at the tables, on the chairs, feet placed on the same ground as the audience. There is no stage, there is no microphone, there is the occasional spotlight for emphasis but all other times, there is dimmed lighting. The reason for this is (leading onto my third favourite thing), the audience is encouraged to sing along. All the songs are known, and therefore they are happy for you to join and sing, swining you beer from side to side, shouting and whistling, echoing and banging, whatever you like to do with your family or friends drunk around a piano, this is the time and place to do exactly that. Therefore by having performance at same level with the audience, the audience never feel afraid or embarrassed to play a part – their part.

It’s about PLAY – connection, interaction, and emotion. All performers reveal the realities of their stories, their songs, and the politics.

You are not aware of where you are in the world – in that moment between 9pm-2am you are timeless and placeless. All that you aware of is that you are living in  some world. And it’s different for everyone.

Right then and there, it was just me and the echoes of the poets of Montmatre.