Cabaret is unique in the performing arts as it combines several approaches to entertaining an audience and funnels them into one experience. And, now that spring is returned so too has the Bearded Ladies Cabaret Company. The group and their “Beardmobile” are set to entertain locals once more, albeit with COVID precautions.
“What will cabaret look like in this new moment? We won’t be sitting in your lap and drinking from your cup, but we will be looking you in the eye, talking directly to you, and singing our hearts out,” explained cast member John Jarboe, who has been with the group for over a decade.
Jarboe says the new format will include performers being masked and standing some 20 feet away from the audience.
Cabaret is most often associated with the singing of American songbook standards, Broadway ballads, and torch songs. But, the singing is often peppered with humor or heartbreak, true stories from the performers’ lives, and some droll interaction between singers, pianists and others. If it sounds like a drag show, you’re not off the mark. Many drag performers take inspiration from cabaret acts.
But, cabaret can also be used as a means of political expression. And, the performers of the Bearded Ladies and the Beardmobile are no stranger to delving into politics. During the 2020 election cycle, the group merged forces with the Philadelphia Socialist Alternative, Artists Against Abernathy, and several other other organizations to bring the Beardmobile out for a “Don’t Let Trump Steal the Election” march last November.
“It was amazing to see the truck used as a mobile amplification system for this event,” Jarboe explained. “The merging felt really natural. The Beardmobile is a giant mobile poison cookie, allowing us to literally amplify the message of liberation and the critique of government through this shiny, sexy, very gay, very loud truck.”
Of course, Jarboe isn’t the only cast member of “the Beards.” Their performer list includes a rotating cast including locals such as Anthony Martinez-Briggs (he/they) of ILL DOOTS, Sam Rise (they/them) of Girls Rock Philly, and award-winning performers like Cookie Diorio (he/she), Jess Conda (she/her), Eric Jaffe (they/them), and Brett Robinson (she/her), with Cat Ramirez (they/she) serving as their line producer last August.
They plan to take their “very gay, very loud truck” to all corners of our City of Brotherly Love this May in a series of pop-up performances. The Love Tour, which runs for four weeks, will bring its joy and glitter to North, West, South, and Germantown, with the idea of celebrating the neighborhoods where their performers live. Seeing the troupe bringing their performances beyond the Gayborhood is a striking commentary on how our straight friends, colleagues, and families have come to embrace the LGBTQ community in Philly.
“As a company rooted in queerness, we believe that everything is political and has politics in it,” Jarboe said. “We have been adjacent to activism in our past, trying to uplift and amplify the work of activists and revolutionaries locally, but with the Beardmobile we think we have an opportunity to use our artistic and technical skills in service of activists in the city as well as arts and cultural organizations who are doing meaningful work in their communities.”