WOMEN IN GERMAN

ANNUAL CABARET

A BRIEF HISTORY

by

Susan Cocalis*

 

*I need help with the details. Please contact me at cocalis@german.umass.edu to contribute to this project.

When Women in German started holding its first annual conferences at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio in 1976, Saturday evening was reserved for a women-only event, consisting of a musical presentation/sing-along led by Nancy Vedder-Shults and Naomi Stephan. followed by a party & dance. Photo link: 1976 in Oxford Ohio This carried over into the conferences held in Racine, Wisconsin. Photo link: Racine, Wisconsin 1979

It wasn't until the Wig Conference was held on Thompson's Island (in the Boston Harbor) that an actual cabaret tradition started, replete with improvised scenes, rudimentary costumes, tag-sale wigs, and props. Since Boston was within car-travel range of the Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Maine contingents, it was possible to transport such items to the island. The first group of WIG-Irregulars included myself, Jeanette Clausen, Helen Cafferty, Bunny Weiss, Jeannine Blackwell, Martha Wallach, Barbara Wright, The WIG conferences held in Western MassachusettsMiriam Frank, Elke Frederiksen, and others. It was squeezed into the program as the last event on Saturday evening and consisted of improvised scenes depicting stages in the career of the "women in German" (pre-academic employment, graduate school milestones, job interviews, the classroom, faculty meetings, conference papers, tenure & promotion, etc.. One notable scene included Elke Frederiksen as a model for Neiman Marcus with Martha Wallach as a customer; another starred Bunny Weiss as a misogynist department chair, while Martha Wallach was an imposing presence--in her son's three-piece suit--as a lecherous dean. The following year, because our conference guests were Helga Schuetz and Irmtraud Morgner, Jeannine Blackwell suggested a Faustine-theme, including a tam-pact with the devil and a signature in blood. And then we were off and running. I do not have any photographs of this conference and would welcome (and post) any contributions.

The tradition was continued in style when the annual conference moved to Portland, Oregon in 1985, and the basic group was enriched by the formidable acting skills of Dinah Dodds, Jan Emerson, Anna Kuhn, Julia Wagner, Luise Pusch, Ruth-Ellen Joeres, Susanne Kord, and others. Although there was no formal cabaret in 1985--Naomi Stephan had stepped back in at the piano until scenes spontaneously combusted --the improvised scenes all referred to topics of papers or workshops, new terms in critical theory (which were usually stolen from Leslie Adelson, with occasional forays into the phrases of Sabine Hake or Sara Lennox), or the general theme of the conference (in this case "Film" + 10th anniversary of Women in German. [Summary & Photo link to Portland 1985] This interweaving of references to the actual conference into a larger context (academic, political, cultural) became a hallmark of the WIG Cabaret in subsequent years. The following year (1986), the WIG Irregulars put together a "generic" bourgeois tragedy on Saturday night. Jan Emerson had rounded up props and costumes displayed on the photos. [Summary & Photo link to Portland 1986] The 1987 Cabaret varied in form from the previous years in that there were only two characters in an extended "interview" and "reading" featuring the Turkish-German writer "Esel Wottading" (Anna Kuhn) and moderated by Heidrun Suhr (Susan Cocalis). Our real guest never materialized that evening, so we took over the Saturday evening slot so as not to disappoint the conference attendees. [Summary & Photo link to Portland 1987]

I could only be present at one of the St. Croix, Minnesota WIG Conferences (1988-90), where we introduced the self-help group FA (Feminists Anonymous) and held an open meeting to educate the audience. There were cabarets at the other two conferences: help!  New, invaluable cast members: Rick Mc Cormick, Dagmar Lorenz, Barbara Hyams, Helga Thorson, Lisa Roetzel, Liz Mittmann, Julie Klassen. [Summary link to Minnesota 1989]

The cabaret performances of the three conferences held in Great Barrington, Massachusetts (1991-93) all had political themes: the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings , the 1992 presidential elections, and women's health care reforms. In addition to the two NPR radio personalities Croakie Roberts & Nina Tittenberg (Jeanette Clausen) and Susan Stamburp (Susan Cocalis), various political identities were established that have endured --or that the audiences have endured-- until the present day. Rick Mc Cormick has hat a noteable run as Bill Clinton, Lisa Roetzel will remain forever linked in our minds with Tippsy Gore, along with Liz Mittman as Al Gore, and Dinah Dodds, Helen Fehervary, Margaret Hampton, and Martha Wallach as a veriety of (lecherous?) lawmakers or judges like Senato Kennedick, Senator Peckerwood, Thomas von Klarenz, Diane Fineline, and Carol Mostly-Black. Hillarious Sodom Clinton (Sarah Paulson) also joined the proceedings. [Summary and Photo link to W. Mass 1991], [Summary and Photo link to W. Mass 1992], and [Summary and Photo link to W. Mass 1993]. New additions to the cast included: Sandy Frieden, Sara Paulson, Katrin Sieg, Helen Fehevary, Julie Klassen, and Ruth Klueger in a cameo appearance.

In St. Augustine Florida, 1994-96, the political theme continued. We finally persuaded Ruth-Ellen Joeres, Sieglinde Lug, Denis Sweet, Susanne Zantop, Joey Horsley, and Sara Lennox to appear in the cabaret, in addition to future irregulars like Erika Berroth, Stfhanie Ohnesorg, Kathrin Bower, Marjanne Gooze, Elisabeth Krimmer, Anne Krueger, and Beret Norman. The topics here ranged from the Clinton-Dole presidential race, to interdisciplinary academic life, to a talk show. In 1994 there was also the first outdoor cabaret--poolside!--I was not at all of these conferences, but I have the summaries from the WIG Newsletter: [Summary & Photo link to Florida 1994], [Summary & Photo link to Florida 1995], and [Summary & Photo link to Florida 1996.]

The 1997-99 Wig Cabarets performed at Aptos, California, were complex creations based on themes of the respective conference, national politics (especially the Monica Lewinsky scandal), and pop cultural phenomena (murder mysteries, the Spice Girls, etc.) In 1997 a transgendered, transnational, transsexual translator was found murdered in a Berlin apartment house. The police were called in and they interrogated all residents and guests (Tipper Gore!) to ascertain the guilty party, which the audience then chose. Marjorie Gelus made her acting debut here as "The Collective Mammary," the regulars were present, and Mareike Herrmann, Sabine von Mehring, Leslie Batchelder, and Heike Henderson joined us, and some very old-timers like Helen Cafferty, who had been a hit of the Thompson's Island cabarets, returned to our ranks.[Summary and Photo Link to California 1997] I wasn't present at the 1998 cabaret, so I reprinted the summary from the November 1998 Wig Newsletter. There is no author listed and no mention of who played what parts, although one speculates that Rick McCormick contributed to a lusty William Jefferson von Goethe, that Jeanette Clausen might have played the role of Jeanette Wander, and that Lisa Roetzel might have had a hand in the Speise Girls.[Summary: California 1998] There was no summary in the November 1999 WiG Newsletter, so I have no information or photos on this cabaret. [Summary & Photo Link to California 1999]

In the 2000 WiG Cabaret, held in (rainy!) Arizona, after the thunderstorms finally abated and the participants were allowed to leave the airport, the 2000 political campaign and election was restructured into a format more appealing to the American public: a reality show format. We deposited the candidates, their wives, several local and literary figures on an island near the Rio Rico Resort and let the audience decide, Survivor-style, who would be the last candidate standin. This cabaret was particularly notable for premiering Wendy Arons's uncanny imitation of George Bush, a role that she has been asked to reprise in subsequent cabarets. The proceedings were presided over by the Queen of the island, a Marge Simponesque Jeannine Blackwell in the now traditional blue Presidential Wig, and the events were reported by our loyal correspondent Nina Tittenberg (Jeanette Clausen). Al Gore (Susan Cocalis) and Tipper (Lisa Roetzel) were fined by the FCC later for the "Kiss" that shocked the world and cost Gore the election. [Summary & Photo Link to Arizona 2000] There are no reports on the WIG Cabarets for 2001 or 2002. I also don't have any photos.

General Butler State Park, Kentucky: The 2003 Cabaret, in deference to WiG members who work in the area of pre-20th-century German literature, was a Femme Gericht trial: The People v. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The trial was being broadcast live on NPR, with judicial affairs correspondent Nina Tittenberg providing running commentary on the events.After numerous complaints of sexual harassment, more specifically "groping," the Femme Gericht convened to try the Governator once and for all. In addition to three wise judges, and a surprise appearance from Justitia herself, former presidential candidate Al Gore was the prosecuting attorney, with Rick McCormick as counsel for the defense. A series of witnesses, provided damning testimony, and the judges delivered a guilty verdict as expected. As the participants were starting to disperse, President W flew in and offered a presidential pardon for his fellow Republican. The Femme Gericht was not amused. New cabaret members this year were: Katharina Altpeter-Jones, Bethany Wiggin, Beverly Weber, Rachel Salyer, Jill Smith, Maria Stehle, Gundolf Graml, Dick Langston. [Summary & Photo Link to Kentucky 2003] The WiG Cabaret for 2004 also took the form of a trial, but this time it was a hearing conducted by Dick Cheney and John Asscroft on violations to the newly active retroactive Patriotic Immigration Act. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Theresa Heinz-Kerry, and Elfriede Jelinek were all brought before the court at the Ronald Reagan Detention Center, to the delight of the security moms who were providing musical interludes for the proceedings. In a surprise ending... [Summary & Photo Link to Kentucky 2004]. New cast members this year were Amy Young, who led the security moms in song, Barbara Kosta, Rachel Freudenberg, Allie Merley, Kyle Frackman, and Brenda Bethman.