A woman looks into the mirror and finds the bizarre reflections creating her own extravagant cast of thousands, bouncing from missionary to bag lady to her own mother and down the Burger King garbage chute into Wonderland.
Written by Conrad Bishop in collaboration with Camilla Schade
Directed by Conrad Bishop, performed by Camilla Schade
Two acts; 1 woman, unit set.
Produced by Independent Eye, premiering Dec. 4, 1981, at the Eye Theatre Works (Lancaster, PA); on tour 1981-86 with extended runs at Walnut Street Theatre (Philadelphia, PA) and The Theatre Project (Baltimore, MD), and performances in PA, MD, NC, NY, VA and WI. 86 performances.
From the program:
One Sunday in November, we sat around an ashtray-and-coffee-cup-littered table in a Baltimore backstage greenroom with a half dozen friends: actors, playwrights, various old and recent colleagues. All full of love for one another and anxiety about the future of theatre. Why theatre? Is it doomed? What’s its place in a world of pesticides that don’t stop the proliferation of pests? But the fact is, despite our paranoia, that live theatre does still exist, has survived plague, moralistic mania, movies—it’s even survived respectability. Le Cabaret de Camille is one stage of our exploring that Why. We believe that if theatre does still have a function today, it’s to bring us into the intense presence of another person, like an act of love. So we invite you into one intense presence. During our becoffeed Baltimore reunion, my young son wrote out a bunch of paper slips, circulated among us and handed them out, declaring, “This is a ticket to Here, Right Now.” We found it was true. We offer you the same.
—R.H. Gardner, The Baltimore Sun
Camilla Schade’s performance in the Theatre Project’s new show is one of the most remarkable I’ve ever seen. And it is even more remarkable because it is so personal. . . . .
Mr. Bishop and Ms. Schade are to be congratulated for creating an exquisite work abounding with warmth and joy. It is usually funny, at times touching and always brilliant.
—Karen Carnabucci, Lancaster Intelligencer-Journal
It’s difficult to explain in a few words just what kind of theater the show is. It’s not a Fulton Opera House musical, nor is it a standard “happy ending” show. Struggling for a quick definition, Conrad Bishop finally calls it “fantasy vaudeville.”
Ms. Schade’s highly professional performance begs for comparisons—but only to give a reference point to attempt to define this kind of theater. Fans of comedian George Carlin are reminded of some of his skits. Others may bring up the names of comedienne Lily Tomlin, or Gilda Radner of “Saturday Night Live.”
But all that misses the point, especially considering the message—or one of the messages—of the show.
Le Cabaret de Camille is basically about the search for self. Ms. Schade begins seated before a mirror, and she asks the eternal question, “Who am I?” She finds that she is everyone, and no one.
She creates herself as star, supporting cast, stage crew, jazz band, and yes, critic. She is frantic, loud, sweet, serious, soft, silly, brave.
Essentially, Ms. Schade takes the audience on an emotional roller coaster, switching from reality to fantasy to reality to fantasy—whatever they are anyway. It works because she gives her all, every single minute.
—Lisa Noro, The Capitol Times, Harrisburg, PA
The sparsely decorated stage suddenly came alive as we became captured by Schade’s capacity for comedy and the familiarity of her characters and their settings. We were taken to the post office and of course made to stand in line. We were taken to the African jungle and to a carnival midway, all with the greatest of ease due to Schade’s character impersonations. She had us laughing as she became a housewife doing the dishes who enters a Walter Mitty world of daydreams. We became speculative when she transformed into her mother. We related to and reminisced about her times as a teenager. . . . .
What was so interesting and exciting about Le Cabaret was that Schade took us down the personal road to Camilla. These were her actual daydreams, thoughts and fears. She was not just acting—she was being.
—Patricia Ward, Philadelphia Welcomat
The highest compliment I can give a play may well be returning to see it again with friends, which is what I did with the Independent Eye’s Le Cabaret de Camille. This one-woman show, performed by Camilla Schade, has such high intensity I had to see it again to make sure one woman could really create as many involving characters as I thought I saw the first time.
Now I’ve got proof! Theater can be all-involving, life-verifying, an act of love and a good time all at once.
As we watch Camilla—spin into a wild jungle-woman fantasy while washing the dishes; try to find the perfect introduction for who she really is; chase an imaginary daughter through a carnival midway; become the freaks in a sideshow; hold up a line at the post office as a bigoted, lonely old woman; even portray her own mother—we know we’re watching one woman’s psyche dancing brilliantly around the stage . . .
Le Cabaret de Camille is a wonderful reaffirmation of the potential of theater to transport us out of our seats into other world by the simplest of means—a single person opening the door.
—Pamela Purdy, Baltimore City Paper
In this age of television, women who might have been monologists of the old school (Lily Tomlin, for instance) are made to lean too hard on costumes, props, and (especially) makeup. In the theatre the traditional monologue is an act of bravura. You flaunt the fact that you can make your transformations with very little artificial aid.
Put on a hat, and Camilla is a clubwoman urging the ladies to “approach this evening of fun and entertainment in the spirit of Calvary.” A gray coat and she’s Mabel, who believes “It’s your own people do you dirt.” Put two chairs together, and she’s sinking into a fantasy of herself as a white woman going native to the beat of jungle drums. Line four chairs up, and she’s fallen through a trash bin at Burger King into a crazy carnival.
At worst, Camilla Schade, like a guitar hero, merely flashes her technique at us. At best, propped up only by her own talent and Conrad Bishop’s evocative words, she transports us to Wonderland.