The concept of dinner theater gets turned on its head when Philadelphia performing artist, writer and director John Jarboe — the boss of The Bearded Ladies experimental cabaret company — does his first “History of Cabaret Spectacular.” This culinary and performative journey with FringeArts and its Le Peg restaurant will offer a series of themed meals prepared by Chef Peter Woolsey, covering the cuisine and cabaret of Paris, Zurich, Berlin and more. In other Jarboe news, his Bearded Ladies perform a 50th anniversary tribute to Barbra Streisand's "Color Me Barbra" with “Color Me Bearded” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art beginning Feb. 1.
Before discussing FringeArts, how did the whole “Color Me Bearded” concept come about? Are you such a Streisand fanatic you had to find someplace grand to make a worthy queer playground for her?
I'm not really a Barbra fanatic. I'm more of a Judy [Garland] and Ethel [Merman] homo. But I love the PMA, and I love what Barbra did there. At a time when museum attendance was down in the late '60s she claimed the museum for herself, for someone who, although famous, still was a Brooklyn-born Jewish girl. We are really using Barbra and the memory of “Color Me Barbra” to explore accessibility in the museum. I also think at political times like these, we need camp and joy. It's gonna be really campy.
What’s your agenda for Bearded Ladies in 2017?
We’re continuing to reach out to the various arts and community organizations in the city, using the power and directness of cabaret to put people in actual [not virtual] conversation with each other. Cabaret is radical because at the simplest level it is a live experience that still prioritizes liveness — insists on it. I’m working with the Beards to connect to our history, to learn who the cabaret artists and queer artists of the past were and how they balanced poison and cookie in their work. I want to enter this next four years armed with history.
Cool. History definitely figures into the FringeArts and Le Peg spectacular. Are you a big eater?
I'm a big cook. Julia Child is my spirit animal. So I tend to eat in or sneak into other people's dinner parties.
Did you grow up a big fan of dinner theater? Philly has had some great concept-specific rooms in its time.
Food makes family and community out of anyone. So does really good art. Put them together and you can really move people. I learned from my friend and collaborator Rebecca Wright that if you feed people during rehearsal, the art goes deeper and more personal. I cook for my rehearsals. I might as well cook for the audience, too. I think the same rules apply. I want to be eating with my audience. I want them to forget what a dinner roll is and what's a song.
How did you work with Woolsey to come up with a dining experience?
I love Peter. It will be a gift to work with someone of his caliber. Ahh, Dada and Zurich is the strangest part of the show. Let's just say there is sauce involved.
What are you most curious to taste?
“History of Cabaret Spectacular,” Thursday, Jan. 19, 7 p.m., FringeArts, 140 N. Columbus Blvd. (corner of Columbus Boulevard and Race Street); four course meal with wine pairing: $75; fringearts.com
“Color Me Bearded” starts Feb. 1, 6 p.m. Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway; $25 ($20 PMA members; $10 PMA artist & atudent members). philamuseum.org