If you want to discover the difference between opera and cabaret, just take a look at their audiences. An opera crowd will be dressed in their finest, sitting silently and respectfully, on their best behavior; a cabaret crowd will likely be more colorful in both dress and demeanor. But when “Andy: A Popera” debuts next March, those two worlds will collide via an Andy Warhol-themed collaboration between experimental cabaret troupe The Bearded Ladies and Opera Philadelphia.
Bearded Ladies artistic director John Jarboe hopes that he can carry a bit of that raucousness with him onto the bigger stage. “What we’re trying to do in the Bearded Ladies is make live experiences that remind you that they’re live,” he says. “In cabaret, the audience needs to feel like they can respond and that their presence in the room can affect the show. When I’m in a normal play I won’t respond if an audience member coughs or says something, but in cabaret that’s gold. So we’re going to keep that.”
Over the next two weeks, the Bearded Ladies will appear in a more familiar context, as they present an hour-long cabaret piece in the lobby of the Wilma Theater. The show is stage two of the company’s year-long exploration of Warhol which will culminate in the “popera” next year, which will be presented as part of Opera Philadelphia’s “Opera in the City” series. Stage one began with a performance at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in May and continued with a series of pop-up performances in non-traditional spaces like grocery stores and public parks.
“Going into a Whole Foods dressed as a Campbell’s Soup can and trying to buy yourself was really delightful,” Jarboe says. "We also had a Marilyn Monroe buying kale at the Clark Park Farmer’s Market.”
The idea of paying homage to Warhol was a natural one for the Beards, Jarboe says, because “he feels like a cabaret artist of the visual arts in terms of how he appropriates known quantities and uses them in new ways.” The cabaret piece will feature a Warhol expert named Dr. Peter Never giving a lecture as he opens one of Warhol’s famous “time capsules” — boxes of random items and mementoes that he accumulated during his lifetime.
“We started with a very simple question, which is ‘Why is Andy so big?’” Jarboe explains. “Is it through repetition? Is it through associating yourself with big things that already exist like Coke bottles and Campbell’s Soup cans? So each object in the box corresponds to a musical number or a character who comes forward that has some kind of lesson or non-lesson to offer Dr. Never about Warhol’s bigness.”