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Dead medium: Shadow theatre
From: (Bruce Sterling)
Source(s): CABARET by Lisa Appignanesi. Grove Press, Inc. New York. Originally published in Great Britain in 1975 by

Studio Vista. First published in the United States in

1976 by Universe Books. First Evergreen Edition 1984
ISBN 0-394-62177-8, LC 84-47500

pages 21-24

"But the true center of the new Chat Noir was the

Theatre d'Ombres, the shadow theatre, a brain child of

Henri Riviere which put all the Paris beau monde into a

state of wonder by the brilliance of its technique and

artistic innovation. The Theatre d'Ombres was a discovery

in the true cabaret spirit. It was a genre which could be

used for a variety of effects and incorporated all genres

into a small scale replica of Wagner's 'total art work'


"Using an ingenious combination of shadow and light

play, decor painted or superimposed on glass and paper,

cut-outs and Japanese-style puppets, Riviere created

unparalleled pre-cinematographic effects on the screen-

stage. These were underlined by musical accompaniment,

with a choir of sometimes up to twenty people backstage,

piano or organ; by narration, either of the story-telling

or satirical commentary kind; and by acting. The

diversity of the shadow plays does credit to the eclectic

black cat. One could pass without transition from the

mysticism of Georges Fragerolle's *L'Enfant prodigue,* to

Maurice Donnay's Athenian drama, *Phryne,* to the parodied

naturalism of Louis Morin's, *Pierrot pornographe,* to

the heroic epic, *Epopee,* which put Paris once again into

a Napoleonic mood of patriotic jubilation. *Epopee,* a

military play in two acts and fifty tableaux, was created

by Caran d'Ache, one of the epoch's leading poster

artists. Witnesses say that some of the shadow plays

equalled in beauty Turner's impressionistic effects.

"One kind of shadow play consisted of a satirical

montage of current events, *piece bonemontee,* a newsreel

with a difference. Salis (((Rodolphe Salis, impresario of

the "Chat Noir" cabaret))) (...) would improvise a

commentary, drawing in references to any notables in the

audience. He had respect for nothing and no one, and

with an insolent loquacity, Salis would allow his sharp

sense of the actual to demolish bankers and the treasury,

politicians and parliamentarianism, 'the grand monde, the

demi-monde, tout le monde...' In this room, with its

profligacy of cats in diverse positions and styles, Salis

cast the mould for what was to become the cabaret

tradition of the conferencier."

(((The Chat Noir cabaret was founded in 1881 and the

shadow-play seems to have faded circa 1900. -- bruces)))