Experiencing a cabaret night at home, like Cairo KitKat Club, leaves a lot to be desired: never have I missed so greatly nightlife’s convivial atmospherics — clinking cocktail glassware and conversational snippets overheard from a nearby table or banquette. Yes, the conditions of the pandemic are such that theaters, cabarets, and nightclubs remain shuttered to the public. So it would be cruelly unfair to fully blame HaRaKa Platform, a Cairo-based international platform for performance and movement-based research in Egypt and the Arab region, for this absence. Still, I’ve seen better drag shows via Instagram Live and Twitch, which have navigated these cross-platform technicalities with a fraction of the institutional support this Zoom cabaret got from co-presenter Goethe-Institut New York.
Cairo KitKat Club aims to retell the history of cabaret through the story of Egypt’s KitKat Club, a now-demolished 18th-century Cairo nightclub. Through a series of recorded video performances, viewers are transported between the present and the past, with performers, academics, and yes, even a handmade belly dancer doll reflecting on how nightlife performance has been shaped by borders and pandemics; Berlin’s debaucherous KitKatClub, where one of the performances was staged, is now a rapid COVID-19 testing site.
While I quite liked the tongue-in-cheek PPE stripteases and desktop screen scrolling of declassified M15 files, I resented how distracting it was to watch these video performances with a VLC media player not set in theatre/full screen mode. This was a shame, since a livestream format would technically lend itself greatly to a multimedia project such as this one. So transportive this was not, especially since many of the video performances had a pixelated quality harkening back to mid-2000s YouTube aesthetics, and the organizers failed to consider how audiences at home could interact. (Joe’s Pub, for instance, has been streaming cabaret performances via their YouTube channel, where viewers and artists are encouraged to chat.)
At the end of the performance, master of ceremonies/Cairo KitKat Club director Adham Hafez cheekily quipped, “good thing about Zoom is you can’t throw tomatoes at me!” He’s lucky I took a deep breath, and refrained from keyboard smashing a series of tomato emojis at him.
Cairo KitKat Club continues with a final presentation via Zoom at 5pm EST today, December 14. The online cabaret was directed by Adham Hafez and is presented by HaRaKa Platform, in partnership with Goethe-Institut New York and La Mama Theatre.