Because of the pandemic the actors put in boxes for “Cabaret”, it was thinking outside the box.
Fourteen boxes, to be precise, in a two-story building on the stage.
Each box has its own color-changing LED lights that flood the actor inside. Coupled with the dynamic music and story, this will create a one-of-a-kind spectacle when Cabaret comes to life for eight performances at the Robinson Theater in the Moss Performing Arts Center at Colorado Mesa University in March.
It was a challenge figuring out how to get “cabaret” on stage in interesting and spectacular ways with actors you couldn’t touch, said Jessica Jackson, visiting professor of theater at CMU and director of “cabaret”.
The box structure, which was configured by Matt Schlief, set designer for “Cabaret” and assistant professor for set design at CMU, is open to the audience, but places walls between the actors.
Fortunately, the musical “lends itself to doing something theatrical or unrealistic because those wild cabarets are woven into the story,” Jackson said.
“Cabaret” plays in the party, Berlin’s cabaret culture in the 1930s, said Jackson.
The story takes place through the eyes of an American writer named Clifford Bradshaw, who is drawn into Berlin’s nightlife with drama, flash and music in the Kit Kat Club. The figure also encounters the creeping rise of the NSDAP and fascism in Germany, she said.
“Cabaret” is very entertaining, but tempered for the audience, who knows that the Holocaust and World War II are in the future for the characters in the musical, she said.
Some of the characters refuse to see what’s coming, others can’t see anything they can do about it, she said.
The integration of the story, sound, and movement of the musical into the set’s 14 boxes creates an image that is really intense and beautiful, Jackson said.
A simple kiss or a bad blow had to be choreographed differently, and what she – Amanda Gasoline, assistant professor of dance, was the choreographer for “Cabaret” – invented added even more drama to the production, Jackson said.
For a kiss, they turned to the vocabulary of dance. Two people, foreheads together but on either side of a thin wall, “create some kind of beautiful image that is intimate but separate,” Jackson said.
For a fight scene, the actors punch forward and the actor who receives the beating “can throw his body into the walls of the box he’s in,” Jackson said. “It’s choreographed to be as terrible as it is.”
None of the energy “Cabaret” produces will be suppressed by this staging, but not the full energy produced by an audience will be different, Jackson said.
The limited number of tickets available for each show is far less than the 550-plus seats in the theater – social distancing and masks are required.
The feeling won’t be quite as loud, but the energy and fun will still be there, she said.
“I think people are going to be incredibly impressed,” said Jackson. “Without COVID, I would never have thought to do it that way.”