Written by Carrie Beth Wallace
Images via Springer Opera House
Georgia's historic state theatre opened a new production of Cabaret that's put a fresh spin on the famous musical that took the world by storm in 1966. The local production is directed by Keith McCoy, who is in his first season as the new Artistic Director for the Springer Opera House.
We sat down with McCoy and company resident actress Larren Woodward, who plays Sally Bowles in the show, for a behind-the-scenes look into what makes this production of Cabaret unique. Read on to learn all about the cast's preparation of this show's intense material, what to expect as an audience member, and what both McCoy and Woodward hope people glean from experiencing Cabaret at the Springer this season.
Q: Let's start with you, Keith. What is the most exciting thing about this production?
A: (Keith) This is a great take on a classic, but it's definitely also a fresh take. What we're doing is creating this atmosphere where the audience is up close and personal. The Dot (McClure Theatre) is already an intimate space, and we've made it even more so for this show. You are just right in the middle of the action, and it means whatever the actor is feeling is happening right in your face.
Many times in theatre, there's that barrier – referred to as the fourth wall – between the audience and the actors. This production is not like that at all. You truly experience everything that the actors are experiencing in this space. It provides the potential for a huge impact on you as an audience member, and encourages you to feel things a little bit more if you're sitting right in front.
Q: Larren, how have you prepared to play the role of Sally with the audience's close proximity in mind? What has it been like to prepare an intense piece like this where you are going to have very close-up, and different audience interactions every night? There's got to be a mental aspect to your preparations. What can you share with us?
A: (Larren)This show lends itself to this intimate space because a lot of what the Emcee and Sally do together is a ton of crowd work. WE've done a lot to get prepared for that. The one person you pick to interact with could be a team player one night, but we also have to know they may be very shy. It's all about adapting on the fly. Is that a person who's going to give a good reaction or maybe kind of let it go? I'm interested to see how it all plays out. Being prepared for anything is definitely the name of the game. I'm personally very excited for this show.
Q: Keith, can you tell us about the set?
A: (Keith) Yes! My idea for the set, was that I wanted it to look like a dilapidated building. This is a cautionary tale because when you look at ruined buildings, you see something that once was. In many ways, it's beautiful. But it's also clear something happened that took this thing from being special to being a ruin.
I really wanted something that looked like it was beautiful once, but failed because we didn't take care of it. I wanted people left questioning what happens to this place after the night ends.
There's a very specific time play where this show takes place. I wanted to honor that while also not making it feel dated. I wanted to try to create something a little timeless, because sometimes when people hear 'this is a period piece' they think this isn't true history. Sure, Cabaret is a show that became a movie, but this is definitely a show that has historical facts within it. I wanted to ensure we pull that out a little bit more and set it in a timeless period where we see that some of these themes, some of these messages, some of these things are still happening today. Our set designer Max Young did an incredible job achieving all of these aspects for us.
Q: Larren, can you talk about the types of challenges that come with this show? Sally is an intense role.
A: (Larren) Yes. This is a very intense role. Without giving too much away, Sally really goes through a journey. So much so that, um, Rebecca Gossett, who's kind of our HR person, actually came to me and said, "Hey, are you familiar with the process of how to de-roll?" That is an actor's process of stepping out of a character, and it's really important to be able to achieve so you can step away in a healthy way. Rebecca was wonderful and helped me to think through what that needed to look like for me in this show.
The challenge has been being true to the difficult things my character goes through, and being emotionally raw and vulnerable and those scenes, but leaving it at work. It can be really easy to let the character weigh you down and carry the emotional state you're in on stage home with you.
There have definitely been times I've been more emotionally raw throughout the day. I'll see a video of a puppy and it makes me cry more than usual. Sure. But, I am definitely focused on keeping the lightness of the character to outweigh the darkness.
Q: Can you elaborate a little more on that please?
A: (Larren) Sure. Sally is a party girl. She's a lot of fun. But she also goes through a devastating change at the end. In researching this show fo the role, I learned Sally is based on a real person from history named Jean Ross. It's been really important to research her life and honor it through the way I portray the character, but also keep a wall up as an actor so I can still de-roll at the end of every show. I'm lucky to have such an incredible team I'm working with on this show that have made it possible. It's been a very healthy, supported experience for us all.
Q: What do you hope people take away from this show?
A: (Keith) Well, first and foremost this is a great story. And not just a great story – this is a great production of it. And again, yes, it's a cautionary tale, but it holds a message that can help us be better in our everyday lives. And really, that's what theatre comes down to isn't it? I try to look at at everything I direct from that point of view. How can I make my audience walk out better, more enlightened, maybe with a little more empathy, than they did when they walked in? Cabaret is a perfect show for that. This is a show that makes you laugh, it makes you cry, you sing along, you tap your foot. But if you're truly open, you can walk away with a whole new understanding of people as well. Maybe even a whole new understanding of yourself. And that is what theatre does for us at its best.
A: (Larren) For me, it's that even though the show is set in a time period that's almost a hundred years ago, it's more topical than ever. There's a line that sticks with me: "If you're not against this, you might as well be for it." Without getting into too much detail, there's plenty going on in our modern history that easily applies to that statement. It's no secret that over the past several years, our morality's been tested. Many of us have wrestled with the question of whether or not we're standing on the right side of history, and this is a show that encourages us to face that concept head-on.
There's a quote I love that says, "theater comforts the disturbed and disturbs the comfortable." And I think Cabaret will show you which side are you on. Are you blissfully blissfully ignorant, or are you someone who has seen some things and can relate to the moral of this story? This could be cathartic for the disturbed, but for the comfortable, I hope it shakes them up and makes them think about how and where they are with things. This is a show that will make you want to stand up for what's right. That's the cautionary element of this tale that I think is so applicable to today.
So yeah, Cabaret is a toe tapper and a lot of fun. But I think the impression people have of Cabaret is, "Oh, people in sexy costumes and fun songs" but the reality is that it's got a very stirring message at the core of it. This show tackles humanity. I really hope people hear that message and wrestle with how it applies to them long after they leave the theatre.
A: (Keith) I agree, and I think it's important to point out that the first thing we say to you in the show is "Welcome." We welcome you into this world, and want you to feel at home here. Then? We start to have a conversation. And hopefully through that conversation, we all listen and learn something by the time the show is over. But first, we have to welcome you in first and you have to let us in – in order to hear and receive the message Cabaret has for us all. ◾️
If You Go:
Where: Springer Opera House
When: October 19 - 29, 2023
More to Know: ADULT THEMES, ALCOHOL, STRONG LANGUAGE, SMOKING - SUGGESTED FOR ADULTS AND TEENS 17+
Special for this production: Book a VIP Table!
For each performance we will be offering a very limited number of VIP TABLES. Each table seats two and includes a complimentary bottle of wine. (VIP TABLES not available for Sunday performances.)