Sunday, April 3, 2011

Cabaret: Heroine's Journey

Every day folk heroes and heroines are people – real or imagined - who have faced and overcome internal and/or external challenges. Most people are familiar with the obstacles: fear, greed, anger, laziness, etc. There are countless songs, stories, rhymes, games, legends and movies about how these folk go on a quest – a journey - to find their destiny. They leave the familiar world behind (i.e., village or family) and discover along the way that the world is more complicated than they originally thought it was and that it takes character to be able to learn how to hold onto one’s self and one’s values. Those values, of course, are the morals and ethics of a particular culture at a certain time and place.

Sally Bowles, the star of the popular Broadway musical "Cabaret" is a classic example of a relatively contemporary heroine’s journey. The 19 year old English actress and cabaret singer goes to Berlin with dreams of stardom. It is against the backdrop of Berlin in the 1930’s (Nazi Germany) that she clings to her dreams despite the all too real fears she and her newly-found friends and acquaintances must live with each day.

I recently interviewed award winning actress Marjorie Rose Taylor about Sally Bowles and about the role of theater – performing arts – in the folklore landscape. Taylor, a North San Francisco Bay Area resident and graduate of The American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City, plays the role of Sally Bowles in the 6th Street Playhouse (Santa Rosa) production of "Cabaret" which runs April 15-May 15:

Q: Sally Bowles is, in many ways, a folk heroine. She takes a journey far away from home in the hopes of finding stardom. What character traits do you think a performer needs to possess in order to take such a journey?

A: The first thing that comes to mind is drive and determination. Especially in Sally’s case, she has a complete belief in herself and will stop at nothing to achieve her goals.

Q: In general what character traits/values are important in theater?

A: Accountability, imagination and also flexibility in working with an ensemble and your director. In the case of “Cabaret,” it was really important and exciting for me to immerse myself in all the different versions of the story and the play as well as different resources regarding the time and the history in which “Cabaret” takes place.

Q: Set in 1930 Berlin as the Nazis are rising to power, the play focuses on nightlife at the seedy Kit Kat Klub and revolves around Sally Bowles and her relationship with the young American writer Cliff Bradshaw. What relevance does this story line have for today’s theater goers?

A: It has such an extreme relevance for today’s theater goers. We’re in a time of economic recession and yet we’re still grasping on so tightly to dreams we had. And thinking of the characters in “Cabaret” – they’re not perfect - they have their flaws…but are still clinging to their dreams despite the impending doom.

Today we are at the breaking point of change, with world politics and the economy, somebody coming to see “Cabaret” today will certainly see the possibilities in the reflection.

Q: Do you think this play tells/shows us anything about our humanity?If so, what?

A: The most interesting thing I see is that these characters (particularly the Kit Kat Klub performers) teach us about humanity because they are putting up a fight until the end of the show - they are not giving into the fear. And they’re choosing to stand strong and hold on to themselves, despite the world crashing down around them.

Q: What attracted you to this particular play?

A: What has always attracted me to this play is the completely three-dimensional story with its brilliant music score of classic songs and great book. What you get is a musical that isn’t all fluff. It’s a musical that shocks, titillates, potential scares and definitely makes you think.

Q: What role does theater play in our lives/society/culture?

A: Just as the Emcee says in “Cabaret” - “leave your trouble outside, in here, life is beautiful.” The theater provides a haven for people to leave their daily worries behind and to enter a space a suspended disbelief – to be entertained, to learn and to be inspired and provoked.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about your own journey as an actress?

A: I’m still very much on the journey. I’m compiling my training and I’m approaching things in a different way. When I was a was a teen, I’ll be the first to admit it, I was lucky enough to just “phone it in.” But now, I’ve become more intellectual about the research and during the process of rehearsal I’m learning to let everything go and act from instinct and natural reactions.

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