Img 0364January at Drake University means J-Term, an intense, single-month session where students fit an entire "semester" course into a full-time daily experience.  For some, that means putting on a musical in about two weeks worth of rehearsals.  This year, the production is Cabaret... and you're all Willkommen (Welcome) to the Kit-Kat Klub.

Although the cast list was posted in early November, the students didn't get the chance to really start formal rehearsals for Cabaret until the first week of January.  Nathan Smith received word that he would play Herr Schmidt, and his individual work began... once the rest of his studies for last semester were over.
"I didn't really get started doing a lot of choice work until after I got done with my semester on December 18. The shortened schedule doesn't really mess with my process at all. One of the first things I do is a character analysis. Then I try to find the voice and physicality to the character. The longer the timeline for the show, the more I get to flush out the character and try variations. A shorter process just means that I have less time to play around with the character, but I think the key to creating characters is really living in them."
Emily Brown, who plays Frau Schneider, is looking forward to an experience that's different from most productions.
"I knew that this accelerated process would be a taste of what the pace of a professional show would be like, and I was confident that with Andrew (Ryker) and Karla (Kash) directing, it would be both a positive experience and an excellent opportunity for myself to grow as a performer."
"We were able to pick up our scripts and librettos at the beginning of December. This gave us a month to prepare before rehearsals began. The challenge, for this show in particular, came with the expectation of the cast to be off book for the first rehearsal."
"Having to do this, on top of having a dialect to learn, definitely made for a difficult process that required more commitment prior to rehearsals than I was previously used to. However, I've found that having put the extra time into learning and memorizing everything in the necessary dialect has made the start to the rehearsal process run much more smoothly as a whole."
Almost everyone in Cabaret requires some type of dialect or accent. Two people are working with the cast to help then all learn different ways to say the lines.  Along with Dialect Designer Jasen Emamian, the Assistant Dialect designer Maddie Sell has been hard at work to make sure everyone sounds like they're supposed to.
"I'm working primarily with Sally and the Kit-Kat dancers, which that in itself is four different dialects," says Maddie.  "I am teaching Texas, German, French, and a variation of British. The cast has had the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) charts for a while so they have been able to work on those by themselves before coming to work with us. They have all been doing really well with the dialects and it makes my job a lot easier."
Cabaret is set in 1931, and the rise of the Nazi regime amid German society, and the choices people have to make in order to survive.  Considering the turmoil in the world today and various opposing forces, the story is surprisingly relevant.  
"The themes of love, desire, and wishing for the world to simply 'live and let live' are things we still encounter today," says Emily. "The show has truly opened my eyes to the power that fear has over a person's actions. The characters in this show are driven to extreme lengths just for fear of their own survival."
Nathan is even more specific and direct with his ideas about how Cabaret relates to our modern situation.
"I think that the parallels between what's happening right now and what happened in 1931 are so incredibly similar. I mean, look at the Alt-Right, and everything that has happened in the media recently with swastikas popping up. That in itself makes the show still relevant."
"I think one of the most powerful and scariest moments of the show comes at the end of Act 1 with the song 'Tomorrow Belongs to Me.' It's basically a song that showcases how quickly an idea, in this case, National Socialism (Nazism) can spread. The person that speaks the loudest and makes the most noise can gain support, even if the beliefs aren't the best."
"It's been hard to play this role because Herr Schultz is one of the only Jewish people in the show, and during some of the scenes I definitely feel isolated and attacked. I know that I'm safe with my castmates, but the emotions that come from living in this body can feel very real."
"The big thing that I want people to take away from this show is that we are all humans. Each and every one of us deserves to be happy, to feel loved, and to exist without being in a state of fear from each other."
Cabaret is a vital show, more than a musical. It is a commentary on the choices that humans make when confronted with huge moral issues, and asks us to identify with characters that may not be perfect -- just like all of us. It is the best of what theatre does... it challenges, it entertains, it provokes.  For those who are willing to really look... these people invite you into their world. Willkommen.
The J-Term production of Cabaret will be presented by the Drake University Theatre Department at the William S.E. Coleman Studio Theatre in the Harmon Fine Arts Center. Performances are Thursday-Saturday night January 19-21 at 7:30pm, with an additional matinee scheduled for Saturday afternoon at 2pm. Best of all, tickets are FREE, but should be reserved through the Drake Fine Arts Box Office (as the shows will likely "sell out", so it's highly recommended that you get your tickets NOW).  
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Drake Karla Kash Maddie Sell Cabaret J-term Nathan Smith Emily Brown