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CABARET: the whole story, part 1 (plus, FEED CABARET!)

so, my comrades, i’m gonna split this blog up into a couple pieces because i got too much to say and it’s gettin’ too lengthy-like.
….barely a few days passed from the release of the #UkuleleHead record, and we’re onto project number Next.
yes, it is time for “cabaret”.
here’s the poster….
some background:
i’ve wanted to do THIS show with THIS director, steven bogart, for almost 10 years.
it all started back in 2001 when bogart did a production of “Cabaret” with the students at lexington high school, my alma mater.
i was well out of college at that point, but i’d stayed in touch with bogart. i showed up to help the kids with the german pronunciation, and i helped with the make-up backstage at all three performances.
why’d i do that? this one, i think i finally need to fully explain.
where to start?
first, a story: i was having dinner with an acquaintance a few years ago, and explaining with extreme giddiness how i was going to go back to the high school to create a new show/musical with bogart & the kids.
(which many of you saw, and if not can SEE NOW…it wound up being titled “With The Needle That Sings In Her Heart” and was inspired by Neutral Milk Hotel’s heartbreaking album “In the Aeroplane over the Sea” and the diary of Anne Frank).
this person said to me: “amanda, when are you going to grow up & leave that fucking high school for good?”
dude. he didn’t get it. i was sad.
here’s the thing.
steven bogart was a mentor to me in the old-school sense…a real, fundamental inspiration to me. the real kind of inspiration where your mind is opened up to WHAT YOU CAN DO with art and HOW YOU CAN DO IT and how there are no rules in art…just ideas, impulses, and actions.
this guy was creating theater with 14-18 year-olds that was pushing the boundaries further than “pro” stuff i see nowadays at “risky” fringe theater venues.
moreover, and more importantly i think, he encouraged the students to CREATE their own work from scratch. every year he helped organize a weekend of student-written and directed plays…and it was through that outlet that i first started my love affair with making shows.
all of the plays that i wrote in school were BIZARRE. they had mostly no dialogue and were focused around music and slightly surreal stage action.
they were more like long music videos with plots, put on a theater stage. i was a child of MTV, it’s the world i knew. and my favorite fucking movie was “the wall”.
shakespeare didn’t really interest me. neither, much, did plays with words and people just moving around on stage. i like stranger images.
my freshman year, i didn’t write or direct, i just acted and observed. i was cast in an absurdist play called “JUSTICE” written by eugene mirman (who’s since gone on to become a kind of famous indie comedian; it’s that lexington water, dude). the play was about a man trapped in a kafka-esque nightmare in which he’s arrested for no reason, and thrown into an insane asylum.
my part involved coming onto stage with a greek chorus and screaming
at the protagonist and later, in a drug-induced dream sequence, bursting onto stage covered in blinking christmas lights and dancing around like a total nutjob.
i think it was around then that i decided i was not going to try out for the lacrosse OR the soccer team my sophomore year.
and there it was done. i forsook my position as goalie (yes, i’d been a soccer, then lacrosse, goalie for a good 7 years at that point…learn something new every day. i had a trick that involved diving into a pile of kicking soccer feet and grabbing the ball unafraid of getting kicked in the head and impressing the shit out of everybody. and getting my head kicked a lot) and instead, i did every single theater production and started working on my own pieces.
my sophomore year, i took a crack at writing, directing, and acting in my first play.
it was called “Don’t Drop The Minds of The Vegetables (or How My Insomnia Turned LHS StereoType)”. it was a surreal bunch of scenes attacking the idea of conformity (oh, high school) and i barely remember what the thing was about…but i do remember loving the process. i loved the fact that anything i could dream up would then come to life on stage, no matter how fucked up. bogart approved, or at least, he didn’t disapprove.
meanwhile, i auditioned for every other production in the drama department (bogart directed everything). in addition to the fall musical, there was the spring play (which was usually some weird twister interpretation of a classic…i remember my freshamn year we did a production of “a midsummer night’s dream” with the set and costumes inspired by the painter Miró) and most significantly, there was what we called “globefest”, which was an inter-high-school competition. lexington high got the reputation as the “weird” school and we always wrote our own pieces, created from scratch out of improv. we did heavy, deep work. we took risks. bogart encouraged us. we would look at the other high schools and wonder how they could survive doing productions of “our town” and other mostly boring stuff. we were lucky. we didn’t quite know how lucky, because when you’re that age, you don’t.
my junior year i did a play called “i’m sticking with you”. it was birthed while i was listening to the velvet underground song, and the last scene of the play appeared in my head. i worked backwards from there. it was about a girl named caroline who was addicted to water and caught in a cycle of abuse handed down to her from her parents. i used music by my favorite bands…the legendary pinks dots, king missile, lou reed solo stuff.
the final scene played to the VU song – with caroline getting tied to a chair by her tormentor and danced around the stage like a puppet.
i was 16.
bogart encouraged this sort of stuff. digging stuff, real stuff. personal, crazy stuff. i kept going.
the next year i wrote my most ambitious undertaking, a 45-minute piece based fully on my favorite record by the legendary pink dots, called “asylum”…written mostly by me but polished in rehearsal by the actors, who were all bogart-trained to take risks and follow weird impulses. it was put up in the student directed festival. bogart didn’t have time that year to run a workshop for globefest with us, so he selected my play to be entered instead, which was a giant honor – one he’d never given t
o any other student. when we got the preliminary round, the show was disqualified because the judges claimed it “wasn’t theater”, more or less. it was too weird, didn’t have dialogue. bogart went in and fought on my behalf, and though i didn’t get re-qualified, they festival rules were changed for good and – to this day – the festival now has to consider plays that aren’t just straight, average fare. since then, lexington stopped competing, since they started winning first place every year and it was getting ridiculous.
i got my first fan letter ever after that show. a girl from another high school (Wellesley, i think) wrote a letter addressed to lexington high school with my name on it. it got delivered to me one day in homeroom.
she said she was sorry i’d gotten disqualified, and that she’d never seen theater like “that” before. she said the ending of the show made her break into tears and she wanted to thank me for opening up her heart.
that letter changed my life a little.
bogart, through all of this, was calm and always present, but he wasn’t the sort of teacher who chummed around, befriending students and acting hip, getting all involved in our personal lives like some after-school special. at least, he didn’t do that with me. he was always just There.
he asked us to do real, profound things in rehearsals. we would find true places, locked-up places, strange inside places. he taught us to learn to trust and LISTEN to each other. we would do extended warm-ups and exercises that tuned us into stillness.
anything went. there was no judgement on his part, just an unending desire to see us push ourselves as far as we could creatively.
he taught us to respect things. the space, the words, each other.
and in turn, we respected him. here was the thing: he treated us like adults. he didn’t patronize us.
he expected us to do the work that people in their twenties might do…and so we did. he created a space for us to create madness in, and we filled the space.
i remember feeling very alive in that auditorium. like theater and making things move on stage was what i was built to do. i remember endless rehearsals for shows where the cast would feel like a secret family…a crew of a huge, important ship that was going to land in the audience’s brains and hearts and change their courses. and we all traded massages. maybe it was the massages.
i remember rolling myself up in one of the huge, heavy curtains of the stage (like a little sausage with a casing of velvet) and smoking pot out of a coke can before i started my first rehearsal for “asylum”, my magnum opus. i remember feeling that life possibly didn’t get better than standing stoned on a blank stage, about to fill it with actors, music and images.
and THAT, more or less, is why i kept going back to the high school. staying connected with bogart, especially after the band became successful, was a way of staying connected with an authentic source, a home-base.
after i graduated, i went of to college and found myself feeling lost and alone at wesleyan. the theater department didn’t feel welcoming and safe like it felt in the high school. it felt business-like, impersonal, impenetrable.
so i turned my back on it completely (i turned my back on just about everything, but that’s another blog).
but i would show up at bogart’s new shows when i was back home, always impressed and amazed at what he was doing. and the older i got, also slightly amazed that the audience for his work was so limited to this ONE town and on a high school stage. Bogart is also a fantastic playwright (and painter) and had productions going on outside the school here and there, but i was always aching to see him bust out more, be seen by a bigger audience.
so back to 2001. it was the early days of the band, i was long out of college and living in my own apartment in boston (not too far from lexington).
i asked bogart if i could help him with his production of “cabaret”, which was the school musical that fall. or spring? i forget.
i’d seen a few other “cabaret” productions, but’d never been mightily moved (one was in harvard sq at the teeny hasty pudding theater, and one was in germany when i was living in regensburg, which does stiuck out in my memory because the dancers bopped around the audeince handing out swastika flags in one scene – and the swastika is ILLEGAL to print in germany…people’s reactions were fascinating).
but my feelings about the show changed when i was bogart’s production, with a cast of TEENAGERS, no less – holy fuck. the power of the show finally walloped me on the head. i thought: we have to do this show. someday. we have to. me and him.
and i said it to him then, as soon as the final performance was over.
he didn’t believe me.
and now, almost ten years later, we’re doing it.
it’s real.
we’re doing it.
here’s me & bogart at the photoshoot with kyle cassidy for the poster image…
he’s got great tits:
i’ll write more in Blog Part Two about the show itself, the cast, crew, etc. but for now, before i forget (and i’ll repeat this in blog 2)….
are you or near harvard square or boston? are you bored? can you cook? do you have a garden over-sprouting with vegetables & fruits and don’t know what to do with them?
do you want to feed us? YES YOU DO YOU DO YOU DO!
i tried this during the play in lexington last year, and it worked like a charm, so i repeat for “cabaret”:
if you’re up for it, BRING US FOOD! we are hungry, always.
we’re rehearsing our collective asses off for the next 5 weeks and are taking dinner (& sometimes lunch) breaks EVERY DAY while we kick this shit into shape.
there are TONS of us (the cast and crew total about 25+ people) BUT anything is welcome, since most everybody in the cast is a broke actor.
if you even just want to drop off snacks, we’ll happily take ‘em.
please only relatively healthy food – if we get inundated with cupcakes and cupcakes only, we’ll all be fat and fucked for the show & you’ll be sad when you come to see us and all you see if 20 actors lying on a stage in a sugar coma. if you’re game to bring ANYTHING, e-mail my girl hayley, and she’ll hook you up with the address, directions, and times & talk to you about how to organize what you got to offer.
when you come to drop your stuff off, you’ll (probably) be able to kick it with me & the cast during the break, but no promises since the schedule is CRAZY & just know that when we start work again we’re gonna kick you out, so don’t be offended. and THANK YOU – when i told the actors about this they were SO EXCITED.
note: about half the cast eat vegetarian/vegan…bring o
and if for some reason you’re far away and want to MAIL something, go for it, hayley will give you an address (you can send things via the ART).
someone wonderful last year sent us a coffee cake every week. it was fattening….but splendid. hit us with love, please.
and there’s plenty more coming up in the help department….we’re going to need tons of local boston help to promote this shit (43 shows, i must be mad) so stay tuned.
goodnight, goodnight.
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