Friday, June 17, 2016

"In a pair of lacy pants": A Defense of Being the Mormon Cast Member in Cabaret

If you follow me on other forms of social media, you may have noticed that I'm in rehearsals for Cabaret with Utah Repertory Theatre. I'm in the ensemble, playing one of the Kit Kat Klub girls, who works in the nightclub in "a pair of lacy pants." (Incidentally, this is the one show I've done in the past several years that my dad and stepmom are able to come see. The one where I'm dancing in my underwear. I gave my dad fair warning, and he replied that he's not prudish, and truth be told, he knew me as a toddler, and has seen me dance in less than my underwear. Fair enough.)

You may be thinking, "But Liz! 'Cabaret' all sex and stuff! You're a True Believing Mormon! What are you doing dancing in your underwear?!"

I'm dancing in my underwear because I believe in the story that Cabaret tells, and I think it's important.

Here's my philosophy; the six main ideas behind my decision to do Cabaret.

Brigham Young once said, "Upon the stage of a theater can be represented in character, evil and its consequences, good and its happy results and rewards; the weakness and the follies of man, the magnanimity of virtue and the greatness of truth. The stage can be made to aid the pulpit in impressing upon the minds of a community an enlightened sense of a virtuous life, also a proper horror of the enormity of sin and a just dread of its consequences. The path of sin with its thorns and pitfalls, its gins and snares can be revealed, and how to shun it."

And I agree. But I don't think that limits valuable theatre to ONLY "The Testaments" and the Nauvoo Pageant. Mormons don't have a monopoly on truth and virtue. We can learn important lessons about how to be smart and kind humans from so many sources, including shows like Cabaret.

Therefore, actors are needed to play the parts that aren't always saintly. If the Bible was made into a stage play, SOMEONE would have to play Jezebel. You simply can't have good storytelling without including people making bad choices.

(And to be honest, I don't even know if my character's choices to work in a nightclub are all bad. I haven't decided yet.)

Sometimes there are just characters making choices, and you as the audience can evaluate if they're good or bad, or why they made them, or how you can live your life differently because of their example.

I just finished a play wherein I set things on fire with the intention of killing people. The play before that, I kissed two men who were NOT my husband. Those are both bad things in real life. Significantly worse things than dancing in my underwear, if we're being honest. But it's not REAL. I can't bring myself to believe I'll be held accountable for things I'm doing in character. There are a handful of things I don't think I will ever do onstage or on camera, but the majority of them have to do with whether or not I feel the work is valuable.

If you're uncomfortable with shows like Cabaret, I think that's okay. You have a right to abstain from the things that don't feed your soul. You also have a right to do so free from judgement. But that judgement needs to go both ways. Others have a right to participate in things you feel uncomfortable with. I, personally, don't feel uncomfortable with the content of Cabaret. I've thought and studied and yes, even prayed, about this decision for myself. I won't be offended if you don't agree with the content of the show, or feel uncomfortable, or don't want to see it. (I'm a little offended by the idea that you might think I'm a heathen for participating, because I feel it doesn't give me due credit, but that's my own issue.)

I haven't played a dance-heavy role since...2006? After several injuries in my early twenties, I shifted my focus away from dance and more towards acting and singing. I still enjoy dance, and I'm fairly decent at it. But this show will push me to re-awaken and strengthen skills that have laid semi-dormant for a decade. Skills that I know will make me a better performer. And it gives me an opportunity to explore and shape a character unlike any I've played before. I want my acting jobs to push me into new territory, to force me outside of my comfort zone just enough to help me grow.

When we had our first meeting as a cast this week, the director and several cast members talked about the deep need they (we) feel for this show right now. Because here's what Cabaret is actually about:
- It's about the dangers of nationalism, when it runs unchecked.
- It's about what happens when a leader shows up and promises to fix the problems of a lot of people who are underemployed, disenfranchised, and angry.
- It's about blaming an entire group of people for the problems of society.
- It's about a time and place in history when LGBT rights were being fought for, and sexuality and gender was being researched and honored, and the LGBT community was given a safe haven from bigotry, before a World War sent the entire movement underground again.
- It's about joining the crowd without trusting your own heart and conscience first.

Those are lessons we need now and always. As the granddaughter of German immigrants, as an LGBT ally, as a citizen of the United States, and yes, as a Latter-day Saint, I feel a duty to share these lessons. It really is okay if you feel uncomfortable about the context in which these lessons are shared. But for me, I'm grateful for the opportunity.


Karissa said...

I was offered the lead female role in Cabaret at my community college several years ago. Unfortunately I was still influenced by my overly prudish and extremely pious mother who all but forced me to turn it down because it would be "highly inappropriate and representing sin". I was made to write a rather self righteous sounding letter to my mentor explaining why I "wouldn't" take the role and how "I" was disappointed in him for choosing "that kind" of play to produce. Needless to say, any rapport I had built with him and the theatre over 3 years was pretty shattered. (The letter was rather condescending). The next semester, Once i was brave enough to explain to him what had really happened, our relationship was mended and I did many more great theatre productions. But to this day, turning down that role is still one of my greatest regrets in my theatre experience.

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