"It'll all work out. It's only politics,
and what's that got to do with us?"
Our memories of World War II are distant, the shadow of the Holocaust less than a memory to most, kept at bay by black-and-white photographs. Never again, we say, confident in our convictions. When we think of the rise of Nazi Germany, we see ourselves reflected in those who gave shelter to their Jewish neighbors, who did everything in their power to oppose the radicalization of their country, in short, the citizens who resisted.
But when the world moves again toward hatred, where are your convictions? When fascism rises once more, you may not agree with it, but isn't it easier to stay out of its path? When the photos are colorized, how simple it is to stay out of the fight, and to let others worry about it. After all, as an ordinary citizen, it is only politics. What's that got to do with you?
When I first approached directing this show, very near the beginning of the pandemic, I was faced with the problem of foisting a new concept upon a show that was already iconic and, at least on paper, practically perfect. Certainly the show was relevant, even beneath its bread-and-circus (or rather, pineapples and strip routines) exterior, but how could the story be told in such a way that the political commentary of the 1960s would translate into 2020? Little did I know that the message of the show was to become more and more urgent with each passing day.
At its core, Cabaret is about a society that is sick, and the way in which that sickness spreads throughout its citizens when left unchecked, infecting the culture of an entire country. In this show, there are the victims of the disease, and there the archetypes of those who helped it to spread, whether through apathy, ignorance, exhaustion, or their own prejudices. Some wanted a better economy, some were naively optimistic, but they each ignored the signs, and in the end, their complacency is their downfall.
Fast-forward 90 years and the Kit Kat Klub may seem a relic of a bygone era, and Sally Bowles no more than a caricature of a time without accountability, but are we truly so different today? We would like to think that we can recognize the symptoms when we see them, but do we not share Fräulein Schneider’s tired resignation, or perhaps Herr Schultz’ denial? It becomes easy to leave the worrying for others, to become complacent, and thus we too become infected.
If we are to learn anything from the mistakes of the past, we must shine a light upon the barbed wire before it tightens around us. So the question becomes, in a country that is rotting from the pestilence of racism, xenophobia, homophobia, sexism, ableism, antisemitism, and authoritarianism, how can one stop the spread? The disease is deadly, so how do we break the cycle of infection? There is only one way.
If hatred is the sickness, action is the vaccine.