Design Includes Details Audience Can’t See “

August 10, 2006

As the curtain rises for “Cabaret” each evening at Peninsula Players, audience members are immediately transported to the Kit Kat Club in Berlin in the early 1930s.  The emcee welcomes everyone to the cabaret and the mood of the show is immediately set.  As patrons are immersed in this world of pre-Nazi Germany, they undoubtedly note that the set and costumes help to create the setting.  However, most people are probably unaware of just how much research and attention to detail goes into creating any show, especially a historical musical like “Cabaret.”

Designers must create a temporary world on stage which is believable not only for patrons but also for the actors performing in it.  Therefore, when you look closely at a show, you will often find that time and attention has been paid to even the smallest details which may at first seem insignificant.  This pertains to all elements of design but is often most prevalent in areas like props and costumes.

For “Cabaret,” our props master, Nathan Doud, worked hard to ensure that all props are historically accurate even if they are not highly visible to the audience.  For instance, early on in the show a German gentleman appears on a train reading a newspaper.  This newspaper is only quickly revealed to the audience, so most people will probably not notice that it is an actual German paper from the 1930s.  Similarly, all money exchanged during the show duplicates the actual currency used in pre-Nazi Berlin.  Even the train ticket that Cliff uses at the end of the show was created from a photo of a 1930s German train ticket.   

Likewise, our costume designer, Rachel Healy, worked hard to create comfortable and authentic attire for everyone in the show.  While the overall look and feeling of the costumes is immediately clear, many details in the work are easily missed if you do not know much about the styles of the period.  As I learned from talking to the costume ladies, fabric in pre-Nazi Germany was quite a commodity and therefore was used sparingly (shorter hem lengths, etc.) and also became a sign of wealth.  Therefore, all hem lengths and pant cuts had to be planned accordingly to reflect this.   Additionally, the German gentleman in the show who takes English lessons and eventually joins the Nazi regime wears a double-breasted suit which immediately is a sign that he comes from wealth.  In talking with Rachel, I also learned that many of the undergarments the Kit Kat girls wear on stage are actual clothing items from the 1930s or earlier.  Obviously, these pieces had to be carefully sought out and selected to match the actresses’ sizes, the director’s vision for the show, as well as the time period.

Finally, in “Cabaret” it is important to note that the set doesn’t stop where the set may appear to stop.  Behind the Kit Kat Club stage, exists the world of the backstage of the Kit Kat Club before you actually get off our stage.  In this area, only minimally visible to the audience, are make-up mirrors and vanities for the Kit Kat Club girls and boys, posters on the walls from shows that played in Germany prior to WWII, telegrams from the dancers’ lovers and friends, and other paraphernalia which would have appeared in the dressing rooms of the Kit Kat club.

It is all the little details like these which are easily lost on stage, but truly help to create an authentic and complete world for the show.

So, as Sally Bowles says in the show, “life is a cabaret, old chum, come to the cabaret!”  We hope you will join us to see the show in all its glory and detail before it closes on August 20.  For tickets, visit our website at or phone the box office at 920-868-3287.  See you by the bay!

Megan Felsburg is the Director of Development at Peninsula Players Theatre.