Putting on a "Cabaret": Inside a Theatre UNI production

Putting on a "Cabaret": Inside a Theatre UNI production

Abby Chagolla slouched over in a chair in UNI Assistant Professor Amy Osatinski’s office, doodling in her binder, trying to find the right question for the answer she was desperately seeking. The senior theatre performance and communications studies double major was struggling to figure out her role in the upcoming Theatre UNI production of “Cabaret.” She hoped her meeting with Osatinski, director of this production of “Cabaret,” would help her find clarity. They’d been having a nice discussion, but nothing felt like the earth-shattering solution Chagolla needed to break the wall between her and her role.

Until — Osatinski raised her chin and her eyebrows and locked eyes with Chogalla, pausing before she spoke, the way people do when they know they’re about to say something important. 

“Maybe he knows the secret,” Osatinski finally said.

The revelation sent Chagolla jumping out of her chair and waving her hands in celebration while shouting, “Yes, that’s it!”

“Cabaret” is a play that examines the rise of the Nazi party in 1920s Germany through the stories of performers and patrons in the fictional Kit Kat Klub in Berlin. Chagolla is playing a German woman trying to navigate a romantic relationship with a Jewish man in the face of fascism. As a Latina woman, it was difficult for Chagolla to connect with her role. But Osatinski helped her develop a backstory for her character that helped her identify with her character. And this latest insight — that her love interest knows her story — was just the breakthrough Chagolla needed to truly connect with her role.

Chagolla’s experience is just one example of the many struggles and triumphs that occur in the process of a typical Theatre UNI production. It’s a process that Osatinski is especially familiar with. She taught theater in various capacities for more than a decade before coming to UNI in fall 2017, and that experience allows her to help students through struggles like this.

“I’ve always been someone who just loves that analysis, and, for me, one of the things I love about theater is doing that sort of research and figuring out what makes things tick,” said Osatinski. “Each performer struggles in some way. It’s just part of the process. In my role as director, I have to figure out what an actor needs to get them where they need to go.”

This task is especially challenging for a play as politically charged as “Cabaret,” where some students have to take on emotional and polarizing roles, as holocaust survivors and Nazis. But that’s only part of the struggle — there are a number of other unique challenges with this production, as well as the normal demands that go along with any Theatre UNI production.