In Part 3 of a series of interviews with the cast of Kensington Arts Theatre’s (KAT) Cabaret, meet Matt Trollinger.
Joel: Where have local theatergoers seen you perform before on our local stages? What roles have you played?
Matt: This is my first time really performing onstage in the DMV. Most of my experience is in Vermont, where I grew up and went to school – so I did shows throughout Vermont from high school to the few years after college. I took a little hiatus after moving down here for graduate school, but I am ecstatic to get back on the horse, so to speak, and very grateful to be a part of this production of Cabaret at KAT.
Why did you want to be in KAT’s production of Cabaret?
This will actually be my second time in Cabaret! I played the Emcee in a production in college, and it was one of the best all-around experiences I’ve ever had in theatre. Cabaret is one of my favorite shows. It has incredible music, memorable characters, and is both thought-provoking and FUN. The fact that this production was happening right down the street from where I live made it the perfect opportunity to give theatre another go. For me, why wouldn’t I want to be in KAT’s production of Cabaret?
Who do you play in this production, and how are you and your character alike and different?
I will be playing the role of Cliff Bradshaw, an American writer visiting Germany right before the Nazi Party comes to power, and who strikes up a relationship with a cabaret performer named Sally Bowles. I think I am like Cliff in that I share a sense of wanderlust. Travel is exciting (and sometimes a little scary). You learn a lot about other people, and in turn, a lot about yourself by seeing other cultures. Cliff uses travel, interpersonal connection, and trying new things to find himself, and that’s something I connect with. As far as how I’m different… I think Cliff is running away from things in part because there is a certain ennui to his regular life. While we’ve all experienced that at one point or another, I don’t consider my life to be in that same rudderless stage, and I’m very happy with my life in the DMV.
How did you prepare for your role, and what challenges did you face when preparing for your role?
A lot of times Cliff can be, frankly, a little dull. Anyone can learn lines. The challenge is to bring a compelling element of yourself to the character. I’m the only one who can bring me to the Cliff, so I need to find a way to use the given words to put together a well-rounded, true, and interesting character on stage.
How did Director Craig Pettinati help you with your challenges and what is the best advice he gave you about playing your role?
Craig is very much an actor’s director. He encourages actors to talk through their character, to figure out their motivations and the dynamics of on-stage relationships. He has a strong overall vision, but does not micro-manage and treat his actors like drones. He encourages individuality within the context of a cohesive production.
How would you describe John Kander and Fred Ebb’s score? How would you describe a Kander and Ebb song?
In a word, fantastic. It is wide-ranging and emotionally heightened. Cabaret is full of life – catchy lyrically and musically, with many instruments in background – and authentic-sounding. The cabaret songs transport you to a seedy Weimar Republic nightclub; “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” genuinely sounds like a Nazi anthem; there is a cute song – about fruit of all things! – that just puts a smile on your face. The show is a classic piece of American musical theatre that you can listen to on repeat. There’s a reason it is so iconic.
Which song that you don’t sing is your favorite and why?
I love the opening number, “Willkommen.” It’s a big flashy dance number, it’s goofy, sexy, seedy, decadent, and sets the stage for the whole show. It’s a great song and dance that engages the audience right from the get-go. It’s a blast for the audience and the performers.
What do we learn about your character when you are singing your solos or duets?
Cliff is conflicted. What is best for him? What is best for the people he meets, for the country he is in? He doesn’t always have easy answers to his questions.
Why and how is Cabaret so relevant to today’s audiences?
Hmmm… I believe there are some very obvious parallels. Nazi Germany is obviously an infamous time in world history, and is the poster child for what can go wrong under authoritarian leadership, but Nazi Germany didn’t (and doesn’t) have the market cornered on racism. Sometimes it is easy to fall into the trap of blaming others for society’s ills, but I think Cabaret warns that ostracizing others removes the eccentricities and beauty in life.Cabaret shows characters we grow to love be persecuted for no other reason than because they’re Jewish, highlighting the arbitrary nature of racism. It is a reminder that we are all one humanity.
This cast is filled with extremely talented singers, actors, dancers. What has impressed you most about your fellow cast members and their performances?
There are people at all different stages in their lives, a wide range of ages, and so many personalities. Everyone is trying to bring something unique to their performance, and I’m impressed with the hard work everyone is putting in to learn lines, dances, songs, and blocking. It is a talented group of people, very full of life, with a lot of first-timers at KAT, and I love the opportunity to make new friends and become a part of the theatre community here.
What have you learned most about yourself -the actor- while going through this Cabaret experience?
Well, first of all it has rekindled my love of theatre – not just seeing it, but actually being a part of it. I don’t want to go so long in between shows next time. I also think about the fact that Cliff says “Yes” a lot. And it doesn’t always turn out perfectly (or even well). But as a whole, he is able to experience life in a way that he otherwise never would have. I’m going to try to keep that in mind. Playing it safe can lead to missing out on some unbelievable adventures.
What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing you perform in Cabaret?
My expectation is that they leave titillated, and can’t get the songs out of their head. And I hope that on the car ride or Metro back home, they think and talk about some of the messages of the show, and what it means to them. I also hope they found something new in this production that made it different and worthwhile. I have confidence that when the audience leaves Cabaret, they will have had an enjoyable evening.
Come to KAT’s ‘Cabaret’: Part 1: Meet Sarah Jane Bookter.
Come to KAT’s ‘Cabaret’: Part 2: Meet Chuck Dluhy.
Come to KAT’s ‘Cabaret’: Part 3: Meet Matt Trollinger.
Cabaret plays from October 28-November 19, 2016, at Kensington Arts Theatre (KAT) performing at Kensington Town Hall – 3710 Mitchell Street, in Kensington, MD. For tickets, purchase them at the door, or online.
Learn More about Kander and Ebb’s work here: