Lights, Camera, Cabaret!

Sarah Miller and Grace Gillespie. Photo courtesy of Shrunken Heads.

Ellise Huston

Features Editor

Picture this: It’s a Friday night in May. You walk into the Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall in UC Santa Barbara’s (UCSB) music building and find a seat in the third row. The deep red curtains are drawn, but the live orchestra members, who are looking over their music sheets under the stage, are in your view as you wait for the show to begin. When the clock strikes 7 p.m., the lights begin to dim and the whole theater holds its breath as a spotlight hits a seat on the far right in the front row. An actor — wearing a long black coat, blue eyeshadow, and a scandalous grin — stands to greet the audience with roses. The show has begun.

This past weekend, UCSB’s student-run theater group, Shrunken Heads Production Company, performed their rendition of the show “Cabaret,” with an opening weekend that was two quarters in the making. As Shrunken Heads is a group that is open to anyone attending UCSB, students from all different majors were on the stage this weekend, singing, dancing, and acting. The actors ranged from those with extensive backgrounds in theater to those who had never stepped on stage before, and everywhere in between. This, along with the unique costume design, revolving set design, live orchestra, show-stopping choreography, and tantalizing storyline, made the show impossible to look away from. 

“The show was breath-taking,” fourth-year UCSB student and audience member Sierra Nelipovich said in an interview with The Bottom Line (TBL). “The fact that it was a student-led show was so inspiring and made it more fun to watch.” 

The show itself, written in 1966 and soon to make its reappearance on Broadway, follows a true story of a man’s experience in late 1920s Berlin and uses a comedic disguise to deal with commentary about antisemitism, the rise of fascism, abortion rights, abuse, and sexism. For the audience, the show was two and a half hours of being immersed in the story and songs of a contentious time in Berlin, specifically the Kit Kat Klub — a well-known cabaret club. However, for those who auditioned to be a part of Shrunken Heads, the journey of bringing this show to light has been much longer. 

Cole Fox, a fourth-year UCSB student in Shrunken Heads’s “Cabaret” told TBL that rehearsals were “twice during the week and twice over the weekend. [We rehearsed] for three months because the auditions were in January. The process was long … but as the show came closer, it picked up and was so fun. It’ll be hard not to have that routine anymore.” 

Fox played the character Texas, one of the Kit Kat girls who composed the main singing/dancing ensemble group for the Kit Kat Klub in the cabaret. Before joining “Cabaret” in January, she hadn’t been in a theater production in four years. However, after attending two different Shrunken Heads shows before, she decided it was time to return to her theater roots. 

“I always knew that before I graduated I wanted to do something new and fun,” said Fox, “and I hadn’t realized how much I missed [theater] until I got back into it.”

Sarah Miller, who played one of the Kit Kat ensemble members named Helga, told TBL that while she enjoyed every minute on stage, it was the moments off stage that left the strongest impression on her. “Some of my greatest memories are when I was in the wings, or off stage, or getting ready before the show with all the people I’ve met,” said Miller. “These moments really brought light to a show that covers such intense topics.”

For four months, these students worked tirelessly to bring this show to the stage, and (if I do say so myself) all that hard work was worth it. 

“This show made history for Shrunken Heads,” Grace Gillespie, the secretary of Shrunken Heads Production Company and actress portraying Fraulein Kost in “Cabaret,” told TBL.  “It was the first full musical production including set, costume, orchestra, and a theater setting since Covid almost disbanded the club. This is bringing it back. We connected with musicians and faculty from the university, and those connections can only grow.”

This was the last show of the 2023-24 school year for Shrunken Heads Production Co., but they’re not going anywhere. If you’re still at UCSB next year, be sure to check out their audition dates, keep up with their announcements and social media, and join this hardworking musical theater club. 

As Miller said, “When will you ever be in college again singing and dancing in a stage production with friends?” No prior musical theater experience is required, so go ahead and try something new with Shrunken Heads! 


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