Design and Style Influences
Cabaret is a theatrical form, which is a kind of variety show, popular from the late 1800’s until about 1940 in Europe, and especially Germany. It utilizes a mixture of many different performance forms; the term is derived from a divided serving tray of hors d’oeuvres, as it offers a little bit of something for everybody. A cabaret program is typically a series of individual acts; dances, poems, songs, comic monologues, impersonations, and sketches, to name a few. The performances traditionally took place in a small bar or pub where the audience was seated at small tables, eating and drinking through the performance.
WWI German cabarets primarily existed to entertain their audiences’, though they also commented on popular and current events and used satire to critique current events. The more political and oppositional style, which emerged after WWI, named Kabarett by the satirist Kurt Tucholsky, was created to take an adversarial stance on society in order to make change. Through the 1920’s, Cabaret moved from being an underground, avant-garde medium to being a popular entertainment for the European public. Brecht himself performed in cabaret, singing while he played his guitar, and his experiences both performing in, and watching cabaret, had great influence on his style and, specifically, the work of The Threepenny Opera.
Sources for this style: the films Cabaret (1972) and The Blue Angel (1930).
German Expressionism was coined as a term in 1901, and it describes a movement that swept across many fields of the arts; film, theatre, visual art. It was a highly emotional artistic movement, which focused on the manifestation of the internal, which could be nightmarish and grotesque. The movement was very prominent in film, with famous works like The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) and Nosferatu (1922) came to the fore, with their use of jagged scenery, stark black and white, shadows and nightmarish concepts. When we consider that these films emerged after a war that decimated much of Europe, where nightmares were a reality every day, it is not hard to see that the subject matter is simply art imitating life.
In USQ’s production of Threepenny Opera, our set and costume design has been greatly influenced by this movement; the set features jagged lines and dark colors, tinged with red. The costumes compliment this; they are torn, mostly dark and dirty shades with violent shocks of blood red on fingernails and collars. These design choices give the show a dirty, underground and dangerous feel, which fits the subject matter perfectly.
Sources for this style: the films The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920), Nosferatu (1922) and Metropolis (1927).