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Julian Wiles, Founder and Producing Artistic Director
Marybeth Clark, Associate Artistic Director

April 9, 2010

I AM A CAMERA, Playing Cliff in Cabaret

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 8:50 am

Justin Tyler Lewis, Cliff in Cabaret

It’s not often in a musical one gets to play a character based on a real person but there’s little doubt that Cliff is really Christopher Isherwood – the real life author who went to sample the decadence of Berlin nightlife in the 1920’s.  His Berlin Stories captured not just the story of a young author but an entire age when, as he says, “the world was coming to an end.”  Thanks to Isherwood we see how people turned their heads not seeing  – or not wanting to see – the nightmare unfolding before them.  In one of his stories Cliff says of himself, “I am a camera,” and one of the challenges is to play Cliff as a young man who doesn’t know how the dream (or nightmare) will end. And one who is eager to explore the freewheeling sexual world of Berlin nightlife in the 1920’s—a world that excites and repulses him at the same time. 

We’re taught as actors to “be in the moment” – to discover things as if they’re happening for the first time.  Because we, the performers, know how this story turns out, playing each moment is key to making it real and alive each night onstage.  When Cliff meets Sally for the first time, he doesn’t know where their interaction and relationship is leading.  Moreover, Sarah Claire and I have to play it as if there are many possibilities of where it might lead.  And that’s the fun of it.  Few people live their lives in a constant, general wash of woe, misery, or tragedy.  Few interesting people, at least.  Rather, people live their lives from one tiny moment of joy to the next.  Cliff, therefore, lives for the jolts of happiness that punctuate the sometimes tragic and often shocking events that take place in 1920s Berlin.  Ultimately, that punctuation marks Cliff as both interesting and memorable and makes his story worth telling.


Charleston Stage Resident Actor Justin Tyler Lewis as Cliff in Cabaret.



From left to right: Charleston Stage Resident Actor Justin Tyler Lewis as Cliff and former Charleston Stage Resident Actor Sarah Claire Smith as Sally Bowles.


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