'JOY: A Holiday Cabaret' showcases Interact artists in cabaret style

Categories: Theater
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Photo Credit: Tom Sandelands
Interact Theater doesn't usually do holiday-themed shows, but this year they're embarking on a kind of variety play. Titled JOY: A Holiday Cabaret and housed at the Lab, the piece honors the traditions of the season without it necessarily being a religious celebration.

"It's about joy,"  says director Tod Peterson. "It's for people like me and others who don't necessarily celebrate Christmas, but still feel the spirit of the season." There won't be any mangers or stars up in the East, but Peterson says the feeling of the play is an attempt to capture the hallmark joy of this time of year.

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It all takes place in a ballroom setting, in "nebulous olden times." Kevin Kling plays a narrator-type character who is making a documentary analyzing joy. He goes back in time to a public access television show called The Joy Hour, hosted by Floyd and Lloyd, two characters who resemble Perry Como and Lawrence Welk (played by Kling and Eriq Nelson, who both also provided the script). The women in the cast wear ball gowns, the men are in suits, and the host has an ever-present drink in his hand a la Dean Martin.  

Interact had a very successful cabaret-type show 12 years ago called Madame Josette's Sacred Cabaret. Peterson says the folks at Interact have been talking for many years about returning to that cabaret structure, but with more musical numbers. "We thought it would be an easy, fun, and joyful way to put a show together. Our actors have disabilities, but some of them are very talented," he says.
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There's about 40 actors with disability labels in the show, including Down Syndrome, brain injury, mental illness, and blindness. The musical-theater pieces work especially well to highlight the artists' talents in ways that can be plugged into the cabaret structure. 

The "thesis statement" for the show is provided by Kevin Kling. It's how whenever he walks through the doors of Interact, he feels better. The Interact artists have a presence, a lack of self-consciousness, and an "unhideable brokenness," says Peterson. "Most people on this earth are hiding that brokenness,"  he says. "Our actors aren't able to do that."  

Some highlights of the show include Michelle Lockhart, one of the Interact actors who has aphasia from a stroke, singing a very simple song that captures her experience. There's also a great number where Interact actor Doug Christie sings "Mr. Wonderful." There are also dance numbers including a ho-down, a Thai-pop number, and a flamenco dance.  
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Peterson himself has been working with Interact since 1999. He comes and goes, because he's also an actor around town. "I love it here," he says. "Working with these authentic human beings who are my teachers. They teach me joy, patience, and creativity. They are my people. I've never been more creative than here."

JOY: A Holiday Cabaret runs November 18 through December 17 at The Lab Theater. See here for more information. 

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