Interview with Sascha Halbhuber, Cabaret's EmCee

The German musical star has been enchanting Mother City audiences as the EmCee in KickstArt's production of Cabaret. We took a closer look!

Who are you?

My name is Sascha Halbhuber. I am an actor, singer and musical performer. I studied classical ballet and while I worked as a dancer, I trained as a classical singer. Later on, I added jazz and pop singing to my training.

Where are you from?

I was born in a small town 40 kilometres from Frankfurt. I now live in Coblenz.

What made you come to South Africa?

My husband. I am married to a South African. Ten years ago I came to South Africa for the first time, on holiday. We actually spend our holidays here every year now. During the six-week summer break in German theatres, we come to South Africa so that Rory can see his family.

What do you like about this country?

I think South Africa is a fascinating country. I love the naural beauty. I am definitely an outdoor person – nature, the ocean – those are the things that I love most.

We once drove up the Garden Route. It is impressive to see how the landscape changes, starting from Durban and travelling to Cape Town. I mean, Cape Town is very cosmopolitan, by comparison. It’s not really an African city - if you know the rest of the country – it’s actually very different. But it’s also interesting to have this kind of diversity in this country. Capetonians are very cool and don't-bat-an-eyelid kind of people. The best example I have is when 3 days ago, I was at The Grand and Orlando Bloom walked in. Nobody batted an eyelid -it's like that's normal around here. On the other hand, I'll be sitting at a café and someone will come up to me and say,  "I saw the show, thank you! I really enjoyed it." 

What made you decide to come and work here?

 It is a great opportunity and I thought it would be very fitting to take this role on, here. I felt it would be very exciting. The fact that my husband wants to return home for a while also made it interesting for me to see if I could work here; how much work there is and how things might be for me in South Africa.

You have two stage names – Stead in Germany and Halbhuber in South Africa. Why is that?

 My full name is Halbhuber-Stead. I kept Halbhuber in South Africa because my agent said, “Keep the interesting name.” SImilarly, my German agent said, “Just go with Stead because that sounds more interesting to Germans.”

I would never have thought a name makes a difference. I worked as Halbhuber-Stead for years in Germany until my agent said, “That’s much too long. If you just keep Stead, everyone will assume that you are an Anglophone, so when you turn up and speak fluent German you’ll have earned yourself some bonus points already." (laughs)

How does working in South Africa differ from working in Germany?

 On stage and during rehearsals it isn’t really different. Except perhaps that you have less time here, so you have to fit more into less time. In Germany you usually have six weeks of rehearsal, but because you’re performing at a venue that covers several artistic realms (music, dance, theatre) the rehearsal rooms are often occupied. Which means you also have more free time in between. Here, however, rehearsals are very intense and we only get Sundays off. Rehearsing this specific production six days a week is exhausting – but apart from that there is no real difference.

What is different - due to the fact that theatres in Germany are usually subsidised - is that there is more money for things. More money for backstage, or for dressers, whose job it is to look out for the performers backstage. Since theatres receive financial support from the German government, they can not only pay their performers, but also do things to pamper them a bit.

In Germany, I would never have to do my own make-up, or anything like that. Here, for example,  there is no one to repair costumes when necessary. If anything like that needs to be done, one of the performers knows how to sew, but normally there would be staff for that.

I understand why it’s like this here. Pieter (Toerien) does not receive any subsidies – he is a self-made producer. However, that is a difference that is hard to get used to. When you are doing eight shows a week, you start missing those types of comforts.

It can be gruelling work and after 100 shows, you spend all your time making sure you don’t get sick, or stay up too late and get enough sleep. After a while you get into a rut where you feel like you don’t have a life anymore – everything revolves around the show and staying healthy and raising the flags. Those are the moments when you think, “I wish there were at least someone to paint my face now, so I don’t have to do that myself as well.” (laughs)

How did you prepare for this role?

I read the book (by Christopher Isherwood) and watched three different productions of Cabaret. That made me realize just how much room there is for the Emcee to make "mistakes" - or rather, how thin the line is that this character, with it's emotional highs and lows, treads.

How does it feel to perform Cabaret in such an intimate venue?

 I think the intimate setting and the small theatre really make the atmosphere we’re creating here. The audience should feel like they’re in the Kit Kat Club – which is impossible when the auditorium is huge and the distance between the stage and the audience is too big.

What do you like most about this production of Cabaret?

I love Steven’s staging. I find it essential, the way he placed the songs so they always comment on the action and the developing relationships between Cliff and Sally, or Fräulein Schneider and Herr Schultz. I also like how he handles certain topics that have been swept under the carpet in other versions of this musical, such as Cliff’s homosexual side.

I think it's great how the Kit Kat Club is present in every scene, as a comment from the sidelines. And also, the decision to delay the interval until after the party scene – it makes the first act quite long, but that really is the only place to have it.

What is your favorite song from Cabaret?

I don’t care much, in Act Two.

Last question: What are your personal Cape Town insider tips?

Harbour Bay Market in Hout Bay is a must. I think it's wonderful. There is so much in Cape Town! Sundowners at the Twelve Apostles Hotel, (laughs) if you’re feeling decadent. Other than that, I’m a real beach-person. From Camps Bay towards Clifton is a great starting point for long walks along the beach.

The drive to Cape Point, via Chapmans Peak, is another thing I’d recommend. On the way there you should stop in Simonstown, and on the way back you should drive via Scarborough and Misty Cliffs –  even better if you can time it with the sunset. It's definitely worth the trip!

Interview by Heike Brunner

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Read the review of Cabaret at the Theatre on the Bay

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