Gafgen forgets her troubles


In cabaret, anything goes. So when Sarah J. Gafgen, of Ninth and Ritner streets, takes the stage June 23, she can’t be sure of what to expect.

“I have an interaction with the audience. I have sort of planned what I’m going to say, but the great thing about cabaret is that it’s really interactive. There is no wall between you and the audience and you can poke fun and if you see them do something silly, you can stop in the middle of the song if you want,” Gafgen, 26, said. “There are no rules when it comes to cabaret, no right or wrong. It’s a completely individual art form, which is cool.”

Gafgen will be taking the stage with her cabaret “Forget Your Troubles …” at Society Hill Playhouse, 507 S. Eighth St., followed by Deborah Billups’ cabaret “I’m just Saying” as part of Quince productions, “Full House: A Series of Cabarets.” The event that runs through June 26 features 11 separate cabarets.

“I assembled it myself. We were kind of given free reign, just told to make are own 30 to 45 minutes of entertainment,” Gafgen said. “They asked us to give it a theme and I randomly heard the song ‘Get Happy’ one day, so I thought of forget your troubles as the theme of my show.”

The night will feature a lineup of songs about “keeping a stiff upper lip,” the creator said, adding, “it’s mostly songs to make people smile, make people laugh.”

Admission to the night featuring Gafgen’s and Billup’s shows is $25, which includes a drink.

“It’s exciting to get to try out a bunch of material, half of which I’ve done, half I haven’t performed in front of a group of people,” she said. “I get to stretch myself in new directions and see what I’m able to bring to the table. It’s just me for the majority of the evening.”

Luckily, however, Gafgen doesn’t have to brave the spotlight completely alone as she will be accompanied by boyfriend — and fellow South Philly resident — Carl Smith and joined on a few numbers by longtime friend Michael Medvidik.

“If anything happens, I can count on them to bring me back on track,” Gafgen said.

Gafgen, originally from Pennington, N.J., began her theater career in the seventh grade. She continued her education at Dickinson College majoring in psychology and theater arts with a minor in acting and directing.

“Honestly, I am still not entirely sure [why I majored in psychology],” she said. “Both my parents were social workers … It was something I really enjoyed researching and when I took a psych elective, I took it on a whim, I really enjoyed all the reading and coursework.”

Though she enjoyed psychology studies, theater was her first and true passion.

“First of all, it’s just great to have outlets to express different sides of your personality. You can try on different personalities at any given time and you might not be comfortable exploring in everyday life,” Gafgen said. “It’s really interesting to see how your gut reacts to different situations and frankly, I just really enjoy the people I’ve met working in theater. They are generally just open and mostly genuine and I think that’s a really magnetic personality type.”

Upon graduating in 2007, Gafgen began working in Jersey and Media, at the Hedgerow Theater and participating in various summer stock productions. She debuted on the Philadelphia stage in last year’s Fringe Festival in “Love-Nothing,” by Haha productions.

“Since then, I’ve done reading with Philadelphia Theater Workshop and I was at the mainstage at The Walnut [Street] Theater,” Gafgen said.

A year ago, Gafgen relocated with Smith to the Lower Moyamensing area.

“In South Philly, there are a lot of friends of mine who are also actors or theater artists. There are creative people around the same age range as myself and we were able to find housing we could actually afford in an area we felt safe,” Gafgen said.

Now settled into the area, Gafgen is diving headfirst into Philly theater. After next week’s cabaret, Gafgen will take on a piece she has worked on as stage director and in another role.

“I am doing the Ritz Theater in July. I’m playing Mayor Matilda Hyde in a show I’ve worked on in different capacities. This is the third time,” Gafgen said of the upcoming production of “All Shook Up.” “It’s a lot of fun. It’s the story of 12th night told through the music of Elvis Presley.

“It’s really fun for all ages because the music is rock and roll and story is just accessible to pretty much anybody and it’s really funny.”

For the next two weeks, Gafgen is focusing on her upcoming cabaret and hopes locals will come out.

“The safety net is not there as with a tried and true script that’s been workshopped,” Gafgen said. “This is the first and last time this particular show will ever be performed.” SPR

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