Cabaret 13 premieres at Carolina Theatre

by Mark Burger

Amid the inescapable barrage of Hollywood blockbusters hitting multiplexes and arthouses this spring, local audiences also have the chance to be among the first to see Cabaret 13, a locally made 36-minute short produced by Studio 4, which is based in Greensboro.

The film, which has no connection to the Broadway musical Cabaret or Bob Fosse’s subsequent, Oscar-winning screen version, will be screened at the Carolina Theatre thrice on Saturday, April 2, with members of the cast and crew in attendance.

Chief among them is the film’s writer, producer, editor, director and co-star: Steve Spraggs. A graduate of UNCG (media studies), this indie auteur wanted to make a personal film, a historical drama rooted in fact that first inspired him when he was a student.

“It is loosely based on the true story of avant-garde artists and poets from the period, including Vladimir Mayakovsky, Mikhail Larionov and Natalia Goncharova,” he relates. “Our film is a day in the life of these artisans as they a produce a film that was called Murder at Cabaret 13. In reality, this film was lost to us forever. Our film offers a possible explanation of what may have happened to the film at the hands of the Soviets.”

The cast includes Jacob Crickenberger (soon to be seen in the mini-series Mercy Street) as Mikhail, Kirt Dow (the upcoming chiller The Red Man) as Vladimir, Charis Jeffers (the locally-produced 2013 faith-based drama Find a Way) as Natalia, and Spraggs in the role on Konstantin.

Although visual effects are often credited for bringing alive new galaxies and universes on film, they can also be used to re-create different locations and time periods that would otherwise be impossible to replicate.

The architecture of Moscow a century ago is long gone.

Explains Spraggs: “At Studio 4, we have developed several techniques for making these types of ‘international’ films, which include and are not limited to green-screening the great outdoors and inserting international locations.

Cabaret 13 is very much a film shot in the same vein, (as it) takes place in Moscow, Russia in 1913 and 1931.”

Yet the entire film was shot on location – in Greensboro. “The locations include the Revolution Mill Factory, the Jefferson Pilot Building, and several downtown streets and buildings,” Spraggs says.

“The film within the film is shot on an 8mm Russian film camera and there is footage that includes 35mm stills that were developed in our studio to look ‘period.’ Pre-production took almost six months as we gathered period items and produced several period props at the studio. All told there are over 100 local and talented people involved in this production.”

Spraggs was inspired to make Cabaret 13 “by the Ballet Russes exhibition at the National Gallery in Washington, DC. The exhibition featured Natalia and Mikhail’s artistry that was completed during the years after they left Moscow and became part of the Paris-based Ballet Russes that was directed by the well-known Sergei Diaghilev.

“The story was further developed when I was a student at UNCG and studying Russian history with Dr. Jeff Jones and screenwriting with Prof. Matthew Barr. It is intended first to be a love story and second to be a historically correct look at a post-Czarist, pre-Soviet Moscow, and the artists who had a political influence.”

Under Studio 4’s auspices, Spraggs made his feature debut as writer, producer, director and co-star of The Americans of Calais (2012), a musical drama that followed a young rock ‘n’ roll band en route to Calais, France, then on to Paris. It too was filmed entirely in the Piedmont Triad, and the film made its debut at the Mississippi International Film Festival.

Cabaret 13 was originally to have premiered last December but was postponed out of respect for Keean McElroy, a 10-year-old youngster who appeared in the film but was killed in a tragic car accident Nov. 30 in Greensboro. Spraggs remembers him with great affection and respect.

“There is a part in the film where Keean has to eat an apple that is tossed to him,” he recalls. “(His) character is supposed to be anxious and happy to get the apple. Keean devoured the apple with such fervor that we were all blown away by his performance. Then we did another take and another, all the while Keean just kept devouring the apples. He gave his all for the part, never flinching, consuming the better part of four or five big apples in a few minutes. When the shot was done he never even registered a slight complaint but was proud to have played the part so well.

“In his lifetime, Keean was just awesome that like every day,” Spraggs says.

“He lived life full-speed ahead while never missing a single small detail. It was a joy working with Keean but more than that it was a great pleasure to just experience such a cool kid. He is missed more than words can say by so many people. I hope his performance in this film will become one of many tributes to his exceptional life.”

Spraggs and Studio 4 have a number of projects percolating, both in film and music. He’s currently working on a screenplay titled Wedding Chapel Wars that would be shot in Las Vegas and mark his biggest project to date. He’s in pre-production on the short Cold War Poets, which he hopes to have ready for festival submission later this year.

But, he admits, Cabaret 13 holds a special place for him. “All in all, it is the best film to date from the Studio 4 Presents label, and I consider it a capstone to my filmmaking efforts here in Greensboro.” !


Cabaret 13 will be screened 6 pm, 7:30 pm and 9 pm Saturday, April 2 at the Carolina Theatre, 310 S. Greene St., Greensboro. Admission is free (donations accepted). There will be snacks, soft drinks and a cash bar. For more information, call 336.333.2605 or check out: The official Cabaret 13 Facebook page is, and the official Studio 4 website is http://studio-