VICTORIA, B.C. – When you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go. That old saying that often expresses an urgent need to pee takes on new meaning in Urinetown, the darkly comic, Tony Award-winning musical satire being staged as the 2020-2021 season’s year-end musical showcasing the talents of Canadian College of Performing Arts students.
To ensure compliance with COVID-19 health and safety protocols, Urinetown features two distinct 23-person casts rather than the traditional full-student-body show. And whether you see one or both of these live ‘streamed’ takes, it’s a show guaranteed to prompt a chorus of “you’ve got to go” reactions.
Performances will be broadcast live from the Canadian College of Performing Arts at 1701 Elgin Rd. over two separate weekends from May 28 until June 5.
Despite the intentionally off-putting title, Urinetown, set in a dystopian future, has earned universal praise for how it cleverly satirizes targets such as corporate mismanagement, capitalism, politics and musicals themselves. It does so through the story of a greedy corporation bent on taking control of the populace by privatizing toilets and forcing citizens to pay for a basic human right – to pee.
When a revolution ensues as the people vow to regain their personal freedom, parallels to contemporary political authoritarianism amid a crippling pandemic are inescapable and brought into sharp focus.
“While its political timeliness will resonate , it’s also hysterical,” said Caleb Marshall, the College’s Managing Artistic Director and one of Urinetown’s three directors. His collaborators include lead choreographer Naomi Costain and music director Michael Doherty.
Since most of us experienced “potty” humour as our introduction to comedy, and can relate to having had an urgent need to pee, the production’s humour is highly relatable, he added.
Having two smaller-cast versions of the production inspired by the work of German composer and satirist Kurt Weill (The Threepenny Opera) allowed each student to have a named role, Marshall said.
“We chose Urinetown for its subject matter, phenomenal music and creative potential, but it’s also a musical that could be adaptable to the current pandemic,” he said.
“Because it’s set in a dystopian future, our COVID protection measures (masks, social distancing and so on) could be easily integrated. It really worked well with the play,” said Marshall.
When his cast wasn’t rehearsing in St. Mary’s Church, in which the College is housed, since no other room was big enough to meet COVID guidelines for such a large cast, the performers watched the other cast virtually as it went through its paces in the same area, and vice-versa.
While the design for both productions is similar, their innovative creative choices sets them apart.
The dual-show concept, with the onstage action captured by five strategically placed video cameras, was more labour-intensive than usual. This huge undertaking posed unique challenges for an expanded creative team of six, and a six-person stage management team.
Presenting two simultaneous productions of the same show is a first for the College, which is also the first company or training institution believed to have undertaken such a historic initiative.
Another aspect of the College productions of Urinetown that set it apart is that professional musicians have been hired, with the soundscape professionally engineered for a high-calibre live streaming experience.
“The College was particularly proud this year to be able to offer contracts to professionals who had lost so many,” said Marshall.
Costain said she was happy being able to return to her hometown to work on such a fun show.
“Dividing, and keeping the casts smaller, has meant more opportunity for the students to explore roles, and are they ever!” the Toronto-based guest director said. “The world of Urinetown reflects the challenges we face right now, but it’s also filled with levity, silliness and humour.”
Doherty said it was a bonus being able to work with two companies of emerging actors.
“I’m so impressed by their bravery and willingness to jump in despite the added challenges the pandemic brings to the project,” said Doherty, acknowledging that following the health regulations does make it more difficult to get to know each student. Still, there’s an upside.
“The reward is the level of commitment they all bring to every moment of every rehearsal.”
Indeed, it has been a challenging year for the performing arts industry, prompting the College to encourage theatre student groups and theatre professionals to reach out to the box-office to find out how to access this production with a reduced rate.
Where: Live-streamed from CCPA Performance Hall, 1701 Elgin Rd., Victoria
When: Red Cast: May 28, 7:30 pm; May 29, 12:30 and 6:00 pm; May 30, 3:00 p.m.
Green Cast: June 3, 7:30 pm; June 4, 6:00 pm; June 5, 12:30 and 6:00 pm
Tickets can be bought online at tickets.ccpacanada.com, or by phone. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a time and a staff member will call you.
Michael D. Reid