Theatre

Urinetown

Time: May 10, 2008
Place: Douglas Morrisson Theatre
Role: Bobby Strong
Director: Sue Ellen Nelsen
My Reflections

The Audition

It wasn’t long after Oz closed that I saw an email which went out to former Ozians. Seems they needed a Bobby Strong in Urinetown. Hmmm. I remember that being a pretty cool part in a funny, funny show. Plus, maybe Hope would be cute and fun. Sure I was already in another and show. Sure I’d miss about a month of rehearsals. Sure, I needed a break. Why wouldn’t I inquire?

I emailed the director and noted my conflicts. There were plenty to be sure. The director had me meet her and the musical director out at CSUEB. It was a quick audition and the notes were, well, into the stratosphere. I wasn’t sure what the result would be but then got an email offering the role. Sure. Why not? I accepted. Rest is for the weak.

The Missed Rehearsals

Up until Iron Curtain opened, I did no more than buy some of the songs and begin to learn them. I had enough to think about already, but I also didn’t want to fall behind. I’d have only three or four weeks once I joined the new cast.

Thus I went on with Iron Curtain until it opened. But the week before, I finally had some open time on a Saturday, so I relaxed and worked.

Well, that was the plan. Got a call in the mid afternoon. Turns out I was supposed to be at Urinetown (UT) rehearsal that afternoon. Yikes! I didn’t think I could really get out there in time, but they were waiting for me. I hopped in the car and left.

Actually, I hopped in the shower, then hopped in the car and left (couldn’t go there all smelly now, right?)

It was just Hope and me that afternoon. We rehearsed a while and I had a feeling it would be a good show. She was someone I could see myself getting along with well.

The Rehearsals

Finally, my current show opened and I was able to rehearse for UT. Took some time to get caught up, but I learn quickly and this show didn’t have any difficult dances for me to do. Man, I haven’t danced much in years. Crazy for You was the last big dance show for me and that was some time ago. Suppose I should practice again if I want to audition for that next year.

Musically, it was challenging, but not impossible. Basically, it was a tough workout, but once a person was used to it, it wasn’t too bad. One also had to ensure he didn’t overwork either and harm the voice. Ay-ya! And this was all during grad school.

The Cast

This was certainly one of the more talented casts I’ve worked with. Each person added a considerable amount to the show. New bits were constantly being invented, which increased the laugh meter by a lot. Some of the added lines were funnier than lines in the script. My favorite was Jeff adding, “Who tied those?" after Hope escapes from her binding. Yeah, that’s good stuff.

One thing I’ll note is the dedication and commitment to the scenes. On one occasion, I noticed Becky Two-Shoes and her scowl, with a rather striking conviction. She was 100% in the moment; however, she was also turned completely upstage and no one in the audience could even see her face. Yet, there she was, completely in the scene, fully engaged in the action and situation. That’s the kind of ensemble we had, people giving everything and totally in the moment.

Note that all bets are off when people are behind large set pieces, for I hear all sorts of crazy stuff went on during the Act I finale. As well, even when I went back there during the opening, I too was having fun. There was even a mild “earthquake" one night when I discovered that the set unit wasn’t braked at all. Who knew?!?

Almost without exception, everyone got along very well and no real drama was seen. I don’t recall any cast romances aside from one semi-secretive, fairly obvious one.

The Performances

While the ones who came were great, attendance in general was disappointing. I mean it was never empty, but the percentages were never above 90% and often not even close to that. It was a darn good show, but yet there were always too many seats empty. I know some of you may be thinking, “Don’t you have some insightful theories on why that is?" Why yes! Yes I do have several theories:

  1. Okay, the title. In and of itself, it just doesn’t sound appealing. It’s like an unusual person: you just have to get to know her before you can like or appreciate who she is. That said, it’s also a title you don’t soon forget. But people may have avoided the show for that reason alone. But let me say, it could have been a LOT worse.
  2. The show is fairly “new." It’s been out a while now, but not like The Sound of Music or Guys and Dolls. People will flock in droves to those old shows and sell them out repeatedly, which now really shocks me. I mean, it would be like seeing the same movie at the cinema. Don’t people crave new and different things? I mean the Matrix was a great movie, but I only need to see it once. I think it’s why many performers even grow tired of theatre after a while—it’s primarily just the same old set of shows being repeatedly over and over (and over).
  3. Urinetown has been done quite a lot in the East Bay. I don’t have any exact counts, but it’s pretty high. I like the show, but I don’t think I’d go from venue to venue to keep seeing it. I like new and different stuff too.
  4. The economy isn’t great. Just gas prices alone may keep many away from the theatre. When you’re paying a lot more than you’re used to at the pump then something has to give. For many, it’s probably daily coffees and unnecessary niceties, such as the theatre. This may be the biggest factor. Times are tight for many.
  5. Too much supply. The Thursday shows probably hurt. If those two nights hadn’t existed, the folks could have filled other nights. Also, we had five weekends of shows and that’s just a long run in general. As well, opening Sunday should be dropped. Word of mouth hasn’t spread at that point and the actors could certainly use a break after a week of tech and then opening.

The Shows

Well, no huge disasters. I think the lights went almost out one time for a few moments. Coincidentally, it was a night we’d said, “Macbeth," but since we said that a lot, it really means very little. Try it enough and you’ll soon discover why superstitions are often scoffed at by scientists and deeper thinkers.

The DMT theatre is always a fun place to perform. The sets are built by others and they don’t even ask for help. That’s nice, especially considering how great they always turn out. This set really wowed me. I was happy to perform on it. The DMT also has a great green room where people can be fairly loud, yet it’s also very close to entrances. Another nice feature is the tunnel, although you never know who you’re going to find in it.

The Parties

I think about every post-show gathering was at a restaurant. A few gatherings were quite amusing. Special focus was made of the mural in a Mexican restaurant in Hayward. The chickens had funny looks and the people in the paintings were even funnier. It’s not something I can even write down. Since I always had to drive home afterwards, I could never drink at these gatherings. This meant less embarrassing stories regarding myself.

We did have a couple parties at Jennifer’s home in Berkeley. Those were interesting, with a certain red-faced inebriated lady and some moron jumping on a trampoline with his hands in his pocket, but in my defense, the thing was missing a darn pole. And I wasn’t seriously hurt!

Run, Urinetown, Run

Five weeks! Yeah, five weeks of shows. It wears a person down, especially a show like UT. And again, this was without dancing (for me). But after so many months of shows and rehearsals, I was dead tired and ready to have my evenings free again. Okay, I was actually auditioning for another show, but luckily that didn’t go through.

Some things I would recommend to theatres which have long runs: for starters, omit opening Sunday. Give the actors a break; tech week was long enough. Opening Sundays never sell that well anyway. Also, cast gifts are never a bad idea (unless they contain arsenic or salmonella). It’s a good way to say, “Thanks. We appreciate your time and effort to this show." I mean, I essentially spent over 0 in gas money to do UT. Time is one thing, but 0 in tangible lost dough is quite another. Certainly, the thank-you gift doesn’t have to be 0, but hey, I’m all ears if that should be the plan.

The Closing

It was the perfect cast party. We had a home to meet at, the food was outstanding and there was plenty of it. I think every cast member even attended the gathering along with a good deal of crew and orchestra. Outside, there was a fire pit and many just sat around there and chatted into the night. It’s usually the final cast party where I really get to know other cast members, which is unfortunate, but c’est la vie. There were some good deep talks that night. Everyone appeared to have a great time and some didn’t want it to end. We were one of the last few people to leave.

Final Thoughts

  • I missed doing my Elvis impersonation for “Run, Freedom, Run." But alas, it wasn’t my call.
  • Sometimes when too much obsession is done over lines, it weakens the focus on the scenes and characters.
  • It’s fun to be blindfolded in a scene. You think about other ways to communicate more.
  • In IC, my hands were tied in back and my mouth gagged. In UT, my hands were bound in front and my eyes blindfolded.
  • With an actor like Anthony, you can always expect the unexpected.
  • It is indeed possible to perform with a bad throat infection. Sure it hurts terribly, but the show can go on.
  • While I’m very mellow, I find my tolerance goes way down after a long rehearsal and I want to leave, but people keep brining up subjects that could be best discussed directly with the director. They mean no harm, but it sure wears me down.
  • Having only one costume, I was very grateful for that after watching so many people do insane costume changes.
  • “Conducting” is NOT easy! Its difficulty increases when you have to sing something else and have to watch the real conductor all the while.
  • Gospel preaching is FUN!
  • One can never have too many Altoids during a show.
  • Men’s dressing room banter differs significantly from women’s room chatter.
  • Urinetown seems to be a love or hate type show.
  • How many musicals feature the word ‘defecation’ getting a laugh?
  • Sticky-pad notes are a fun way to get scene notes.
  • Scene-stealing can sometimes be quite funny and sometimes detrimental.
  • I don’t know when I’ll perform with a cast this talented again. I’ll miss them.

Next: Make Magic, Make Magic!

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