The toilet outside of Sharples is not another piece of public art — it’s an advertisement. For this year’s spring musical, Abigail Henderson ’14 is putting on a production of “Urinetown.” While the title suggests a bunch of potty jokes, Henderson described the musical as “brilliant satire you would not suspect was hidden beneath that horrible title.”
The premise of the show is initially outrageous. The story is set in a town suffering from a drastic drought. To combat this drought, a corporation privatizes all of the public bathroom facilities. All private bathrooms are outlawed, everyone must pay to use the restroom and anyone caught violating these rules is carted off to the ominous “Urinetown.” The people become restless and challenge this corporate authority, which leads to revolution.
Henderson has been enthralled with the musical since she first saw it and has always wanted to direct her own production here at Swarthmore. She said, “The musical is very self-aware of itself as a musical with a bad title and a bad premise and really pokes fun at itself for that.” Henderson further described that the show’s humor relies primarily on word-play and wit. “I’ve seen so much bad humor that laughs at things that actually hurt people,” she said “and there is so little of that in this musical.”
However, despite this obvious humor and the ridiculous nature of the plot, the musical itself deals with heavy themes including the dynamics of power and freedom. Henderson said that one of her favorite parts about Urinetown is “the lighthearted ways it looks at real world problems and allows people to think about and discuss these issues without it being too heavy.” It explores concepts of freedom and the justifications for revolution all while keeping the audience laughing.
The musical follows a set of characters, including a romantic lead and corporate bad guys. Anita Castillo-Halvorssen ’15 plays the role of Officer Lockstock, a police officer and the narrator of the show. This character is an omniscient narrator who is also involved in the action. Officer Lockstock breaks the fourth wall, talking to the audience and recapping events. This character is traditionally played by a man, a fact which adds some complication and depth to Castillo-Halvorssen’s role. “I don’t see myself as Officer Lockstock,” she said, “and it’s been hard for me to visualize that character as a woman and even use the correct pronouns.”
This musical is Henderson’s largest production to date. With a cast of 17 members and a production crew of 15 people, this is a large scale production which has required vast amounts of cooperation and planning. Finding rehearsal time has been one of the largest challenges, and Henderson said she is grateful for the “awesome dedicated cast willing to stay up until midnight for rehearsals.” Even after a Sunday rehearsal from ten in the morning to midnight, Henderson and Castillo-Halvorssen both said they were thrilled to be there and were enjoying rehearsal time with the cast.
There were two cast auditions and, due to the large number of roles, everyone received a part. According to Castillo-Halvorssen, this has led to a large amount of camaraderie and diversity in the cast. “The community of cast members is really interesting. Not everyone is trained in theater so everyone kind of brings their own style and personality to the stage.” Castillo-Halvorssen also appreciates the general cast camaraderie. “There’s no hierarchy as far as I know and everyone really seems to be equally part of the cast.” In addition, she said that Henderson has been immensely supportive and encouraging which has significantly contributed to the group experience.
This will be Henderson’s fourth and final spring musical, and the third to be held in Upper Tarble. Henderson said she loves putting on happy musicals. Last spring, when she was doing a romantic comedy, she said she was “seeing all my friends doing all this theater that was intentional, meaningful and an agent of social change, and I had this question about ‘what am I doing?’ Then I realized that the number of people laughing in the audience was worth it because there’s enough people doing those hard projects that I wanted to bring some humor to that.” Hopefully through “Urinetown” the audience will be able to experience Henderson’s passion and the incredible work that the cast and crew have put into this musical.