Urinetown Updates from Leonard Curtis

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Something hot is cooking in the Strayer-Wood Theatre!  On Thursday (technical rehearsal) the warm soup was transferred to a cold kettle.  Now, over the course of the next week, the production ensemble will be firing up to a full boil! Since my last blog entry, Urinetown has come head to head with technical rehearsals, a process that in the Strayer-Wood Theatre is at once exciting, ponderous and exhausting. The final touches to the working components of the set are being made by students under the direction of Technical Director Ron Koinzan, and Set Designer Mark Parrott.  Props Master Allie Smith is steadily checking things off her extensive to-do list. 

On any given morning this week, you could walk into the Strayer-Wood Theatre and see Pip Gordon, Chris Winneman, Stephanie Wessels, and Tony Lempares tackling the painstaking process of building beautiful light-cues, taking lighting notes, and addressing electrical problems.  If you go there, don’t forget to carry your Maglite!   Don’t forget to button your lip!  I forgot to do both during an intense cue-building session two days ago.  The result:  I tripped into the seating (the theater was necessarily dark for cue-building), exclaimed a few choice words, and then cowered as I realized I had violated the dark, quiet, and preciously short time that lighting designers have to build splendid cues (I’m pretty familiar with Pip’s work) and build them right in order to minimize future notes.  There I saw distinctive patterns, a subtle color palette, and insightful cue transitions.  I can hardly wait to see it!

This Saturday will be a busy one as Mark (Parrott), Alex (Westrum), Allie (Smith), Ron (Koinzan) and crew tie up the loose ends of scenery, paint and props.  On the same day, the costume studio will be having a major work call in preparation for the first dress on Sunday.

These big musicals require special exertions from the performers, especially when music and dance rehearsals are shepherded by artists as inspired and dedicated as Joel (Waggoner), Daniel (Wells), and Kelsey (Waugaman).  There were bunches of thrilling performances evident at Crew View that now have to slow down, as if they were performing in sticky honey, as lighting, sound, and scenery cues are layered into their performance work of the past six weeks.  It’s always like that, then back up to speed by opening!

This production of Urinetown exemplifies one of the most important artistic and pedagogical activities in which the UNI Department of Theatre participates:  working with, learning with, and learning from free-lance theater artists and colleagues from other academic theatre programs.  Urinetown is a collaboration between UNI’s Department of Theatre and  Marshalltown’s Iowa Valley Community College Orpheum Theatre Center.  It is also a collaboration involving a free-lance theater artist from New York City (Joel Waggoner) and a UNI colleague from the Department of Health, Physical Education and Leisure Services (Daniel Wells)  It is an excellent example of how coordinated collaborative efforts within a college theatre environment serve to build learning outcomes for all parties involved.

I haven’t yet had a chance to talk to Jay, Joel, and Daniel about the impact this production is having on the students under their mentorship, but a brief chat today with Pip Gordon and Chris Winneman (Iowa Valley Community College Orpheum Theatre Center) revealed that UNI student collaboration with “Team Lighting” has resulted in the following important student opportunities:      

  • Urinetown Assistant to the Lighting Designer Stephanie Wessels has been offered a job as stage manager for the inaugural performance at the Orpheum Theatre Center this summer.  The arena production of The Music Man will be directed by Rod Caspers (Austin, Texas) with musical direction by UNI’s Dr. Rebecca Burkhardt.  With a cast of 26 local performers, it will be the first live theatre performance produced in the newly renovated Orpheum Theatre, an historic RKO Art Moderne movie house from 1949.
  • Michael Brown, lighting designer for our spring 2011 production of On the Verge, will be receiving a recommendation (very favorable) from Pip as he applies for the position of Assistant Lighting Supervisor at the Actor’s Theatre of Louisville.  Michael has been an indispensible contributor to the process of familiarizing our Orpheum Theatre Center guests with the peculiarities of the performance space and its lighting equipment.  In addition to serving as long-time student guru of the latest lighting technologies, Michael has proven himself to be a very gifted lighting designer, judging from his contributions to On the Verge.   Proof of Michael’s talent and expertise as evidenced by his portfolio and the approval from a first class lighting designer with a long history at ATL should place Michael in a strong place to compete for this important appointment.  Good luck, Michael!
  • Thomas White, ETC control console programming-guru has been an indispensible factor in assisting “Team Lighting” with the setup and programming of the light board and moving lights.  I also witnessed him pulling a couple of long stints with trouble-shooting and lighting focus.  Thomas will be following up on some leads on lighting industry work opportunities in the Las Vegas market, thanks to our Orpheum Theatre Center colleague, Pip Gordon.

Certainly, many seeds of opportunity are being sown in the rich earth of Urinetown.  Next week I hope to un-earth a few more...

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