My “Urinetown” summer In Ann Arbor
When I was cast as Caldwell B. Cladwell in Urinetown last Spring, I was thrilled. I am still thrilled as I get ready for opening night in West Park, Ann Arbor July 30 with the Penny Seats Theatre Company.
As we have moved from rehearsal space to the park for the next three weekends, I have had two thoughts swimming through my head: outdoor theatre is a serious challenge with allowances needing to be made by both player and audience, and it is amazing how certain shows hold up over time and seem so incredibly relevant.
First, on doing outdoor theater. This is my first time doing it. Frankly, I’m not used to having mud on my shoes for a show. But as I stride through the cattails of West Park to make one of several entrances as Cladwell, I feel some kinship to actors of centuries past before indoor lighting was a thing. I confess that I secretly went to the park during the day and added a few pavers leftover from my patio construction to try and cut down on mud splashing up on my suit pants. The glamour of it all!
Towels are key part of my show-bag. The costume is a three-piece suit. It’s July going into August. You can do the math. There is no such thing as too much water right now. When my Broadway hero, John Cullum, played Cladwell in the late 1990s, I don’t think he had these problems. And every time I think about complaining, I remind myself that he was 71 when he did it.
I’m plotzing over being seen by audience members sitting in certain places before my entrances, but I’m learning to let it go.
I am betting most of you have seen the show at least once. If not, it is an almost comic-book like musical of a society in which everyone has to pay to pee. Cladwell is owner of Urine Good Company, or “UGC as it’s known for short.” The music is wonderful. And as much as the Act One finale is a pain the butt to get right, it is worth the hard work when performed.
The relevancy? This is the summer of “The Donald,” as in Trump. And I find as I look for some inspiration about how to play Cladwell—mannerisms, attitude, etc., could I have asked for a better model to steal from? Trump has even been decrying the rise in public urination in New York City. You can’t make it up. There have been three front-page headlines in the The New York Post this month about public urination.
“Urinetown,” it seems, is literally ripped from the headlines despite being more than 15 years old.
Urinetown is very much about the 99% vs. the 1%. And it was written that way long before I could write those terms without explaining them. Economic statistics show us that the spread between wealthy and super-wealthy and the middle and lower class is getting wider all the time. Student loans, rising real estate and rent prices, and healthcare costs are all playing havoc with the finances of people I know working in theater and the arts.
We can pee where we want without paying…for now anyway. But I did think it amazingly ironic that when I went to West Park today in the morning to see if something I left in front of the band-shell was still there, the stage was occupied by a homeless couple. Life imitating art imitating life.