Sunday, February 2, 2014

What *is* Urinetown?

It is just 20 days until Urintown: The Musical opens at St James Theatre! Needless to say, I am beyond excited to see two of my favorite subjects (toilets and musical theatre) come together in one place! I don't know what to expect from the production. It has the potential to be many things. But I know that I am going to enjoy it.

I also know that whether the show itself taps into the political landscape or not, there couldn't be a better time and place for it socially and politically. There are a lot of people pushing the toilet (shall we say 'sanitation?' agenda. The phenomenal Rose George with her "talk shit" campaign. The young hip Toilet Hackers, an American group trying to "make sanitation sexy" through high profile fundraising parties, and international projects. Bill and Melinda Gates, funding Entrepreneurs to "re-invent the toilet."And of course Jack Sim and the World Toilet Organisation.

The first time I ever interacted with Jack was in a twitter exchange that he has probably long forgotten. Urinetown came up:
JackWTO: UK has been closing down public toilets to save money. Now they go to McDonalds and pubs + pay toilets, like UrineTown 
Me: yes, toilets controlled by evil corporations! How do we achieve toilet democracy? to do that we have to get people interested...
JackWTO: Everyone wants a clean free toilet. Singapore have laws that all businesses open their toilets to public. It works very well

The question continues to fascinate me. How do we create an environment where people can, as the musical so eloquently puts it "pee for free whenever they like, as much as they like, for as long as they like, with whomever they like?"

The first step is to get people talking. Jack is a show man and brilliant at getting people to do that. But there are avenues even he hasn't reached yet.

In an ideal world Urinetown would bring an opportunity to do just that. To start using theatre (and good quality theatre at that!) to get people interested in topics they never even thought to think on. I know that theatre isn't the answer to everything (much as I like to believe it is) but it is a jolly good start!

I admit that I am completely biased by the fact that I did my master's in Applied Theatre, which, very loosely, is the study of theatre that seeks to make a significant social impact. Most academics go a step further and classify it as 'theatre done with non-actors in non-traditional theatre spaces.' Truth be told, I couldn't care less about the label, but I know things: I like good theatre and I like theatre that says something important. I think people are more likely to care if they are entertained.

But if no one else is going to talk about it in this context, then I can at least spew my thoughts here. My head is full of programme notes I would write, conversations I would like to start, and awareness projects I would like to develop.

 So over the next couple weeks I'll be working on short series of reflections on the theme of 'What is Urinetown?' I think it is lots of things. A tool. An allegory. A warning. Hope. And, on top of all that, brilliant piece of musical theatre!

Next Up: "Charging fees as we please is alright, it's not wrong!" (is it?) A Two-thousand-year-old debate!


Urinetown plays at St James Theatre 22 Feb - 3 May 2014.

This blog is in no way associated with or endorsed by the creators.
But you should still go see the musical.
And tell me what you think!

If you aren't lucky enough to live in London, listen to the recording.
You'll be glad you did!


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