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Coronavirus shuts down "Urinetown"

Pandemic closing of musical “Urinetown” leaves Valley’s Theater Arts faculty saddened.

By Gene Wickham, Staff Writer

Photo by Gabriel Arizon/The Valley Star

In mid-March, the Valley College Theater Arts Department was excited about its new musical “Urinetown,” a project involving over 30 performers, a band and stage crew and scheduled to open just two weeks later on March 27.

The “Urinetown” play revolved around a society suffering a long water drought, resulting in the poor having to use pay-per-use public bathrooms. The rich control the toilets and the poor suffer injustices and continued abuse — a symbolic social commentary.

On March 13, due to the coronavirus pandemic, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti closed down non-essential businesses and organizations — including all schools in the city. A week later, California Gov. Gavin Newsom closed down the entire state which was soon followed by other states. Jennifer Read — Theater Arts Department chairperson — met with Valley President Barry Gribbons to discuss the situation.

“We talked about filming, Zooming, reduced audience — every direction,” she said.

Even though the play was close to opening, they hadn't finished costumes, built light or sound cues and still needed to work with the band.

“After much conversation with the president and the administration, it [“Urinetown”] was postponed initially,” Read said, “but then once the state shut everything down, it became clear to all that there was no way to move forward.”

The musical was planned for the Horseshoe Theater, a small u-shaped stage with the audience seated on three sides. With a cast of 30, there was no way to have enough social distancing between cast, much less from the audience. After realizing the lack of options, the department faced the inevitable.

“For the first time for all of us, we cancelled the show, and it was heartbreaking for all of us,” Read lamented.

The Theater Arts Department presents one major theatrical event each semester. In the fall of 2019, they staged Noel Coward’s 1925 comedic play, “Hay Fever.” The former mainstage has been converted to a lecture hall. Although no theater productions were scheduled there, dance recitals and orchestral concerts had been planned for the 2020 spring semester.

The Valley Symphony Orchestra had a concert scheduled two days after the lock down, involving the Valley choir as well as the wind ensemble.

“Dance was scheduled for an early May presentation of their Dance Showcase, this year focusing on all student choreographers,” Read added. “Theater students and faculty have been working with Liz [Valley dance instructor Liz Casebolt] to create this concert over the last couple years.”

Additional complications are ahead after Newsom announced the summer and fall semesters will be online and LACCD Chancellor Francisco Rodriguez followed suit, creating more challenges ahead for all Valley performing arts departments.

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