"Ambitious" is a good way to describe the Lower Merion High School Players, whose first production in the new high school building, Urinetown, will premiere on Nov. 18.
In the time the average high school drama club spends preparing for one full-length production, the Players prepare for and execute three: a musical in fall, a drama in winter, and a comedy in spring. For each of the three plays, the Players audition actors, choose a production/design team, design and create all their own sets and costumes, and hire outside professionals to act as coaches. As if that weren't impressive enough, all this work is done entirely by the students themselves.
Right now, the students of Players are simultaneously learning to operate their brand new theater in the new high school building and preparing for Urinetown's November debut, which will show in the school's smaller black box theater.
"I'm really excited about it," said Players treasurer and lead costume designer, senior Emily Shepard. "It's going to be a really wonderful production."
Urinetown is a quirky, satirical musical comedy about corruption, greed and revolution. Set in the year 2050, a city is in the midst of a water shortage caused by a 20-year drought. A single tyrannical company controls access to the city's public toilets and charges citizens for using them.
"The poor people are oppressed, and the rich people are still living large," Emily explained. Eventually, Bobby Strong (played by Ben Edelman) decides to garner support and start a revolution. In true dramatic fashion, he also happens to fall in love with Hope Cladwell (played by Elena Behar), the daughter of the evil corporation's owner.
The Broadway play won Tony awards for Best Director and Best Original Score in 2002, and was nominated for Best Musical.
"It's definitely contemporary and edgy," Emily said. "We wanted to try something that pushed the envelope and set a precedent for productions in the new school."
Lower Merion High School's new building features an 850-seat theater with professional-quality lighting, rigging and sound equipment and a smaller multipurpose black box theater.
"We got this brand new, gorgeous, state-of-the-art theater," Emily said, "but we are not totally familiar with how to use the big theater yet, so we didn't want to do our first show there."
Instead, Urinetown will be performed in the smaller black box theater. Staging a full production in the smaller theater has required innovation from all members of the cast and crew. "We had to be creative—which is expressed in our lighting design, scenery design and in the show as a whole," Emily said.
The Players board, which includes Emily and vice president of the board senior Rosemary Hwang, made the ultimate decision to perform Urinetown this fall.
"For every production, we ask, 'Why should Players tell this story at this time?'" explained Rosemary. "Because it is a student-run production and most who see the play are students, we try to make it really personal for them. … We consider material for reading, costumes, designing, scenery and acting. We want to give every single crew a chance to shine."
Normally, the board would choose the year's three shows at end of the previous school year. This year is different, however, as the normal routine was thrown off by the move to the new school building. The board chose Urinetown at the beginning of the summer, began recruiting freshman at freshman orientation, and a week later had the first auditions. Since then, they've been working hard to learn about their new building and oversee the various parts of production.
Even though they're still a month away from the musical's premiere, the Players reading committee will meet next Thursday to begin discussing options for the winter play.
"We try to keep on top of things," Rosemary said. "I guess it could be stressful—but at the same time, you get to learn new stuff about theater, and that's the beauty of it. While it's stressful, you also enjoy that it's stressful, too."
The Lower Merion High School Players' production of Urinetown will show Nov. 18, 19 and 20 at 7 p.m. in the high school's black box theater. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students and seniors, and may be reserved here.