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High school theater production goes to state

Ashland High School’s production of “Urinetown, the Musical” won a top spot at the Oregon Thespian Festival in April 2020 and will be performed before more than 1,500 drama students and teachers on the final night of the festival.

If you missed the show when it was performed at the high school last fall, you can see it Sunday and Monday, March 29 and 30, in the school’s Mountain Avenue Theatre. AHS will remount the show for two nights, then pack the truck with set, costumes and props Tuesday, March 31, and leave for Salem the next day.

“Urinetown,” which debuted at the New York International Fringe Festival in 2000, is a satirical comedy that targets capitalism, local corruption, officious officialdom and classical music theater itself. In the play, officials impose a fee to pee in the public urinals, and it’s illegal to pee otherwise. There’s a drought, you see, and pee is needed, so if you pee privately it’s off to Urinetown you go, never to be seen again.

The AHS production of “Urinetown, the Musical” is directed by Oregon Shakespeare Festival actor and director Rodney Gardiner and was first performed at AHS in the fall of 2019.

“It’s completely nostalgic for me, being a theater geek in high school just tapping back into just how important and formative it is to explore the art of theater-making,” noted Gardiner.

“The kids brought so much unique flavor to an already great script with its delightful satire and searing criticism, and it was enjoyable to watch the kids sink their teeth into that, something that was funny on the surface ... but had real heart and depth and relevance.”

The 2020 Oregon State Thespian Festival will be held April 2-4 at the Salem Conference Center and Historic Elsinore Theatre in Salem. The festival is the signature event for Oregon’s high school theater students and teachers, with three main stage productions, dozens of one-act plays, workshops, presentations. Student finalists will also compete in solo and duo performance categories.

This will be the eighth time that the Ashland High School drama program has performed a full-length production at the state competition, significant because most productions are showcased with only an act or scene.

“Urinetown, the Musical” will be the closing show for the 2020 Oregon State Thespian Festival on Friday evening.

Earlier AHS theater productions that made state include “Radium Girls” in 2016, “Then They Came for Me” in 2013, and “Anatomy of Grey” in 2010, all directed by Betsy Bishop.

Taking a show to state is a huge endeavor, and much of the work falls to the tech crew led by AHS junior Braden Rogers and his team.

“It’s rough to move the show, especially from the tech side of things,” Rogers said. “What I’m really worried about is lights, because when we set up lights for “Urinetown” here it takes a week; when we take it to state we have about four hours get it all done.”

It’s expensive to go to a state competition, as any sports team student and their parents can tell you, and the school doesn’t cover any of the costs.

“Urinetown’s” cast and crew of 40 students will need an estimated $5,000 to get to Salem and cover the cost of accommodations and meals. Designated tax-deductible gifts to the Ashland High School Drama Fund can be made at AshlandSchoolsFoundation.org and by calling 541-482-8197.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at mbattistellaor@gmail.com.

Photo by Denise Baratta Ashland High School cast of “Urinetown, the Musical”