On Thursday 12th March 2020 – for only the second time in history – the world’s most iconic theatre district, Broadway, turned off its lights. The next day, on our soil, the Melbourne Comedy Festival was cancelled. Hundreds of shows shut down, artists out of work and thousands of tickets sold to audience members defunct. A few days later, gatherings of over 500 people were restricted by the Government from going ahead. And everything snowballed from there. Fast.
The performing arts industry around the world turned off all its lights throughout the course of the pandemic, and will no doubt suffer this fate for many months, and years to come. Only symbolic ghost lights – small, single bulb lights that shine on dark stages when a theatre is closed, and unoccupied remain as the artists wait in the wings to make their re-entrances.
A week and a half after Broadway closed, our students here at Oakhill were requested by the NSW Premier to stay at home. With this news, our Performing Arts Department had a tough decision to make – cancel the 2020 College Musical entirely? Or push forward without knowing whether a show would even be possible?
With the hope that on our return to school we could bring to life a version of our show, we chose to keep the dream alive for our students. To be able to achieve this, we had to sadly farewell 60 boys in Years 7, 8 and 9. Also due to potential restrictions, we had to reduce the traditionally spectacular elements of our shows in Benildus Hall – the stadium seating was cancelled and we reverted to a pre-recording of the production as opposed to engaging live musicians. While we all stayed at home, the cast created video renditions of musical numbers and we rehearsed via Zoom. It was a remarkable shift in how to approach the rehearsal process and how to teach our students. And they responded in a remarkable way, refining their singing, dancing, acting and characterisation at home.
With restrictions lifting, rehearsals restarted at Oakhill. The energy that the cast and crew brought with them was phenomenal and it was a joy to see them all together again. We now just had to pray that we could see the show through to its final manifestation. Luckily the determination and resilience of our students has been rewarded. We are thrilled to be able to produce four performances of Urinetown – The Musical on 23rd, 24th, 26th and 27th June. Although the audiences will be smaller, our students will experience performance conditions and see their project come to fruition. Through showcasing their extraordinary talents, they will be able to share this story with our community.
It is this ability to tell stories that lies at the heart of all good theatre. Urinetown – The Musical cleverly employs age-old and recognisable theatrical conventions and musical traditions to satirise the legal system, capitalism, social irresponsibility, populism, bureaucracy, corporate mismanagement, and municipal politics. Alongside being wickedly comedic and witty, it teaches us timely lessons about the abuse of power and the consequences of mistreating our environment.
There are fascinating parallels between the narrative of Urinetown – The Musical and our current local and global societal conditions. This has been interesting to discuss with our young men and women during rehearsals and our students have come to deeply understand that when creatively collaborating through the arts, they learn valuable lessons about themselves and the world around them.
Ultimately though, great theatre is about bringing people together and entertaining an audience – it is a complicit experience reliant on the unique, shared moments between performer and audience on the night of a show. It is about the excitement you feel when the lights go down, the conversations you share with fellow audience members during interval, and the congratulatory salutations with cast and crew once the curtain falls. So, while we were threatened by the virus, it is with extreme pride that we were not defeated and are able to bring Urinetown to life!
Live theatre is an integral and joyous part of our College culture – a part that our students past and present are extraordinarily proud of. And although we cannot share this with quite as many people as first planned, we hope to release details of limited ticket sales in the coming days.
So hopefully, we will see you at the show!