Behind the Production of BLS Theatre’s Urinetown

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Urinetown cover artwork done by Haley Regan (II). (Source: Haley Regan (II))

By Penelope Meisel (IV), Contributing Writer

Boston Latin School Theatre displayed its commitment and hard work on Zoom with its recent musical, Urinetown, which streamed on June 3, 4 and 5. Urinetown is a satirical comedy following a town with a severe water shortage that has banned the use of private toilets to limit water usage. Because the musical relies heavily on scenery and sets to convey its plot, transitioning to the virtual platform has been especially difficult. All year, the theatre department has worked hard to bring the magic of theater online using virtual sets and Zoom tactics to capture each scene.

The Head of the Theatre Department, Mr. Joseph Gels, expresses his frustration with Zoom, saying, “The easiest way to do Zoom theatre is just turn on your Zoom camera, turn off your Zoom camera, using virtual backgrounds. But, frankly, people got tired of that really quickly and we got tired of it very quickly here. It doesn’t look as good; it doesn’t feel like theatre as much.”

In an attempt to engage both audiences and those working on the production, BLS Theatre began working with the software Open Broadcast Studio (OBS). OBS is an open-sourced green screen program, meaning contributors from all over the internet developed it and is now available for public use. Although traditionally used by streamers to game on Twitch, many people have adapted the program to use in virtual theatre.

The program works by broadcasting the set as a live greenscreen background for actors. Mr. Gels records these sets in the Black Box live and projects them onto the background while actors stream from home. The method creates the illusion that actors are in the Black Box as they would be in a normal year. This is unlike past productions from this year, where backgrounds and sets were virtual and projected through Zoom.

Another key component of the musical’s set includes lighting. Mr. Gels says, “We’re recording the set live. Part of the reason why is because we’re also doing lighting, so the lighting will change as the show goes. Even though the light technically doesn’t hit the actors, you’ll be able to see it on the set.”

In addition to Urinetown being the first partially in-person production this year, it is also the first musical. This brings an entirely new set of challenges such as music and choreography. Lead actor and choreographer, Katie Emery (I), says, “Choreography has been a little more challenging over Zoom and OBS. Because we need to be in the set space of the green screen, movement needs to be more limited so that we don’t go out of screen. As choreographer I needed to adjust some of my choreo just because it wouldn’t really translate online.”

Despite these challenges, morale remains high amongst the actors. Emery says, “Everyone has been great about adjusting and working on going full out every time regardless of space limitations! So much work has gone into this production, and it’s going to be so incredible to see it all put together.”

While this will hopefully be the last online production, Urinetown represents the development of Zoom theatre at BLS and mirrors the hard work of the cast and crew.