“It’s a Privilege to Pee”

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A look at the MSU Department of Theatre’s spring production of Urinetown, and its connection to the Flint Water Crisis

*Warning: post contains spoilers*

While traveling in Europe, playwright Greg Kotis encountered a pay-per-use toilet that would change his life forever. Low on funds, Kotis had to limit his trips to the public bathrooms while staying in Paris, and it was while he was searching for spare change for one that he got the idea for a dystopian future that employed such tactics on an imperialistic level. After exploring the idea a bit further of what life would be like without free access to water, Urinetown: The Musical was born.

After spending time at the New York International Fringe Festival and Off-Broadway, the satirical show was only two days from hitting Broadway when its path crossed with a real-life crisis: the 9/11 attacks. Although it was only delayed by a week, this had a significant impact on the musical. Nevertheless, the musical persisted and ran for nearly a thousand performances over several years; it also received ten Tony Award nominations and won three.

The show opens with a glimpse into that dystopian future. A twenty-year drought has caused a horrible water shortage and a private company, ran by Mr. Cladwell, owns all of the toilets in town. To use the bathrooms the citizens have to pay a heavy price, and if they don’t pay the fee, they get sent to a penal colony called “Urinetown.” Urinal assistant Bobby Strong grows disheartened with the system and organizes a rebellion to fight against Cladwell, who claims to be only trying to “keep the pee off the street and the water in the ground.” He ends up being sent to “Urinetown,” which is revealed to be a metaphor for death. The rebels, inspired by Bobby’s death, win the fight and allow the people “to pee whenever they like, as much as they like, for as long as they like and with whomever they like.” However, with the regulations eliminated, the water runs out quickly as the town transforms into a society similar to what “Urinetown” had been rumored to be like.

This satirical look at what happens during a water shortage may have seemed far-fetched a few years ago, but now it hits a little closer to home. The Flint Water Crisis has shown that this situation can happen even in our own backyard. The dystopian future presented in Urinetown shows many similarities between that mordent play and our own hometown emergency.

The MSU Department of Theatre production opens on April 14 and runs until April 23, and will be showing at the Pasant Theatre at the Wharton Center for Performing Arts. There will be a special Flint Water Crisis Symposium between the matinee and evening performances on April 22 that is free to the public. Tickets are available at the Wharton Center Box Office, and can be found at the website whartoncenter.com/events/detail/urinetown-the-musical.



Holly Bronson is a senior studying professional writing and arts and humanities, with a minor in peace and justice studies. In her rare free time, she loves to drink Earl Grey tea while thoroughly analyzing Harry Potter and telling lengthy stories from her various adventures around the globe. 🙂 Check out her portfolio at hollybbronson.com!


Tags: Holly Bronson, play, SHOWing, Urinetown, Wharton Center