This Friday, March 29th, The As Yet Unnamed Theatre Company begins performances for the last show of their season, Urinetown. Urinetown, a satirical musical comedy, tells the story of Bobby Strong - an assisstant urinal custodian in a futuristic dystopia where citizens must "pay-to-pee." This may not seem like your usual musical theatre fare, but the show won several Tony Awards when it premiered in 2001 - including Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score and Best Director. Sandy Cohrs, Artistic Director of The As Yet Unnamed Theatre Company, is not afraid to take chances on a show with body waste in its title. AYUTC, now in their sixteenth season, has always taken chances to ensure their survival in a business that can tilt more to the "burn hot and fast" end of the spectrum. We sat down with Sandy and spoke a little bit about her company, her path and her excitement for Urinetown.
Louisville.com: Hi Sandy! So tell us, what led you to start a theatre company? A riskier move than some might think.
Sandy Cohrs: A group of us who had worked together with other local theater companies and in other venues literally got together and said, in typical Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland fashion, “Hey, let’s put on a show.” We were lucky enough to secure a one-weekend slot at the MeX Theater in the Kentucky Center for The Arts…our first production of “The Philadelphia Story”. I pitched in with that production starting out as the stage manager and then the director asked if I would play one of the servants. By the time the show opened I think I was playing 5 small characters as well as managing the stage. It definitely was the start of a dream for me.
You always use The MeX, right? What has kept you in that space?
The MeX has been our home for 16 years and it has always been a fabulous space to work in. Working in a black box theater is challenging but also so creative. The MeX has fabulous equipment that is well maintained and I love working with the lighting system and grid method. We’ve been able to create so many touching moments with the staging and lighting. We have been able to have minimal sets as well as gorgeous interior sets all in the same space.
You are moving into your 16th season, no small feat for a theatre group! What do you attribute that longevity to?
We have produced so many shows over the years from musicals, comedies, parodies, dramas, classics and anything in between and all have been received with open arms by this area. From “Agnes of God to White Christmas” we attempt it all. From “The Miracle Worker” to “The Butler Did It”, we have touched our audiences. I’m looking forward to the future and our next challenge to be able to get a swimming pool onstage so that we can produce “Sunset Boulevard”.
Sixteen years is a long time in the life cycle of art. How has the company changed since those early days?
When we first started, as with many companies, money was tight. But we chose to pull together several murder mystery productions that we would perform for any group, any time, anywhere to earn the dollars for our next production. As well as the summer productions that we did with youth, which helped stabilize our bank account and allow us to grow in the size of production that we could handle. Theater is a business – a very creative business mind you. I think because we make choices based on both our artistic abilities and financial assets we are one of the few groups to say we will be starting our 17th season and not fading away into obscurity. We also don’t have a board of directors. My partner, Gary Tipton, and I make all of the decisions and it definitely works for us. We have several talented people who work with us and instead of giving them a “board” position we give them a fantastic title like “Mistress of Illumination”, “Matron of the Arts”, “Mistress of the Wings” – you get the idea. My title happens to be “Artistic Diva.”
How do you choose which shows you will do in a year?
At first we started with the bucket list of shows that we wanted to do and now it is a matter of what shows we think will be of interest to our patrons as well as the talent that is available. This past November we produced “The Light in the Piazza.” I would not have tackled [that show] in our first few years, but we had the right talent available and it was such an artistic success for the company.
What led you towards Urinetown? The name might throw some, but it’s actually a really fun show that doesn’t get produced here often – despite winning several Tony Awards.
My partner, Gary Tipton, directed the show several years ago for a community theater in Clarksville [Indiana] and we wanted to produce a larger cast musical! We both love the music and felt it could be adapted to fit in The MeX. We are one of the few companies in town who consistently produce musicals in that space.
You are directing this show. What has the experience been like for you?
First of all, we have a tremendous cast and I love a show that keeps you laughing rehearsal after rehearsal. Musicals tend to look easier than they really are, but this show has been most challenging for me as the choreographer because the style was not necessarily in my comfort zone. Sometimes as a director or choreographer you see things in your head that don’t always translate when the actors perform the steps or say the lines. But this show has exceeded my vision and I’m anxious for the audience to get in on the fun.
Again, sixteen years. Congratulations! What has been your mission statement to get to this point?
A lot of companies have these fabulous mission statements – and that is great! But we have always been about letting our shows speak for themselves. We have consistently had actors return time and again because we afford them the opportunity to tackle a role that they might not have had the chance to do before. We all work that “9-5” kind of job so The As Yet Unnamed Theatre Company provides a place to work their craft in whatever capacity they choose. I know this company has given me many opportunities on stage as well as behind the scenes. AYUTC has produced 5 plays that I have written. Three of the plays were written for adults and two for young performers. I have been able to direct, produce, choreograph, be the sound and/or light technician, stage manager, as well as be on stage. What a fabulous opportunity. I am bragging here, but we are the favorite group for the volunteer ushers at The MeX Theater and they even requested we perform for them during their annual banquet! Our audiences keep coming back as well which tells me they like what we are producing for them. That’s our mission. “Make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry – but keep ‘em coming back for more.”
"Urinetown - The Musical" plays March 29th through April 7th at The MeX Theatre at The Kentucky Centery for The Arts. Times Vary. Tickets are $16 and can be purchashed through the Kentucky Center box office. For tickets or more information please call 5-2-584-7777 or visit www.kentuckycenter.org .