BHCT’s Artistic Director sat down with the directors of Urinetown, Dave DeChristopher (right) and Ryan Puffer (left) to talk about their start in theater, why they wanted to direct Urinetown, and what makes it such a special show…
Jayme: Can you tell me about how you got started in theater?
Ryan: Well, I started doing theater when I was about 12. I'm from Aberdeen, South Dakota, and my sister was very involved in theater, and I thought it looked like something cool. And I started doing it and I haven't stopped doing it since then. Before coming here, I worked professionally in Kansas City, Missouri, and in Lacrosse, Wisconsin, both admin wise and artistically. Now I'm here.
Dave: I, like Ryan, started very young, probably high school. And I don't think I ever went more than three or four months without doing a show. After a couple years back in my hometown, Toledo, after college, I moved to New York and was there for 25 years. And that was just overwhelming in every way, both for the excitement of seeing so much live theater with professionals and also for getting a chance to work at all levels of theater. And then I stumbled back home and started getting into administrative stuff, more teaching, more artistic directing a lot more playwriting. And then I wandered to the Black Hills to be Education Director here at BHCT.
Jayme: Ooh, what's a ... Do you have any fun stories about your time in New York?
Dave: The origin story of me moving to New York is my favorite because my college did a summer stock, which, when I was in college, they tried to get it going and they couldn't get it going. So a few years later they got it going and they contacted me and I was excited to go. I'd been working professionally in Toledo. So I get there and there's this girl, who's this crazy girl. Jeanie is her name. And she was chasing this boy. We're sitting on the porch one day after a show drinking. And she's like, "Terry's going to New York." And I said, "Okay!" And I was like, "I'll go with you." So we just went on a whim and it was like we were like the Beverly Hillbillies in the big city, trying to figure out what to do.
Jayme: I love that. Okay. What made you interested in directing Urinetown?
Dave: It's such a delicious show, and so right for this time when people are still a little shell shocked from COVID because the play is so fun and upbeat. It's teasey and mischievous, which is just what people need, I think. It's not mean, but it sort of pokes fun at all of the pretensions of corporate culture, of politics, and mostly of theater, because we're very self-important about our musicals in theater. And it's so delightful the way it sort of pricks all those pretensions in a wonderful, wonderful way. And it's good, too, which is amazing. A lot of spoofy stuff is not that well written, but this show won the Tony for Best Score and for Best Book of a Musical.
Jayme: Dave, you are probably best known at BHCT for working with Cherry Street and the Well Dones. How does your process change from room to room? Or does it?
Dave: I think I plant ideas in any room I’m in. Working with adult actors I don’t have to guide them as much. I give them time to ramble and even though kids can make great suggestions, they don't do it as often as adult actors. And I think it's really important to have a space, not just that's safe, but models collaboration and people feeling free to express their ideas.
Jayme: Ryan, what about you? What attracted you to this show?
Ryan: I first learned about the show back when I was in high school. I saw two different college productions of them fairly close together and they were two very different productions and I was just drawn to the show so much because it's just so smart and so funny and you don't always get that in musical theater. The show makes you think and makes you laugh. And, of course, I enjoy all the references to making fun of the other shows. You got some Fiddler on the Roof and some West Side Story slander, so that's very fun. And the characters are so interesting, too, and so varied and that it's fun because this is a show where the ensemble is a bit more island of misfit toys than some ensembles because it's not polished, pristine dancers. It's people doing the dancing and the singing and stuff. And that's really fun to see and really cool to do at a community theater level.
Jayme: Awesome. What's the process been like? Any fun stories in the rehearsal room?
Ryan: I mean, we have one of the most ridiculously talented cast I've worked with here and I've worked with a lot of talented cast here. It's a such a fun combination of new and old people. Well ...New and veteran performers to BHCT.
Dave: And they bonded so fast.
Ryan: Yeah. Everything just works together so smoothly because they're all just so talented on top of their stuff and it's so fun to see. And I mean, I love just listening to them sing. Music rehearsals can be boring when you're the director or the stage manager, but just getting to sit and listen to this cast sing is one of my favorite parts.
Dave: I love the production team, too. Everyone is very insightful and respectful of the actors, whether it's Ryan, who is assistant directing and also choreographing some of the numbers, or Vonnie Houchin, who's great with the musical numbers...I feel like it's a good balance of mentoring and also leaving people free to discover, which is really great. Even if we don't know the answer to something, we just say that openly and say, "We'll find it as we're doing something."
Jayme: All right. Why should somebody see a show about urine? What about urine are we selling?
Ryan: I mean, the show is so much more than urine, Jayme. And I think that's really it, is that I think people might hear that title and be like, "Oh, that sounds gross," or "Oh, that sounds juvenile," but it's just so much more than that, because it’s a satire, like you said, on musical theater, on politics, on government, and all that stuff. There's so much more to it if you can get past the urine.
Dave: I mean, if you haven't been in a theater a while, think about how much you miss live theater and how much fun it will be to come and see something so exciting. And support the arts in Rapid City.
Ryan: And getting to laugh with a bunch of strangers.
Dave: Oh yes.
Ryan: We miss it.
Jayme: Anything else?
Dave: No. I have to go to rehearsal now, Jayme. Stop bothering us!
Jayme: Ha ha. Okay!
Urinetown performs March 18-27th at BHCT!