KU Theatre and Dance to explore diversity, other topical subjects in 2019-2020 season

photo by: The Associated Press

The cast from "Urinetown: the Musical" perform during the 56th annual Tony Awards June 2, 2002, at New York's Radio City Music Hall. The award-winning show is one of several productions KU Theatre and Dance will perform during its 2019-2020 season. (AP Photo/Suzanne Plunkett)

More plays and musicals with a focus on diversity and inclusion will take the stage for KU Theatre and Dance next school year.

The University Theatre and University Dance Company, the production arm for the KU Theatre and Dance department, announced in a Monday news release its 2019-2020 season of three dance productions and six musicals and plays, including William Shakespeare’s “As You Like it” and the Tony-award winning “Urinetown: The Musical,” among others.

The full KU Theatre and Dance 2019-2020 schedule

• “The Christians,” at Crafton-Preyer Theatre Sept. 27-29 and Oct. 4-6, 2019

• “In the Blood” at Inge Theatre Oct. 25-27, 29, 30 and Nov. 1, 2019

• Fall Dance Concert at Crafton-Preyer Theatre Nov. 14, 16 and 17, 2019

• “The Wolves” at Inge Theatre Dec. 5, 6, 8, 9, 11 and 12, 2019

• “As You Like It” at Crafton Preyer Theatre Feb. 21-23, 28, 29 and March 1, 2020

• “Indecent” at Inge Theatre March 20-22 and 25-29, 2020

• Spring Dance Concert at Lawrence Arts Center April 2-4, 2020

• “Urinetown: The Musical” at Crafton-Preyer Theatre, April 24-26 and May 1-3, 2020

Department chair Henry Bial told the Journal-World the department chose the slate of productions because of positive audience responses to similar themes in previous seasons. While the department does not have an intricate system to gauge community responses to its productions, Bial said he’s noticed selling more tickets and receiving longer applause for shows that deal with diversity issues.

“It’s important for us that our work be relevant to where our students are and where the community is,” he said. “The whole season is tied into issues of diversity, equity and inclusion, each in different ways.”

Katherine Pryor, KU’s director of theater, said the new season gives students the opportunity to explore difficult topics through the performing arts.

“It is important for us to select programming that clearly defines our values,” she said in the news release. “We are here to educate and train the artists and changemakers of tomorrow. Within that structure, we also believe strongly in offering experiences for our audience that reflect our commitment to diversity and inclusion.”

The diverse stories include “The Christians,” which explores faith and making space for people within religious communities; “In the Blood” in which a character deals with racism and sexism; and “Indecent,” a show that focuses on gender and Jewish identity and that Bial is directing himself. The dance side of the season will also focus on some of these themes, with the Fall Dance Concert exploring stories of powerful women.

While “Urinetown,” the final production of the season, features a tongue-in-cheek title and premise, Bial said the musical tackles important subjects such as social justice and inequality. The show tells the story of a government ban on private toilets due to a water shortage.

“It’s a musical comedy, but it’s a musical comedy oriented around themes of inequality in society and (how) those who have less are exploited by those who have more,” he said.

Bial said performing shows about topical subjects helps the department stay relevant and in touch with its audience.

“There’s nothing wrong with a work of art that exists purely as an aesthetic experiment or a work of art that exists purely as entertainment,” he said. “But we do believe here that if we are going to stay relevant as a department at a research university and as a field of performing arts, we need to speak to these issues that are so important to the current generation.”

However, exploring the serious topics does not mean all of the production will be “completely somber,” Bial said. Along with the diverse stories in the productions, Bial said audiences seem to be responding well to work that isn’t entirely tragic or comic.

“None of them are intended as civics lessons,” he said. “They are all compelling drama and they all have funny moments. Some of them are funnier than they are serious.”

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