Opening at Stewart Theater on Feb. 23, University Theatre’s upcoming production “Urinetown” features director Danica Jackson, an assistant director of performance with the University Theatre program.
After being involved with theater for most of her early life, Jackson took the University Theatre position at NC State and also started teaching acting classes. She said being a professor helped her in the transition to her first directing role.
“It's been a really great process for me to be able to go from one to the other and then gain more and more confidence in terms of how I communicate with these students, because they're different from most other students and because they're all a lot smarter than I am,” Jackson said. “So it's a big change.”
Working with students at University Theatre is very fulfilling for Jackson, even though she found the position a little daunting at first.
“For most of our students, theater is like the safe place where they come to to forget about all of the high stress classes that they have,” Jackson said. “It's intimidating, but it's also super rewarding to be part of the group that helps them feel comfortable.”
When “Urinetown” was decided as this year's musical in January 2022, the students were one of the deciding factors. On top of that, Jackson said “Urinetown” has always been one of her personal favorites, and it was a great time for University Theatre to have another go at producing it.
“Part of it was because I really enjoyed the show and the music is really fun, and it's also that [the scenic designer] getting another whack at doing the show that he really likes,” Jackson said. “We knew that the students would appreciate the humor in it and have fun with something that's really goofy.”
Jackson's job includes spending numerous hours every week working on the production, helping students and collaborating with the crew. The time commitment might seem alarming, but Jackson experiences the benefits of all of her work by seeing students grow throughout the production process.
One of the students that has grown immensely from this experience is Emma Fornes, a first-year studying business administration, who is also the assistant director of “Urinetown.”
Fornes originally auditioned for a role in the production, having acted in the past. When that fell through, she reached out to Jackson with interest in being in the crew.
“It just all kind of fell into place,” Fornes said. “I'm interested in directing professionally, and I thought this was a good way to get my foot in the door.”
Being a first-year and having such a big role in the production of “Urinetown” has been a struggle for Fornes. Luckily, she has people all around her that she can learn from.
“It's definitely been daunting because I'm one of three freshmen in the show, and it's hard to direct kids who are more experienced and older than me,” Fornes said. “But it's been fun overall. Everyone's really receptive, and Danica is a really great mentor to learn under.”
Learning is not only for the students at University Theatre, which Jackson emphasizes when navigating her responsibilities as director.
“We're here to learn,” Jackson said. “We're here to develop more skills. We're here to have fun. Being able to be that point of contact between, yeah, I've done lots of professional theater, but I also understand that my role here is to make sure that people understand what they're doing.”
A close-knit community is sure to help production go smoothly. Luckily for Jackson, she has some of her best friends working right beside her.
“I've very rarely had a production team that I got to work with that I felt this comfortable with,” Jackson said. “I'm constantly getting to work with, now, some of my best friends, and it's just the coolest feeling.”
Having a common interest and goal in mind has helped both Jackson and Fornes have a great time during the production process of “Urinetown.”
“It's been really great for me to develop relationships outside of my typical everyday ones, and it's also neat to share a passion for a certain project,” Fornes said. “It's like this thing that we're all growing together and I feel like that's a really unique experience that you don't really get a lot.”
Of course, a positive community environment cannot be achieved without good leadership. Jackson works to use her position in a way that makes sure that people feel confident throughout the entire production process.
“I try to install a bit of understanding and make sure that they know that I'm not worried about it so that when they get in there, hopefully they're not as worried about it,” Jackson said. “We already know that they're extraordinarily talented, so I'm really not concerned.”
Jackson cannot wait to see this mindset continue when performances start. She said that seeing how students react when they have an audience is one of the things that she looks most forward to.
“As soon as you get an audience, everything kind of shifts and goes up to 11, and everybody is just having the greatest time,” Jackson said. “So I'm most looking forward to seeing how they react to an audience reacting to them.”
After everything that goes into making a production like “Urinetown,” the performances are what will make all the hard work and long hours worth it.
“I'm just excited for everyone else to get to experience it and what I've been seeing,” Fornes said.