Play Sparks Educational Outreach in Michigan

wharton center building

The Department of Theatre’s final main stage production of the 2016-2017 academic year is being used as an opportunity to help bring awareness to the Flint water crisis with several events planned, including a symposium, lobby display, and educational outreach.

graphic of hand holding a plunger that says revolt

MSU’s Department of Theatre will present the Tony Award-winning, Broadway show Urinetown, written by Greg Kotis and Mark Hollman, on April 14-16 and April 18-23 at the Wharton Center for Performing Arts Pasant Theatre.

The show, which premiered on Broadway in 2001, revolves around a fantastical dystopian world where a massive water crisis has prompted the use of private toilets to be outlawed in an attempt to regulate water consumption. The citizenry must use public, pay-per-use toilets that are owned and operated by a malevolent corporation run by a corrupt individual.

The musical’s distance from the Flint water crisis is separated by roughly 15 years, however the connection is difficult to deny. 

Our production seeks to use the power of theatre to reveal, highlight, comment on, and uncover how we can use this connectivity as performance and education for our community and our students.


“This production was actually chosen in fall of 2015 in response to the University’s annual theme of Water,” said Brad Willcuts, Assistant Professor of Theatre, who directed and choreographed the play. “We chose the show prior to the nation’s knowledge of the Flint water crisis, however once the crisis hit the mainstream media, we realized we had an obligation to align the production with the crisis. Our production seeks to use the power of theatre to reveal, highlight, comment on, and uncover how we can use this connectivity as performance and education for our community and our students.”

A  portion of the proceeds from the play will benefit the Flint Child Health and Development Fund of the Foundation for Flint.

Lobby Display

During all performances of the play, there will be a display in the Wharton Center lobby that focuses on the Flint water crisis. The display will consist of several videos, banners, and posters, including the following:

  • From Flint: Voices from a Poisoned City, a Student Academy Award winning documentary that tells the story of the Flint water crisis from the perspectives of those who have experienced the tragedy firsthand and from activists on the ground working through grassroots organizations. Directed by Elise Conklin, MSU Media and Information major.
  • The trailer for Flint Med, an MSU student-produced documentary film that captures real-life narratives of third-year MSU medical students as they grapple with the aftermath of the Flint water crisis. The documentary, which is scheduled to be released in fall 2018, is a collaboration between MSU’s School of Journalism and the College of Human Medicine.
  • Faces of Flint, a five-part documentary series that consists of five radio pieces with corresponding video documentaries that explore how the residents of Flint are coping with the water crisis. Faces of Flint is a collaborative project of MSU’s College of Communication Arts and Sciences and WKAR.
  • Hubert, His Story, a documentary about Flint resident Hubert Roberts who uses history and his story to educate Black men and women about their culture. Directed by Geri Alumit Zeldes, MSU Associate Professor of Journalism.
  • Flint Kids Are, a video that sends a message that Flint kids are strong, smart, healthy, creative, and capable of achieving anything they set their minds to. Produced by Flint Cares, an organization created out of the Flint Water Recovery Group to provide Flint residents with the most accurate and up-to-date information regarding the water crisis.
  • Empower Flint app, which provides a checklist of important actions people can take to protect themselves, their families, and pets when elevated lead levels are present in the water supply. The app was created by MSU’s College of Communication Arts and Sciences and WKAR-TV in collaboration with the people of Flint.
  • Banners that illustrate all the work Michigan State University Extension has been doing and continues to do for the people of Flint.
  • Copies of the Flint Kids Impact Report will be available and on display. The report was produced by the Community Foundation of Greater Flint.
  • An artistic response to the timeline of the Flint water crisis, created by the students in the advertising classes taught by Henry Brimmer, MSU Assistant Professor of Advertising. Using important dates from news reports related to the milestones related to decisions that affected the residents of Flint, the students used their artistic skills to create a series of 14 posters that chronicle the crisis through unique imagery, typography, and aesthetics.


In addition to the lobby display, a Flint Water Crisis Symposium is scheduled for Saturday, April 22, at 4:30 p.m. in the Wharton Center’s Pasant Theatre. The symposium, which is free and open to the public, will include the following Flint-based community activists and educators:

  • Melissa Mays, Flint Clean Water advocate and founder of “What You Fighting For,” a Flint-based research and advocacy organization founded around the city’s water crisis. Mays and her three children suffer from long-term exposure to heavy metals because of the water supply.
  • Benjamin Pauli, Assistant Professor of Liberal Studies at Kettering University, who has been involved in the response to the Flint water crisis as an activist and member of the Flint Area Community Health and Environment Partnership.
  • Deanna East, Associate Director for Michigan State University Extension’s Health and Nutrition Institute, who worked with staff based in Genesee County to coordinate outreach efforts and with other organizations that wanted to help with the Flint water crisis but didn’t have the local connections or infrastructure of MSU Extension.
  • Erin Powell, Registered Dietitian and Michigan State University Extension educator, who has been actively involved in the water crisis by responding to community partner needs related to nutrition and lead.
  • Robert Brown, Associate Director of MSU’s Center for Community and Economic Development and Specialist for MSU’s University Outreach and Engagement, who brokers, facilitates, and participates in university/community partnerships for the public good. Brown is a board member of WOW Outreach, a core team member of the national Strategic Doing Institute, and helped to found Neighborhoods Without Borders, a network of Flint residents working to dismantle systemic and institutional racism.
  • Desiree Duelle, an artist, community activist, and mother, who in 2011 returned to her hometown of Flint after years of working around the country to be closer to her family and build a community arts practice.
  • Laura Sullivan, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Kettering University, who has expertise in biomaterials, polymer processing, and service learning.

Other Outreach

Also, the cast of Urinetown will offer a master class in movement on Tuesday, April 25, for the Flint Youth Theatre. During the opening weekend, free tickets to the show will be provided to anyone from the Flint Youth Theatre. They also will be given the opportunity to tour backstage and attend a talk back after the show.

For more information or for tickets to the play, visit the Wharton Center for Performing Arts website.