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WSU’s Mamma Mia Production Brings Much Needed Warmth to Community

Wright State Theatre presents "Mamma Mia"

Mamma Mia | Wright State University

After being shut down in spring due to COVID-19, Wright State University’s (WSU) Mamma Mia production is back and bringing much needed warmth to its audience. 

2020 production shut down

Originally planned to open in March 2020, the production was shut down nine days before opening night. 

The announcement came as a shock to much of WSU’s theatre community. 

“The show must go on right? I mean, that’s the culture. And then all of a sudden the show will not go on. In my 20 some years of working in theater, I’ve never had that happen,” costume designer Michelle Sampson said.  

The shutdown was indefinite, leaving the theatre department uncertain of what would happen. 

According to Greg Hellems, Mamma Mia’s director and choreographer, the theatre department did not stay completely inactive. They had a few outdoor performances and a Zoom production that viewers could watch on YouTube. 

However, it was a stark contrast to the lively atmosphere of performance in person. 

Back for production

In-person performances did not come back until Sept. 23, when WSU theater opened their season with Lend Me a Tenor.

The second production of the season is Mamma Mia, a lighthearted play centering on Sophie Sheridan’s search for her father’s identity before her wedding. It also tells the story of Sophie’s mother reuniting with friends and the three men who she met before Sophie was born. 

Some of the crew struggled to slip back into the mindset to produce the romcom after the difficulties and tragedies of the pandemic. Others had to adjust to the cast.

In the 18 months it took for WSU to announce Mamma Mia was back, most of the principal cast had graduated. 

However some, like senior theater major Austin Gladstone, had been a part of the ensemble in 2020 and returned. 

“We are seniors now and it’s so surreal to share what we’ve been working on for an audience after all this time,” Gladstone said. 

COVID changes

Mamma Mia is back but not without changes. The most obvious change was wearing masks, a challenge for the performers. 

“Singing and dancing under normal circumstances is taxing, it requires a lot of breath. When you’re wearing a mask that complicates it,” Greg Hellems, director and choreographer, said. 

With so much singing required, masks sometimes made it more difficult. However, the cast was allowed to choose the type of mask that worked for them, such as a singer’s mask. 

The cast sang in every number regardless of being on stage or not. Each rehearsal began with a warm-up consisting of cardio, strength and stamina building followed by vocal warmups. 

Along with masks, the cast took precautions by taking COVID tests twice a week. Diligent testing meant there was only one COVID scare early in the rehearsal process. At the time of writing, the cast and crew are COVID-free.

Other COVID changes include costume design. According to Sampson, they cut back on hats and headpieces so the performers’ faces could be seen. 

Despite the changes, both the cast and crew are excited to finally perform.

“It’s been such an incredible opportunity to get to know some of the underclassmen that I hadn’t gotten the chance to meet because of COVID craziness. I love this cast and am trying to soak up every moment before it ends,” Gladstone said.