Theatre Thursday

Restoring Joy Through Mamma Mia!

I figure it is about time I blogged about the shows I’ve worked on this year. I will start with the life lessons learned from our first show in the season, Mamma Mia. First, if you want to check out how we created a beautiful Greek island on our little school theatre stage, check out this blog post:

Set on a sun-soaked Greek island, this musical was a delight to work on as a tech director, a designer and as a director. I truly loved working on this show. Who wouldn’t? Fun music! Great kids! A fun directing team. Seriously. This show was a delight from beginning to end. At the end of each show I like to reflect and to come up with life lessons learned from the show. So here it goes:

  1. The world is out there ready to be explored. I am not much for traveling. I am actually the poster child for home bodies. However, I believe that exposing yourself to new ideas and experiences, is often enough to expand your world view and to get you thinking about more than your own little sphere of existence.

2. Everything is fairly simple once you break is all down. Even obstacles that seem overwhelming can be be managed in bite size pieces when you apply courage and strength of character. Any problem can be broken down into something that is manageable. Take the set, for example. That task seemed daunting. However, it was manageable in smaller chunks. The result was stunning. It really is okay to take life one step at a time. It is okay to simply focus on studying what makes you happy and to “be” in the moment.

3. Heartbreak isn’t the end of the world and heartbreak can be turned into joy. Seriously, the love story between Donna and Sam shows you that you can get your heart broken, brush yourself off, and even move on. However, that may not be the end of the story. Often, there is a silver lining no one anticipated.

4. Dancing solves everything. We had a new choreographer for this show. Our last choreographer was with us for years. The kids were heart broken when her life took her in new directions. However, our new team member stepped up to the challenge and mended hearts with her spunky, creative, and lively choreography. I even gave a effort in the dance arena, creating dances for two songs, with the help of my daughter Lillian.

5. Being a parent isn’t easy. It is not for the faint of heart. Motherhood is especially challenging. I have raised 5 kids – 4 of them daughters. Mothers have the tendency to put everything on the line for their children. Donna is a good example of this motherly trait. Her dedication proves that the most worthwhile and meaningful relationships are between parents and their children. My favorite song in the show is Donna’s song that she sings as she gets Sophie ready for her wedding. I am currently watching my “baby” growing up and “slipping through my fingers.” She played Sophie and I cried every time that scene rolled around. Before you know it, your kids are grown and they don’t seem to need you as much (or do they? – wink). Seriously, there is nothing like a mother’s love for their child. I should know. I have the gray hair to prove it.

6. Being spontaneous keeps you young. Embrace it! You don’t have to break into huge musical numbers (although, why not? It’s fun!) Try saying yes to things you would normally say no to. You will discover a whole new world of possibilities and experiences.

7. True friends stick with through think and thin. Tanya and Rosie show up when Donna needs them most. Their friendship is proof that if you find the best kind of people, people who stand by you, uplift you, support you, and even who tell you like it is, you keep them in your life. These are the people who remind you that you are a Dancing Queen. (I’ve got friends like these. A shout out to John, John H., Jeff, and Joanna).

8. There is nothing like a song from a great sound track to make your day. Okay. I will admit. I did not start this show a huge ABBA fan. I mean, I did love the musical Chess, but I didn’t really know many other ABBA songs. By the end of the show I truly wanted to sing “Thank you for the Music” as I randomly went down the halls. It is rare that you find such a timeless piece of art and simple classics. Beside, it’s awesome to be having a conversation with someone and to know the perfect song to bust out singing!

9. Sometimes you have to follow your gut. Would we have been on a beautiful Greek island if Donna had not followed her gut? Next time you find yourself debating over whether or not to do that “thing” you have always dreamed of doing, ask yourself, “What would Donna do?”

10. You are stronger than you think. I am sure it wasn’t easy raising a daughter on an island as a single parent. Donna’s dedication and loved turned Sophie into a hard working, happy, loving woman who was ready to take on the world. No matter what your struggles in life may be, always remember that you are more that capable coming through the experience with flying colors. You will come through experience a better person.

11. Be yourself. That is enough. Donna was always herself. No holding back. This is why Sophie looked up to her; why Rosie and Tanya would follow her lead. Her genuine attitude and outlook of life made her an endearing character. She was her most authentic self. She was confident in who she was and unashamed to let others see her, warts and all. She is the ultimate “Super Trouper.”

12. Live in the present. I would say that Donna and Sophie have taught me to grab every moment. Savor every moments. Some moments will never happen again. Enjoy them while you can. There is no sense living with regret for the what-could-have been moments.

13. Empowered people build each other up, and do not tear each other down. Enough said!

Mamma Mia was an uplifting experience. It was the much needed elixir we all needed after a couple rough years. Sure, the story is silly. Still, I haven’t had that much fun doing theatre in a long time (since my Hannah graduated). In fact, I was seriously wondering if it was time to move on to other things in my life and to leave a darkened theatre for the last time. Then, there was Mamma Mia.

I think the greatest lesson I see throughout my experience with Mamma Mia is that we need stories that celebrate resolution, fulfillment, forgiveness and true love. On the surface, the message seems to be that you just need to go with what feels right, discover who you are, and take what you want. Carpe dium. This is a little misleading because it puts the emphasis on each person doing whatever is necessary to be happy, no matter who it effects. It is self-absorbed and individualistic. In real life, our personal happiness doesn’t always align with the happiness of everyone around us. Maybe, just maybe, personal happiness isn’t exactly what we should be seeking. Think about it. Our deepest happiness, our deepest and greatest joy comes from bringing happiness to others. When we keep our focus on ourselves we will always see the world as tainted, compromised, hard, and unbearable. We see only the bad things happening in the world and we slide down the slippery slope of selfishness.

The greatest lesson I learned though the process of bringing Mamma Mia to the stage is this: Life will always have disappointments. Total happiness, complete fulfillment, and uncomprehending love will always be found in God. We can experience it here… now… if we choose to. Although this wasn’t a particularly religious or moral production, the attitude and forgiveness and inclusion atmosphere of this production reminded me that happiness and peace are found when we think outside of ourselves. This is only possible through Jesus Christ. He can radically change our perspectives on ourselves and others. Choosing to spread joy helps us to deal with our past mistakes and “big, fat regrets,” and clarifies our hearts and minds. It helps us to see the best in others, brings lasting satisfaction, and gives us a clear sense of the identity we long for. Now that is an epic story worth telling.

So… to these kids, Jeff, Jenni, parent helpers, and audience members, Thank you from the bottom of my heart. “Dancing Queen” may be THE great ABBA hit from the show, and a catchy little tune, but I’d rather say, “Thank you for the music.” I think it fits the greatest lesson best. The lyrics may be referring to music, but I think it’s really about love.

“So I say… Thank you for the music, the songs I’m singing… Thanks for all the joy they’re bringing… Who can live without it, I ask in all honesty… What would life be? … Without a song or a dance what are we?”

So thanks guys for restoring my faith in people… for rekindling my passion for the performing arts… and for helping me see that we can rise above the past, rising to soar like a phoenix.

1 thought on “Restoring Joy Through Mamma Mia!”

  1. “Mamma Mia” is one of the most joy-filled shows I’ve ever seen. Thank you so much for sharing the story of your production. Makes me miss my own high school theatre days which, sadly, are far behind me.


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