Perspective: “Mamma Mia!” created collaborative community

As the curtains of second semester open, Oak Park and River Forest High School’s theater program has cast and begun rehearsing one of its nine productions: “Mamma Mia.” The jukebox musical features hits from Abba, the Swedish pop group with a string of hits in the 1970s. The show premiers on Saturday, March 4 and runs for two weekends. 

With a cast and crew of more than 60 students, all of whom have been hard at work since winter break, there is no denying the appeal this musical brings to the students of OPRF. As a member of the ensemble, I have a front row seat for the rehearsal process.

While “Mamma Mia” is certainly a fun show to be a part of with the infectious music and exciting plot, it isn’t just the script or lyrics that make people participate in theater. It’s the community. Michelle Bayer, the director of “Mamma Mia” and theater department chair, said “It’s so wonderful to be in a room with like minded people, ‘passionate about the same thing’ type of people. We think similarly, and we’re all in the same space, creating something together.” 

The community of theater extends not just to the members of the cast, but the crew as well. The assistant directors to the assistant stage managers are present at every rehearsal, enjoying the cast members’ performances when not working on their own assignments and talking with the cast when everyone has a break. Sophomore William Cody, one of the assistant stage managers, said, “We all work well together. It’s just fun to be at practice and be around all these really nice people.”

While putting on “Mamma Mia” has fostered a positive community, that is not the only rewarding thing about the experience. The show has an affirming message–which is not true of all musicals, especially those written in earlier eras (for example, a line from the song “Summer Lovin” from “Grease” asks if the male lead forced forced himself on a girl, as if these actions are something to boast about). 

Thankfully “Mamma Mia” is nothing like that. “Mamma Mia” says to be proud of who you are and that you define yourself, not others. “Mamma Mia” tells the story of Sophie, a 20-year-old bride-to-be and her independent mother, Donna. Sophie has always wanted to know her father, so she sends invitations to three different men, all of whom could be her dad. Sophie’s decision and the subsequent interactions make waves in their small island town.

Tori Hutson, a senior playing the role of Sophie, described the show’s message as, “You don’t need anybody else to make yourself whole, like you’re already like you are enough as is and you don’t need to seek something else out that can complete you.” Hutson said they think that message is “really important because a lot of times people have the idea that you need something else to complete you, whether it’s a certain financial state or a significant other. But you’re just fine as you are.” 

Being part of a musical at OPRF means getting to know students from different grades, with different interests and from different walks of life. Everyone works together, whether they are on stage, backstage or in the audience. In the end, the production brings people together through a joyful experience. As Sophie says in “Mamma Mia,” “Thank you for the music.”