Mamma Mia! Premieres in Walker Auditorium


Scott Barrow

Students perform Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! by ABBA in Mamma Mia!

 On February 10, the newly renovated Walker Auditorium opened its doors for the premiere of Mamma Mia! presented by the Hotchkiss Dramatic Association (HDA). The opening of Walker coincides with other firsts for the HDA, including the supervision of a new director, the help of a hired lighting designer, and an extended technical rehearsal process. 

Preparation for Mamma Mia! began in September when the HDA board selected the musical. Keeilah Jewell ’22, stage manager for the show, said, “Mamma Mia! has been my dream show since Prep year because it is so joyful and truly brings people together. This year was perfect to do it not only because we wanted a big, awesome show to reopen Walker, but also because we wanted to bring back joy to Hotchkiss after the difficulty of the last year and a half.”

Open auditions officially began in early October, with over 60 people auditioning, an increase compared to prior years’ auditions.  Rehearsals began immediately after the cast list was released, and took place almost every weekday leading up to the performance. As the date of the performance came closer, some students were rehearsing close to 16 hours a week. 

This year, the school welcomed Ms. MK Lawson, a new instructor in theatre and humanities, to direct the production. Mr. Derek Brashears, director of theatre, was responsible for building the set and managing all technical elements. Additionally, outside instructors were brought in to focus on other elements of the show. Mr. Joe Rose, music director, worked with students on the vocal elements of the show and Ms. Amber Cameron was responsible for the choreography. Graham Stone ’08, was in charge of sound, and Mr. Doug Harry was hired to design the lights. 

Mainstage productions are faculty-directed but student-driven, with students participating as actors, dancers, singers, technicians, and designers. The set and costume design was completed in an independent study by Raven Hong ’22, where they worked closely with Mr. Brashears to imagine the creative tone of the show. In their study, Raven illustrated both the set as well as character sketches. Students in the technical theater co-curricular then worked on translating the vision into reality. Ms. Lawson emphasized the importance of collaboration in theatre. She said, “Theatre is one of the most collaborative art forms in the whole world because there are so many different people from different disciplines working together to complete the show.” 

The Mamma Mia! performance was very different from previous productions at the school.The renovation of Walker not only updated the physical space but also upgraded technical elements in the auditorium. Mr. Brashears said, “There has never been close to 400 light cues on a show, and even with a number much lower than that, they have never been perfectly executed. The new technology makes this possible”

One of these new technical elements created for Mamma Mia! included a light-up dance floor embedded in the stage. The clear floor was made with last year’s dividers from the dining hall. The Lexan sheets were stacked on top of each other over an opening in the stage, and colorful LED lights were wired underneath. The disco floor was then disguised to look like a stone floor and was unnoticeable from the audience. 

Despite being closed to the community during the construction process, Walker still opened its doors to Art students at the school. Mr. Bradley Faus, program director of Studio Art and Art History and instructor in Art and Design, said, “Architecture AR451F and AR452S students had opportunities to review concept development, schematic designs, and plans for Walker’s renovation over the two years of its design and construction phases.”

While the COVID-19 pandemic and social-distancing restrictions interrupted the school’s regular gatherings in Walker since March 2020, the empty auditorium instead provided a convenient time frame for Walker’s renovation. Walker’s newly installed, state-of-the-art facilities include an extended stage, a more sophisticated stage lighting system, an improved soundbooth, stage wings that are connected with the audience, refreshed green rooms and dressing rooms, as well as new seating arrangements. Aside from these visible changes to Walker’s facade, many other important improvements remain behind the scenes. For example, when talking about one of the biggest improvements to Walker’s stage technology, Mr. Brashears said, “The 20 lines of conduit run perfectly along the side wall up above the catwalks.”

 COVID-19 has had a large impact on the theatre season this year, causing the program to adjust its season schedule. Usually, the department puts on two mainstage plays and a musical within the school year, spreading over different styles and genres. Mamma Mia! was the first production of the year, and for many students, the first show they have seen in Walker. 

The pandemic also caused the cast to adapt to the rules and guidelines enforced by the school. The production missed rehearsals due to the extension of winter break and other COVID-19 related factors and logistics. Additionally, due to the constant construction of the theatre, there were contractors in Walker working every day up until the start of tech week. The constant construction delayed the time spent rehearsing on the actual stage. The first three months of rehearsals took place in the Blackbox theatre and dance studio, and the show was then restaged to work with the new space.

Henry Emswiler ’22, who was one of the audience members invited on stage for the performance of “Dancing Queen,” said, “Mamma Mia! was a great way to reintroduce Walker to the community and was, by far, the most popular show among the students in the past four years I’ve been here. Their interaction with the audience was extremely fun for everyone attending and even though being pulled onto the stage was a surprise, it was really fun to be a part of such an awesome play. I really felt like a dancing queen.” 

Auditions for the spring play, Clue, will be on Saturday, February 27. All students are encouraged to participate.