Hi folks, how are you all?

Going out on a limb here. Some of you may be curious about some of the more “inside” type details of a production. Much of what we do, even in an educational, high school setting is built around the design concept. Usually originated with the Director, and built up, collaborated on and developed to full realization with the design and creative teams. Sometimes the concept is very detailed and distinct, other times is simply that, a concept, an idea, a phrase, something that maybe you can’t quite put your finger on.

Below is a copy and paste of our Mamma Mia Design Concept. This is the document which serves as the launching pad of all of our conversations about how we take the words on a page and breathe life into them in a fully realized world.

Feel free to throw questions, suggestions, offerings my way. I love hearing from you all. Even though I’m not always the best at responding.

Mamma Mia: Design Concept and Other Thoughts

DESIGN CONCEPT |

To me, Mamma Mia is a story about “what ifs”. The what ifs of Donna the mother. The what ifs of Sophie the daughter, the what if of all of these relationships. Mamma Mia is a story about womanhood, it’s a story about independence and especially a story about sacrifice.

Donna and Sophie share a commonality. They both operate from the same two fears. Fear of the unknown and fear of hurting each other.

I see all of the other characters as representations, as mirrors of Donna and Sophie’s relationship. Mamma Mia places us in the world of Donna and Sophie’s present. The other characters in the show represent who both of these women want to be and, especially for Donna, who she once was. However, until both Donna and Sophie can let go of the what ifs they cannot find true peace.

This show deals with regrets and unanswered questions. I think in many ways that’s why the show has had such staying power. We can see glimpses of ourselves in these characters. We can see our reflections in these characters. The fear of the unknown, questioning who we are, the weight of our past and how sometimes that weight holds us back, like these characters, from who we want to be.

I find this show to be full of hope. Yes, it’s about fear, it’s about regret, it’s about unanswered questions, AND it’s about hope. Like we see by the end of the show. It’s never too late. It’s never too late to get answers we need to move forward. It’s never too late to overcome our own fear. It’s never too late to see our own worth and value and find that resolve we need to take the next step. It’s never too late to choose a different path. 

So, I see Mamma Mia as a story about regret and fear, and above all HOPE. 

GIVEN CIRCUMSTANCES |

Time Line: The show takes place over a 3 day weekend.

Time & Place: A Greek Isle in the Mediterranean, 1999.

Time of Day: There is a varied time of day, we have morning, night, evening, interior and exterior.

Special Effects: Fantasy for Under Attack dream sequence, practical lights strategically placed in scenic design, night and day scenes, party scene, possible moving lights, water and other gobos. Concert type effects for curtain call. 

Mood: Celebratory, reflective, hopeful.

Atmosphere: Design will be realistic. I would like the audience to walk into the theater space and have their breath catch in their chest as they feel as though they’ve been transported to a Greek Isle.

Locations: Taverna, Beach, Bedroom, Church Wedding, likely staged in the courtyard.

COSTUMES | 

I resonate with keeping the show in the time and place of its origin. 1999. As such many of the costumes will be easier to source for through our own costume storage and thrift stores. We will have conversations about color palettes for the costumes so everything feels part of a cohesive story.

Additionally, I’d like to play with the idea of paying homage to Owe Sandstrom, the costume designer for ABBA. Interviews I’ve read with him talk about how he felt inspired by colors natural to Sweden – blues, purples and whites. I’d like to explore the idea of integrating “vibes” of Sandstrom’s design into the costumes used by Donna, Tanya and Rosie in Super Trouper and the Finale. While it’s not set in stone yet; I like the idea of Harry, Sam and Bill having costumes like Donna, Tanya and Rosie to perform “Waterloo” at the end of the finale.

There are some areas in the script that will require “specialty” costumes beyond the two sections mentioned above. In addition to Super Trouper and the Finale we will need to decide how to costume the ensemble during the opening to Act 2 “Under Attack” when Sophie has her nightmare, fantasy. The dream sequence includes Bill, Sam and Harry wearing tuxes, as well as Sky wearing a bride’s gown. There is also the Wedding scene at the end of Act 2 in which all company members will have to be dressed accordingly.

We are also going to need to break down the distribution of ensemble members as to which characters they will be playing throughout the show. We have 12 female understudies. We are still working on another 3-4 male understudies. Those female understudies will need to be split into employees of the taverna and islanders. 

Additionally, in Act 2 of “Slipping Through my Fingers” there will be a series of pantomimed vignettes with three child actors playing younger versions of Sophie. We will likely need another actor, probably Donna’s understudy to play the role of a younger Donna. 

Lights and Costumes Atmosphere

Day 1 | A moonlit night. The water is shimmering under the dock where Sophie sings of her dream and sends letters off to Harry, Bill and Sam, inviting them to her wedding.

Day 1 | But I guess really day 1 as the letter sending is a prologue. 

Day 2[1] is the arrival of Sophie’s best friends, Lisa and Ali. It’s a bright, warm day. The scene should feel youthful, bright, comfortable, happy.

This is followed by the arrival of Tanya and Rosie with their luggage and their “travel attire”. Tanya and Rosie are Donna’s best friends.

  • Tanya is sophisticated, well-traveled, wealthy, three-time divorcee with expensive taste.
  • Rosie is bohemian, hippy, relaxed, comfortable in her own style and self.

After Donna, Rosie and Tanya leave, we meet Sophie’s possible dads, Sam, Harry and Bill as they arrive on the island wearing their “travel attire”.

  • Sam is an architect, clean, good style, put together, structured, cool colors.
  • Harry is a stockbroker, successful, more formal, tailored clothes with warmer colors and maybe some blue tones and | or accents.
  • Bill is a travel writer, well-traveled, used to living out of a suitcase, practical, comfortable, more neutral colors.
  • Donna is a single mother, a business owner, a hard worker, who is both too busy and too independent to necessarily care what she looks like. She’s got bills to pay, a daughter to raise, a business to run, etc. I’ve hesitated on whether I want to use the iconic overalls, but I think that’s the way to move forward with Donna.

Especially in “Money, Money, Money” and “Mamma Mia” I like the idea of ensemble members representing islanders and taverna workers. Maybe integrating the traditional Greek yiayia into the costuming of 1 or 2 of the ensemble, just for these two numbers and the Wedding scene. It might be fun to have 1 or 2 Yiayia’s interacting with the other characters??? 

We move later into the day, late afternoon or early evening and Donna is alone in her room, her world having just been turned upside down by the surprise visit of Sam, Harry and Bill. Tanya and Rosie show up and try to cheer Donna up. They open up a trunk at the foot of Donna’s bed and find ABBA inspired costumes which they can use for “Dancing Queen.”

We also meet Sam, Harry and Bill later in the day after they’ve had a chance to unpack in their rooms and freshen up. I do like the idea that their freshening up is a different costume then their traveling clothes. 

Later in the evening Sophie finds Sky on the beach and they share a moment before the rest of the male ensemble swoop in to carry Sky off to his bachelor party. I do like the idea of the flippers for the guys to dance in, possibly snorkels and | or masks. I don’t think we need to do the wetsuit idea used in the original production, I think board shorts, causal t-shirts, open faced button ups and tank tops are fine. 

We leave the beach to join in on the bachelorette party. I like the idea of Sophie and the other female ensemble members having a different costume so that this party feels like folks “dressed for it”, like everyone is so excited and this is the biggest thing on the island right now. Maybe sun dresses and skirts instead of shorts and leggings from previous scenes?

I also like the idea of Sam, Bill and Harry being dressed for the party. Nothing too big, maybe something like, Sam changes from his travel clothes into pants and relaxed button up shirt, then puts a jacket on over that for the party. None of the men intend to get caught up in the party but they do, and when the bachelor party ends, those folks join in during Voulez-vous and the end of Act 1.

ACT 2 |

We begin Act 2 with Sophie having a dream | nightmare in “Under Attack”. We’ll need to figure out what we are going to do with this dream sequence in order to determine what we are going to do with the costuming. I do know that we will need a night gown or jammies for Sophie. Tuxes for the three dads and a white wedding dress for Sky. This will be the most fantasy-like lighting we use in the whole show. Sophie’s anxiety is getting the better of her and this dream sequence is the stage manifestation of that anxiety.

A couple of notes. We do have a twin bed on a frame with rollers. Additionally, the twin bed mattress is reinforced so the mattress could be carried with Sophie on it, if needed. Something we can chat about with choreography.

I do want to have a production meeting to brainstorm ideas for how to approach this scene.

After the dream sequence, Sophie wakes up with a start, finding herself in the courtyard, early morning. Clearly, she’s back to sleep walking.

  • Sophie, still in her night clothes.
  • Donna, relaxed, comfortable outfit. Maybe a dress that could double for the wedding?
  • Sam, I like the idea of his color palette contrasting with Donna’s for the confrontation scene.

By mid-day we are on the beach. Many of the characters are just starting to emerge from their late night | early morning drinking bachelor and bachelorette party. Eddie, Sky and Pepper are wearing the same clothes from the night before. Tanya is in her sunbathing gear. Several of the female ensemble members are in different clothes then their party gear from the previous night. 

Harry should be the most relaxed we’ve seen him since the beginning of this story.

Bill and Rosie are coming from fishing.

I’m okay with having conversations about actors being in bathing suits, but we won’t be doing two piece suits, everything is a one piece, depending on the cut out – a one piece cut out is fine as long as the ladies have some kind of shorts or skirt or sarong on. The guys can be in swimsuits too but they cannot be bare chested. Open faced button up at most.

Depending on how many ensemble we put into this scene we will need towels, sun glasses, and other sunbathing accessories.

We move into the early evening for the remainder of the show as the preparations for the wedding kick into high gear.

After the wedding, we close out the show. It’s night. The moon light is simmering across the water as Sophie and Sky, in their own travel gear and with bags or suitcases, say goodbye to everyone and leave the island to live their dream…together.

PROPS |

I really like the idea of the personalization of the props. Donna has to do A LOT with a LITTLE. I love the idea that she repurposes and personalizes everything. So we will need to work through which props will be repurposed and personalized and how those props will work. 

CHARACTERS |

I’ll be working with the actors on specific character development work. As a high school theater director we are an educational theater institution and I have a responsibility to use different directing styles to help push the students to being the best they can be. I have some new to me and unique approaches I’m going to take with the students this time around. 

__________