Thirty minutes before the show was scheduled to begin, the line of people waiting to enter Rosse Hall for Kenyon College Players’ (KCP) one-night-only shadow cast performance of Mamma Mia! already extended down Middle Path.
At 10 p.m., Rosse Hall was completely packed with Kenyon students, many clad in their Halloween costumes and chatting exuberantly with friends. As the movie began with the opening notes of ABBA’s “I Have a Dream” and a shot of the Mediterranean Sea, the spirited audience screamed, cheered and started a stomping drumroll that shook Rosse.
During the movie’s musical numbers, audience members were on their feet dancing and singing along. There were also auditory and visual cues provided on the program for audience members to respond to over the duration of the show. Every time a main character said the word “Dad” or “Father,” audience members yelled back “Who’s your daddy?” When characters were seen kissing, the audience responded with “Mamma Mia!” These interactive elements amplified the festive atmosphere.
Last year, KCP put on the first-ever Kenyon shadow cast production of Rocky Horror Picture Show. The campus response was hugely enthusiastic. However, after discussing, the board of KCP decided to try something different this year. Samara Handelsman ’21, a producer on the board of KCP, voiced the idea of a shadow cast performance of Mamma Mia! KCP was interested, but Handelsman struggled to find anyone willing to direct the production. When it became clear that no one was going to take on the position, Handelsman volunteered to do it herself. “I’m primarily an actor, so it was very scary to commit to something so different,” she said. But for Handelsman, Mamma Mia! was worth the risk. “Growing up, I just watched it constantly … Literally half the costumes in the show were my mom’s … It’s just been part of my life forever. I love it.”
Handelsman emphasized that shadow cast shows are different from standard theater productions because they bring people from different communities and niches on campus together in a way that traditional theater does not. Not only was the audience of Mamma Mia! filled with Kenyon students from diverse groups, but the cast was too. “It’s just a very different group of people than you’re used to working with in this small theater community,” said Handelsman. “It’s just so fun to see people start to enjoy theater for the first time or rediscover theater. So it’s just a totally different energy than putting on a play with people who are already committed to theater.”
As director, Handelsman worked closely with choreographer Maria Huey ’21 to bring the show to life. Together, they spent one to two hours prior to each rehearsal writing notes and cues for the scenes.
Cast members faced the unique challenge of memorizing specific pacing and movements to work in tandem with the movie. Rehearsals were five days a week. “The reason we put in that much work … in rehearsal is so that when the adrenaline hits, enough of it is left in your body and in your mind that you’re going to be able to still do the actions. So if you forget one little thing it’s not even going to matter because it’s in you,” said Handelsman.
As an opportunity for students to let loose and come together, Mamma Mia! brought a unique vitality to Kenyon’s Saturday-night life.
Building on the success of Saturday’s show, KCP plans to continue producing shadow cast productions, and Handelsman hopes that these performances will become an annual tradition.
She suggested that audiences in future years can expect to see either Rocky Horror Picture Show or Mamma Mia! return to the Rosse stage.