Rollins’ decision to close campus operations due to COVID-19 resulted in the cancellation of all arts programming, including the production of “Mamma Mia!,” which was set to open April 17 for a week-long run in the Annie Russell Theatre. The premature closing of the show left its 21 cast members, three stage managers, and numerous tech and design students deeply saddened by the loss.
Director Missy Barnes, professor of musical theater, said that a uniquely large portion of its cast were first-year students.
“It’s always exciting to be cast, but to be cast as a freshman is very special, so many of our kids were incredibly heartbroken,” said Barnes. “But this is happening all over the world. In most countries, any major congregation of people cannot be happening. Ballets, concerts … [they] cannot take place. It’s not just Rollins; it’s global. I keep reminding my students that, if it helps, it’s not just pertaining to our department—it’s sports and gatherings and shows that have been cancelled altogether,” said Barnes.
Barnes noted that the coronavirus has made a large impact on the arts as a whole. Without funds from ticket sales, theaters may not have the ability to continue operations after the pandemic passes.
“We’re all devastated about what’s happening at Rollins, but it’s so much bigger than that. We need to support these organizations and not let them close,” Barnes said.
Because of how much the Department of Theatre & Dance invested in the show, the department is discussing a rescheduling of “Mamma Mia!” for next season. The show had already nearly sold out.
Kelsey Kline (‘22), cast member and assistant dance captain, said patrons “were so excited to ‘bring their dancing shoes’ to the show.”
However, Andrew Stewart (‘21), who was cast as the character Sam Carmichael, said rescheduling would be problematic.
“It would take the place of another professor’s directing spot in the season lineup,” he said. In order for Mamma Mia! to touch the stage, another show would have to go.
Kline said the cast “already had a few costume fittings, rehearsals, and finished about half of the choreography” when COVID-19 started to become an issue. As the virus began to spread, all participants of “Mamma Mia!” felt uncertain about what would happen to the show.
Kline said that the cast was especially fantastic in terms of technical artistic skill, and she is disappointed that their hard work could not be shared with the community.
It was not only the loss of the show that stung the cast and crew. Kline said, “The President not once addressed how we would be losing our presentations and performances and concerts.” She also said that classes for the performing arts “simply do not work online.”
A mass email sent by President Grant Cornwell, which addressed on-campus cancellations, said, “With special empathy for our student-athletes, what is entailed by our course of action, is that the remainder of spring sports schedules will be cancelled.” The announcement did not acknowledge the losses of the arts departments as well.
The president said he chose to acknowledge student-athletes because he had just made the decision to cancel the spring season for all sports, and the campus-wide email would be the first time student-athletes would hear about the decision.
“I do have special empathy for our student-athletes, as I do have special empathy for our students in the performing and studio arts, and the laboratory sciences, and the rich array of courses we have that are engaged in community-based learning. Much has been lost, and I feel this loss every day,” said Cornwell.
In the two days following the announcement of campus evacuation, the Department of Theatre & Dance pulled together to put on their traditional senior bows while it still had time on campus.
In these two days, the department also prematurely staged the final senior Rollins Improv Players show, as well as one of the senior’s capstone productions, “Boom,” in the blackbox theater.
Finally, an informal meeting took place on Thursday, Mar. 12, in which the students could gather together for the last time to talk about “Mamma Mia!” and their experiences with one another. Kline said that “it was just all of us sitting in a circle, crying and grieving.”
Vocal Captain Annabelle Cuitino (‘20) led a final rehearsal for the cast. Recalling the meeting, Kline said, “We all danced and sung, and we did our choreography for the last time. It was just such a sad moment. It’s a show I will never forget.”
Although a decision has not yet been reached on whether or not “Mamma Mia!” will come to the Annie Russell Theatre next season, those who already purchased tickets for the musical will be refunded if they contacted the box office by April 28.
Ticket holders may also donate their tickets to support future Annie Russell Theatre productions and other department programs.