On a gray Tuesday afternoon, a young woman stands alone in a hallway, head bent, focused intently on the music of ABBA. Meet Lily Campbell. She is part of the group of amazing young women who make up the student choreography team at Black Hills High School. A few minutes later, I had the opportunity to I sit down with all four of these talented ladies to discuss their work at the school and the upcoming musical. This year they are taking on the multiple Tony award-winning “Mamma Mia!” which will debut at the school the last week of January and run through February 8, 2020.
Lily, Sara Nedrow, Kelsey Otos and Lauren Robertson are all seniors as well as college students through the Running Start program. In addition to this challenging workload, they spend countless hours planning and teaching the choreography to be performed. After discovering the theater program as freshmen, each was hooked. The following year, they were approached by drama director, Dave Heywood, to become student choreographers and trained by the former choreographers. Three years later they are working on their tenth show together and training others to take their place.
Lily, Sarah, Kelsey and Lauren have complete artistic control in their roles as student choreographers from conception of the moves to the final performance. “We do everything,” says Lily. This means a lot of hard work that starts long before roles are cast. “It’s December and Lily and I started practicing in August,” Lauren tells me. However, pre-planning in no way guarantees that changes won’t need to be made. All four agree that adaptability is a crucial, and often used, skill. Sarah illustrates the point: “a version of a song played by the band could be a different length.” The new timing necessitates an immediate change in routine.
Unlike other venues, the music here will be live. Musicals at Black Hills High School are a serious production, bringing all of the arts together. The upcoming performance will feature the talents of school band students, while their classmates act/sing/dance. Others will create sets and lighting. This is a student production in every sense of the word. With so many people working together, adaptability and inventiveness are crucial. There is never a dull moment in the theater.
I asked where the young women found inspiration for such creative work. The approaches were as varied and fascinating.
Sarah said, “I prefer to come in cold. I let the music inspire me.”
Lily is using the familiarity with ABBA’s music as an inspiration. “We grew up listening to this music. It’s the nostalgia,” she says.
Kelsey found that her experience with theater created her interest in dance and choreography.
Despite differing backgrounds and motivations, these four women are a team. That is made abundantly clear with conversation turns to the subject of leadership and inspiring others. As choreographers, Lily, Sarah, Kelsey and Lauren are in positions of leadership to their peers, acting as teachers, coaches and guides to the cast. This is a role they take seriously. Kelsey explains that everyone comes from a different place.
“We have to meet everyone’s needs,” Sarah continued.
“You have to really listen,” adds Lauren.
Despite the pressures, this is clearly a labor of love. The smiles were wide throughout our interview. “This is how people will know me,” Sarah says, “by what they see onstage.”
When asked what they most wanted others to know, the answer was unanimous, “Come see the show!”
As artists, choreographers need an audience. As do the dozens of other students involved in the production. In theater, the audience is often part of the show, acting as a foil for the cast to work from. Without those who have come to delight in the show, performers cannot do their best work. Please join Lily, Sarah, Kelsey, Lauren and the rest of the cast and crew for “Mamma Mia!” this winter.
Black Hills High School Theatre and Music present Abba’s “Mamma Mia!” The storytelling magic of Abba’s timeless songs propels this enchanting tale of love, laughter and friendship.
Shows are January 30, 31 and February 1, and February 6, 7 and 8, all at 7:00 p.m. There will also be a matinee on February 8 at 2:00 p.m. All shows are in the newly remodeled Black Hills PAC. Tickets are $12.00 for adults and $8.00 for students and seniors. Produced in association with Music Theatre international.