Vermillion is turning out to be a perfect fit for Oliver Mayes – it’s not only providing an education in his preferred field – it’s also giving him an opportunity to do one of this favorite things – direct.

Mayes is at the helm this summer as the Vermillion Community Theatre (VCT) prepares to present the musical “Mamma Mia!” The show will run July 12-15, at the VHS Thomas H. Craig Center for Performing Arts at VHS.

“I’m originally from the Portland, Oregon area. I grew up in Oregon and then I moved to Los Angeles for my undergraduate degree and stayed there for a moment to work,” Mayes said during a break in Sunday afternoon’s rehearsal. “I moved here from New York City – I was there for almost six years working in theatre, performing arts education, the cabaret industry and doing lots of fun, interesting things.

“Ultimately my goals lie in professional theatre and higher education. I want to be able to teach performing arts in college,” he said. “I came here for my master’s; I’m at USD doing my MFA (master of fine arts) in theatre directing.”

Mayes has completed his first year of studies at the university here so he’s lived in Vermillion for nearly a year.

“VCT (Vermillion Community Theatre) has a strong connection with USD’s theatre department so I got connected with Anthony (Burbach, the musical director), through one of my professors. Matt Nesmith really encouraged me to go for this opportunity,” he said.

He met with the VCT board and went through an interview process.

“I met with a few of the board members and they offered me the job. We just really clicked; it was really cool. They gave me time to think about it because working in theatre, especially coming from outside of this town, I had some other employment prospects,” Mayes said. “But I decided that I really wanted to do “Mama Mia,” I wanted to stay in town and get to know Vermillion better and the VCT seemed like a great group to work with. I came here to focus on musicals and now I am and it’s really wonderful.”

Mayes joins Kathryn Rose Reimler, the choreographer and Brian Adams, technical director. Set and lighting design is by Indigo Theatrical Studio with Jennifer Sansfacon as set designer and Jonathan Allender-Zivic as lighting designer.

The Vermillion Community Theatre’s reputation of staging an excellent musical performance year after year was a strong selling point, he said.

“My professors said this is a really great group of people with really great resources and a really great attitude and all of that has been totally true,” Mayes said. “We hit the ground running with music and started trickling in some choreography and staging. We’ve been staging the show and we’re at the point where we’re working through it and putting all the transitions together and making it one cohesive piece.”

The cast, crew and musicians were at a “nearly comfortable” stage in the process when Mayes talked with the Plain Talk on June 30.

“It’s because we’re at that transition time, where we’re transitioning through run-throughs,” he said. “Some material we’ve gotten to review through really clean, but some of it we haven’t -- I’ve only been able to teach them parts of the staging. Parts of the run will go really well and parts will go a little stumbly, but that’s okay. It gets better through time.

“The process is beautiful because you start with nothing and nobody really knows what’s going on. It involves a lot of preparation on the director’s part, so I come in with a lot of preparation in hopes that the process will be smooth,” Mayes said. “It is smooth because everyone is memorizing their lines and their music. It comes together slowly but at the end you kind of feel that pressure and everyone kicks into high drive.”

He has directed several different types of theatrical performances in recent years. “Mama Mia” is Mayes’ first musical at the helm.

“I’ve directed a lot of cabarets and concerts and plays, and I started in high school and I did focus on acting for quite a while,” he said. “Now I’m focusing more on directing … I used to have way more acting gigs and now it’s way more directing.

“I love directing because I have a lot of ideas and I like the story telling aspect,” Mayes said, “and being in charge of that and helping hone in on what the messages are of the piece. I think that’s really important and I love creating beautiful visual stage pictures.”

Actors are limited in how they look and what they can do, he said.

“With directing, I feel like I’m playing every part, because I get to say ‘this is what you’re going to do’ and it’s really fulfilling that way,” Mayes said.

He noted he likely would never be cast in a major acting role in “Mama Mia.”

“It’s amazing to get to direct it, because I don’t have to be right for it,” Mayes said. “It’s more of ‘I’m going to help put it together for you.’”

“Mama Mia,” both the musical and movie, use the music of Abba, the Swedish pop group, to tell the story of a relationship between a mother and a daughter and the contrast between a ‘70s girl and a ‘90s girl, Donna and Sophie, he said.

The story, he said, is of what a journey looks like involving Donna, who is very independent and Sophie, who wants a partner by her side and needs validation.

“Through that music, you see their relationship and their decisions unfold and the end is kind of whacky and different and unexpected,” Mayes said. “Long story short, Sophie doesn’t know who her dad is and she wants to find out and she learns of three possible prospects and she invites all three of them to her wedding.

“We see throughout the musical her trying to figure out who it is and it's just all whacky because Donna was kind of a wild child in the ‘70s,” he said. “For me, it’s a story about love, the importance of relationships whether that be friendships or family relationships, reconciling the past and forgiveness and it’s also about girl power. It’s a celebration of women; this show is about showing the strength of women and what they’re capable of and celebrating that.”

Audience members, in the process, will hear several songs that they’ve likely blasted on car radios and home stereos over the decades. Featured are Abba songs “I Have A Dream,” “Honey, Honey,” “Money, Money, Money,” “Mama Mia,” “Chiquitita,” “Dancing Queen,” “Our Last Summer,” “Lay All Your Love On Me,” “Super Trouper,” “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight),``''Voulez-Vous,” “SOS,” “Does Your Mother Know,” “Slipping Through My Fingers,” “The Winner Takes It All,” “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do,” “When All Is Said And Done,” “Take A Chance On Me,” “Waterloo,” and “Thank You For The Music.”

“It’s a show for everyone,” Mayes said. “I always say it’s a fun, family show because of regardless of your age, you’re going to enjoy some aspect of the music and it’s really so much fun. It’s such a fun show.”

As of last Sunday, the cast had mastering small sequences of the musical as it mastered the various songs, choreography and acting.

“Now we’re trying to run it in a longer amount of time and seeing what needs more review and what pieces need a lot of cleaning,” Mayes said. “It’s an interesting part of the process.”

A DUAL ROLE

Mecia Graham, a veteran of several Vermillion Community Theatre musical productions, will have an on-stage acting role in the upcoming presentation of “Mama Mia.”

She’s also responsible in another, unique way, for setting the atmosphere of the musical.

“I’m onstage, but I’m also the paint director,” she said. “Thankfully, this all set on a Greek island, so it makes it easy as far as the set goes. This set is pretty solid and basic. It’s just one solid set and not a lot of pieces coming in and off like we’ve had in the past.”

The color scheme of the set, Graham said, is stucco and various earth tones.

“There are tans, thinking of the ocean with the blues and tying those colors in,” she said. “The only true pop of colors are turquoise, purple and a rosy pink color that we’ve utilizing -- very little, though,” she said. ‘Most of it is blues and turquoise and white and earth colors.”

The colors also have been placed on various set pieces so they work properly with the various stage lighting throughout the musical.

“That’s the nice thing in our production meetings. Jonathan (Allender-Zivic ) does our lighting and we’re able to say, ‘okay, this is what I’m thinking of’ and he can say, ‘well, if you do this under the lighting, this will happen,’ so that’s been kind of a benefit of having the production team meeting together and being able to talk about those things,” Graham said.

On stage, she will portray Rosie, a friend of Donna, one of the main characters. Throughout the years, she’s played minor, choral roles in many of the VCT musicals. She’s also portrayed major parts, including Laurey in “Oklahoma!” and Mrs. Banks in “Mary Poppins.”

“It’s always fun, and that’s the nice thing about community theatre,” Graham said. “We have our base of those who return year after year, but Vermillion always seems to have this great talent in the summer that comes from the university or people who have just moved here and heard about the community theatre and want to be a part of it.

“VCT is more of a family,” she said. “You build a relationship with people and it’s special.”

GIVING THE ACTORS PROPS

Debbie Proefrock has had experience working at developing costumes for the Vermillion Community Theatre. Last winter, she “did a little bit” with props, she said, for the VCT’s production of “A Christmas Carol.”

“So this is my first time working with props for the summer production,” Proefrock said. She describes her job as collecting nearly every object that’s needed on stage.

“We go through the script and we see all of things that the characters are going to use,” she said. “We make a list and we start to collect them. We beg, steal or borrow whatever we can.”

The USD Theatre Department has been a great help, Proefrock said.

“We work very well together with USD and they’re very generous in what they let us borrow,” she said.

Proefrock added that the Vermillion Civic Council is a very good source for a variety of props.

“I love the Civ,” she said, noting the endless variety of items that are needed for a VCT production like “Mama Mia.”

“Purses, luggage, bags, pillows,” Proefrock said. “We check them (the Civic Council) out and we ask other people in the production if they happen to have something we’re looking for. This year, we searched online on the Vermillion rummage site, and we found a pair of bagpipes, so we have those for the production. We’re very thankful they’re letting us borrow their bagpipes.”

Needed items were also found at the Vermillion High School Rhythm in Red Rummage Sale.

“We go wherever we can find stuff, and the VCT has a lot of stuff that they’ve acquired over the years. It’s just kind of need where you find the stuff that you need and so many of us in theatre have stuff,” she said, laughing. “We don’t know why we have it, but we have it.”

There sometimes is a bit of work needed to make items “theatre ready.” Some older matching wooden chairs near where Proefrock was standing backstage had just received new matching seat covers.

“We paint what we can and we try to make it all look as good as we can for everyone sitting in the audience,” she said.

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