Local children’s theatre keeps positive with ‘The Show Will Go On’ messaging

“Mamma Mia” castmates performing during their virtual rehearsals.
“Mamma Mia” castmates performing during their virtual rehearsals.

On March 8, Solana Beach Children’s Theatre Heyjojo Productions held auditions for its spring production of the Abba hit Mamma Mia. “We had close to 100 kids audition, our biggest turnout ever. I knew the show was popular, but never in my wildest dream did I think that many kids would turn out,” said Director Jolene Dodson Bogard.

By mid-week Bogard got a call from one of her parents, Keri Carstairs, whose daughter Lindsay had auditioned. Carstairs is the Chief Population Health Officer of Rady Children’s Hospital and warned “COVID-19 is a real threat and you need to come up with an alternate plan, and I’d suggest doing virtual rehearsals.”

“I didn’t stress out, I looked at what my college-aged daughter’s school was doing and moved right into virtual rehearsals,” Bogard said.

Rapidly, The Heyjojo Production team went into learning about the Zoom platform and took tutorials. Scripts were all delivered to actors and come Monday, March 16, they began virtual rehearsals.

“The beauty of my program is we only meet once a week, so I knew I had plenty of time for rehearsing,” says Bogard, whose shows aren’t planned until late June. Quickly putting her team into place, the musical director, vocal teacher and choreographers banded together and chatted with the kids online.

“Those first rehearsals were a release for them. A place to go that wasn’t stressful. We were singing Mamma Mia songs after all...the sort of feel good musical of the century,” Bogard said. “In my down time I started calling my friends on Broadway or national tours who were suddenly halted. Within one week, I had a special guest at every rehearsal.

First up, was James Oblak who has played “Pepper” in numerous professional productions and whom Bogard met last year while on a national tour of Legally Blonde.

“James is mega hot and I knew my actors would love to meet him and he was grounded in Florida in previews for a production of “A Light in the Piazza,”’ Bogard said.

“Mamma Mia is one of those shows that people need to see in this current situation” said said quarantined Oblak from Florida. “The whole reason Meryl Streep did the movie was to lift spirits after 9/11. It sort of makes sense and these kids were just so full of energy and questions. It’s what I needed.”

Next up, Bogard booked Eddie Carney (musical director) and Nicole Rae (dance captain) of the national tour of “An American in Paris.”

“It was a total joy getting my mind off the current coronavirus and inspiring Jojo’s actors. They asked some amazing questions and I can’t wait for them to see our show when we swing through Southern California,” said Rae.

“I always wanted to keep positive and keep the kids knowing that yes, we will perform. When and where? I’m not sure. But we will. Together we will get through this,” said Bogard. “I’ve also helped other theatres and local businesses. I told them about Zoom and how I was virtual. Some scoffed at the idea ...some said ‘you’re brilliant’ – all I can say is that I have many happy parents who know I’m keeping their kids busy other than doing homework. They look forward to rehearsals. We have such an opportunity for more intimate rehearsals in our virtual space. I have really embraced it.”

Heyjojo Productions has kept that positivity flowing offering free events such as a “Dance Party” on Friday nights and other special guests she’s reach out to in her contact list.

“My connections are wide, but I’m trying to create the best experience for my actors. I am proud to say, 100 kids auditioned, and only one actor dropped because of the coronavirus – but, I gained two siblings who watched how much fun we were having for others in the cast. That is true love and support. And I can’t wait for this community to see our shows when we are released from quarantine.”

For more information, visit www.heyjojoproductions.com. — News release