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March 18, 2019

Theatre director from SVSU brings collaborative spirit to 'Mamma Mia!' regional production

A play with a plot about uniting friends and family despite distances that once separated them. A theatrical production aimed at bringing together the region's diverse performing arts talents. A director hailing from a university that serves as a community-engaged bridge for that region.

There's a lot going on with the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance's unprecedented multi-theatre production of "Mamma Mia!" planned for fall. But one common theme — the desire to unify communities — seems to neatly tie together the ambitious effort for director Tommy Wedge, an assistant professor of theatre at Saginaw Valley State University.

"'Mamma Mia!' is about a character trying to get her three dads to join her family, and this production is about three different theaters joining together as a family, so it seems an apt framing device for what we're trying to do," Wedge said.

"It's about bringing people together."

The Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance recently announced it would present "Mamma Mia!" and elements of the production in September and October at three venues: Bay City Players, Midland Center for the Performing Arts, and Pit and Balcony Theatre in Saginaw. The schedule will include performances — both open to the public and exclusive for high school student audiences — as well as community workshops and other performances relating to the musical.

"I've never been part of a process like this before," said Wedge, who has worked for productions at all three theaters. "There are a lot of moving pieces, but all of them are achievable."

For the South Dakota native, confidence comes in part because he knows the barriers separating the performers, producers and audiences for the three theaters are largely arbitrary. Wedge said collaboration between the trio of venues has increased in recent years. Managers communicate to ensure they don't produce the same plays during the same seasons, and props and equipment often are shared between the different crews.

"And, especially for the younger performers and staff, the barriers are nonexistent," said Wedge, pointing out that several SVSU students and alumni have résumés highlighting work at all three locations.

"We have been on this path of opening doors between the three theatres for a while, and that led us to where we are today."

Wedge said embracing the spirit of collaboration driving the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance's production came natural to him. After all, he adopted an enthusiasm for community engagement from SVSU when he first joined the university in 2011.

"SVSU is one of the most supportive universities when it comes to using our shared strengths to improve the communities around us," he said. "Showcasing the absolute best this region has to offer is something I know how to do."

His work at SVSU already is carrying over to his latest production. Melanie Frasca, an SVSU theatre and English double major from Waterford, was involved in several Wedge-directed plays at the university. She will serve as his stage manager for "Mamma Mia!"

He said other members of the SVSU community likely will be involved in "Mamma Mia!" Openings remain for the production crew staff. Cast auditions begin in July.

Wedge most recently directed the February 2019 SVSU production of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time." He directed two plays at Midland Center for the Arts including "Beauty and the Beast" in April 2017, and four shows at Pit and Balcony including "Spring Awakening" in May 2014. He served as a directing consultant at Bay City Players.

The fall lineup of "Mamma Mia!" performances will mark his first experience working with the beloved Broadway-born musical about a young woman's effort to unify her family on the eve of her wedding.

"I'm a huge fan of the movie," he said of the 2008 film starring Meryl Streep. "For my money, it's the most successful jukebox musical there is. I'm looking forward to bringing a fresh perspective to it."

Tickets for "Mamma Mia!" will go on sale to the general public on June 27 and will be available from the box offices and websites of all three theatres (www.midlandcenter.org, www.pitandbalconytheatre.com, and www.baycityplayers.org).

For more information about the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance's production of "Mamma Mia!,'" visit the organization's website at www.greatlakesbay.com.