TBB Talks To … Stacey Haynes Co-Director Of Mamma Mia! The Party

From performing to choreography to directing to presenting, Stacey Haynes has worked in the entertainment industry for over 30 years.

Her work includes choreographing the Chicago UK Tour, working as an onscreen judge for Strictly Dance Fever and being creative director for X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent and America’s Got Talent.

Most recently, Stacey was appointed by ABBA’s Bjorn to co-direct the UK production of the O2 Mamma Mia dining experience or Mamma Mia! The Party. From April until October, Mamma Mia! The Party transports audiences to the island of Skopelos – specifically Nikos and his family’s fantastical Greek taverna – for a glorious night of music, laughter and feasting. Over the course of more than four hours, audiences can enjoy a spectacular show, a four-course gourmet Mediterranean meal and a fabulous ABBA disco.

We spoke to Stacey to find out more about her illustrious career, and why she’s excited to be directing Mamma Mia! The Party.

Please introduce yourself?

Hi my name is Stacey Haynes, I am black British Director/Choreographer who has been in the entertainment business for nearly 40 years. Yes I am really that old.

Please share a word or sentence which best describes your life right now…

Never a dull moment.

In a previous interview you’ve said of musical theatre, “It’s singing, it’s dancing, it’s acting. It’s eight shows a week, fifty-two weeks of the year. It’s very little praise, loads of rejection. It’s the norm to be told you’re wrong. You would have to be mad to even think about getting into this business.” So, my question is, what made you want to get into show business?

In all honesty, I never really had the “dream” to be in show business. I loved to dance, was fortunate enough to get a grant for a performing arts school where I went from the age of 10-18. Being the youngest of 6 kids it was a case of that’s where you are going! The first couple of years I still wasn’t completely in love with show business, jobs weren’t coming thick and fast and there was a lot of bar work, but dancing was my happy place. So it wasn’t really a case of wanting to get into show business but more it just happened. Not all plain sailing but enough highs to keep me going thats for sure.

Before becoming a choreographer, you also worked as a performer. At what point did you decide you wanted to become a choreographer, and how did you go about managing this transition?

Being a dancer and loving being a dancer you don’t really have much longevity in the business. I was very lucky to work with a choreographer Stuart Hopps who saw my potential as a Dance Captain at first and then had the belief in me to hire me to assist him on some movies. That was my first step onto the other side and I loved it, more than performing. After that it was a case of right place right time. Assistant choreographer became resident choreographer which quickly became resident director on many west end shows. I suppose because I had a dance background, but was also able to grasp the directorial concept I became the go to girl for many shows from Broadway. Again, no real dream to direct/choreograph my own show. I was very happy to learn from some of the best and be their associate.

Linda John-Pierre as Debbie in Mamma Mia! The Party – Image credit: Grant Walker

While the African diaspora has been integral to the development of multiple dance forms, the contributions of individual Black choreographers are often erased. Is this something you’ve experienced yourself, and how far do you feel your choreography speaks back to Afrodiasporic dance forms?

I actually haven’t experienced this myself. I would say though that the contribution of the African diaspora is seen more predominately in the contemporary world of dance. I think the question should more be why are there not more black choreographers and directors. The entertainment world still has a way to go.

So, let’s talk about your appointment to direct the UK production of the O2 Mamma Mia dining experience. You were specifically appointed by Bjorn to direct this production– what was Bjorn’s previous experience of your work and how did you feel when he appointed you to direct this production?

Well it wasn’t quite as straight forward as this. I was originally hired as the Associate Director but during the rehearsal period, I was working alongside the Swedish Director (who had directed the original production in Stockholm) I was asked to co-direct/choreograph the London show during this time. I suppose with my experience of many London productions my knowledge was helpful for the UK production. Being asked in the first place was amazing, meeting Bjorn and him saying yes to me was fantastic but working alongside him was one of the highlights of my career so far.

What was your relationship like with Mamma Mia prior to directing this dining experience? Had you seen the stage productions and films – which did you prefer? And were you a fan of ABBA’s music?

I had seen the stage show many many years ago. I have a lot of friends who have been in the show. I have also seen all of the films and loved them. I think the first film is definitely my favourite. Ummm, who isn’t an ABBA fan?

If you had to pick, what would you say is your favourite ABBA song?

Definitely I let The Music Speak. It’s not one I knew before working on the show but now 100% my favourite.

How do you approach choreographing a production according to a venue’s size as they vary – what unique challenges does it bring and how do you overcome them?

Every venue/show has its challenges. I love going into a venue for the first time and working out how to make the production work. Over the past decade and a half I have been creative director/choreographer on many productions, like X-Factor arena Tour, BGT Arena tour and AGT in Vegas. Creating shows from nothing on an empty stage is the best feeling in the world. it’s always a collaborative experience, without the crew, lighting and sound and of course the cast there would not be a show but to sit back at the end of the rehearsal period on the first performance and say “look what we’ve made” it’s like giving birth.

Mamma Mia! The Party – Image credit: Grant Walker

I love the West End production of Mamma Mia for different reasons than I loved the films. In what ways is this O2 production the same as the stage production and film, and in what ways does it offer audiences something entirely new?

Mamma Mia The Party offers audiences a completely new way of experiencing ABBA’s music. The evening is completely immersive, food and drink are served, and when you walk through the blue doors into the taverna you are in Skopelos. I defy anyone not to have a good time, even if I say so myself.

Have you got any other projects on the horizon that you’re excited about?

I am keeping everything crossed that Mamma Mia The Party will go round the world as I truly believe in this day and age everyone needs a little bit of slope loss in their life. There are a few things bubbling away, but I don’t like to mention anything till I’ve signed on the dotted line. I am really conscious now after all these years that I only want to take jobs that make me excited. After the past 2 years grateful to be working.

GETTING TO KNOW YOU…

  • A book you have to have in your collection? James Patterson Women’s Murder Club. I have them all and they are my go to holiday read.

  • A song / album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date? Stevie Wonder Songs in the Key of Life

  • A film / TV show that you can watch/have watched repeatedly? Scandal, needs no more to be said about it, Shonda is genius.

  • The first stage production you saw and what it meant to you (play, dance or concert)? Dreamgirls on Broadway. Jennifer Holiday as Effie was mind blowing. I then tried for years to bring the production to the UK but by the time it did come, they had the US creative team and I was working on something else. The memory of sitting in the third row of the stalls in a Broadway Theatre watching a cast of oh so talented black people will stay with me forever.

  • What’s made you sad, mad, and glad this week? Sad, My mum who has Alzheimer’s. Mad, Alzheimer’s. Glad, That my mum still knows who I am.

Mamma Mia! The Party runs From April until October 2022 @ The 02 Arena. Book tickets here.

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