Our CAP grant invited real people to integrate authentic arts experiences into a grant we received, “The Lion King Experience,” a Disney/Office Max integrated theater arts curriculum featuring Broadway stars of “The Lion King,” djembe drums, and the rights from Music Theater International to perform “Lion King Kids.”
Our project involved 150 3rd– 5th graders. Based on interests, they attended artist workshops provided by the CAP grant. Early on, African drummer Bob Hall made fantastic music with each class, using ancient African drumming traditions. This special experience gave us the momentum we needed to get going.
The Disney lessons introduced us to plot, character, setting, space, voice, language, etc., and included warm-ups with African songs. We began reading the scripts. Classroom teachers had students complete written reflections related to character development, personal pride, and storytelling.
64 students auditioned for and got principle parts. Students who hadn’t auditioned also chose jobs- costume design, scenery, backstage crew, ensemble singing & dancing, animals, sound, lights, etc.
Modifying our normal specials schedule and adding after-school rehearsals, we began to practice. Patti Smithsonian was the next highlight, designing giant giraffe costumes and an inspired marionette/costume for Timon. For two days, 10 students at a time were sewing, sawing, attaching, zip-tying, and hot gluing with an enormous cacophony of materials.
One beautiful and unexpected moment was when Patti asked a Chinese student, in Mandarin, what his Chinese name was. He answered right away! Why had we never thought to ask? Patti set the stage for us, and, using her ideas, we made the rest of the costumes and created a beautiful, workable theater space.
Volunteers contributed materials and artful services. Each accomplishment inspired the next. A wonderful poet and writer, SETH, worked with students interested in “amplifying” their performance, 22 at a time. They easily danced, pretended, and performed with him as he taught us to use our body, voice and imagination.
Visiting artists validated the children’s efforts to be actors, dancers, musicians and artists. Students took risks and the musical took on a life of its own. After weeks of rehearsals, choreography, designing, memorizing lines, and singing, it was time to tell the story.
This elementary school adaptation is powerful and sweet. 147 children got themselves “through the knothole” and experienced success. Packed houses loved the performances. The ethnic and creative life that permeated our learning went beyond our expectations, created the magic of theater and demonstrated the power of literacy throughout our school. Thank you Think 360 Arts for really bringing “The Lion King Kids” to life!