Our charter school is filled with many different demographics and it can be difficult to understand where we’re coming from and where we’re going especially in a time of transition. We set out to unite the school through the power of musical theatre. Wyatt Academy is tremendously rich in talent and expression on both side of the chalkboard and this was a perfect fit for us to start coming together and finding out who we are and what our culture should look like. We performed the Lion King Jr. with over 400 performing scholars and faculty ranging from ages 5-55. All staff and scholars united for 75 days in putting the production together created puppets and masks and curriculum in what all came down to an empowering week appropriately titled “Lion King Week”.
The experience created was something we couldn’t of imagined. It united our school and brought us together like family. Discipline and behavioral problems went down, our K-8 scholars started speaking Swahili and Zulu in the halls and mimicking tribal African cultures and ways of respect. The wall between educator and learner was brought down as the cast was split between faculty and scholar making our school at ground level with fairness, equality, unity and strength with jobs for everyone from the most ambitious to the curious. Lion King Jr. provides a ground in which honor goes to those who are brave and wear their integrity as their identity. Mufasa was played by our principal, Joe Taylor, and Scar was played by our fifth grade lead, Melody Means. Joe and Melody would occasionally just drop by my classroom to work on their songs with the scholars. This was a great treat for all of us and I will never forget the true magical moments forever emblazoned on our scholars’ faces.
The most unique moments spent, for me, was working the songs in music class. K-4 provided the ensemble numbers and rigorously studied the lyrics of the Swahili and Zulu tribes. “’Ngonyama nengw' enamabala” “A Lion and Leopard enter here together” was representative of positivity and negativity. We applied that to every song and identified the suitable expression. The moments that I witnessed during performance of Lion King Jr. when a student performer truly engages in the text, action of playwright, and music is one that I will covet for the rest of my days. Truly precious and fleeting. I wish every school could do a project like this! I had colleagues from other schools, reaching the spectrum of demographics, come and witness this experience and heralded it as “true and real children’s theatre” and “a lost art of magnificence.” The empowering factor of unity alone is worth all the A pluses imaginable.
I could imagine this being replicated on a grade level but to involve the whole school including faculty takes some skills in networking, talent, kindness, and inclusion. We provided a true and professional theater experience for over 400 scholars from a lower socioeconomic demographic which included: a fully staged and choreographed production involving over 650 costumes, makeup for the full cast and ensemble, full lights and effects, 19 body sized puppets, full sound and mic, and not a dry eye in the house.
Our goals were met by strong planning with my Dean of Curriculum, Shawn Graziani, my two producers, Karen Craig and Kate Mishara, and their trust in my vision and skills. There were also amazing faculty members that led the way in costumes, Michelle Mckinsey & Sarah Grant, and puppet design, Lindsay Hazouri.