Nyota perform the Lion King
When I was eight years old I saw my first Broadway play, The Lion King. From that moment, my world changed. I fell in love with theater and knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. As I got older, my dream became clearer; I wanted to teach theater to children around the world. I came to Kenya to gain more teaching experience, but I am leaving Kenya with my childhood dream becoming a reality.
After hearing my students say their favourite movie was The Lion King, I began adapting the script. I chose to abridge the story to fit a 10 minute play with three songs. Once the script was finalized, the casting process began. I heard each student from Standards 5, 6, and 7 read. The Western director in me wanted to cast the students with the best reading skills to be cast as leads, but the theater teacher in me wanted to give every student the opportunity to shine. We had groups of five or six students for each role and each role had students from all levels. After our second read-through, I knew I made the right decision.
I saw students in my class who can barely read out loud without getting nervous shout their lines. I would walk into school every morning and students would recite their lines to me and beg to work on them during lunch. I have never seen some of my students more confident and proud, which is exactly why I want to pursue a career in theater education. The arts have given me confidence, enthusiasm and an escape, and I want to give that opportunity to these children.
For three weeks we would rehearse during our 35 minute reading lesson every day. Coming from a world where four hour rehearsals for six weeks plus a tech week is standard, I was terrified. But the students proved me wrong; they were able to not only learn their lines very quickly, but also understand the English. The next challenge was introducing theater to people who have never seen a play before. I had to teach cue lines, emotion, and stage presence. But once again, their excitement and enthusiasm made it possible. We then spent two lessons learning “Circle of Life”, but we added our own twist. I found the English translation for the Zulu opening, and then had two teachers translate it to kiwahili. By the end of the second “Circle of Life” rehearsal, I was in tears. I was overwhelmed with joy and excitement. For 15 years I wanted to be a part of The Lion King and these kids made it happen.
After three days of exams and no rehearsal for a week we had one day to rehearse before show time. We spent four hours in the Kenyan sun blocking and then completing three full run-throughs. As any actor would tell you, tech week is exhausting and tedious; but these kids were troopers. By the end of the day, I knew we were ready. On show day, I brought in the puppets for each character that I had been working on every day for the last few weeks. It was time to perform for the rest of the school. I stood in the back and told the kids to just look at me while they were on stage. I had to let go of every concept of professional theater I have. We had kids running on and off stage, we could see backstage, and had the occasional side conversation on stage. But I was so incredibly proud. Fortunately I wore my sunglasses, because once again, I was crying throughout the entyre performance. They were proud, confident, excited, and able to escape everything that is happening around them. The three girls in Standard 7 who told me they dream of going to California to become actresses, were actresses. The students who have a stutter when they read didn’t have a stutter. The student who never talks spoke louder than anybody else. They were shinning stars.
By Becca Kenigsberg
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