September 3 – “Be Prepared” is one of the signature songs of “The Lion King”, and it applies particularly to the production of “The Lion King Jr.” by the Artistic Civic Theater, as a mask wearer, use of numerous liners and an emphasis on teamwork is necessary for musical performance to be successful during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Be Prepared” is not just the main character act of Scar, but the theme for everyone associated with this ACT musical, said co-director Heidi Long.
“We say to everyone, ‘Be prepared.'”
“Every main character has an understudy, which we’ve never done before,” said co-director Mary McLawhorn. “It’s one way to deal with the madness of COVID-19. “
Initially, “we planned 25, but we accepted 51” of the 65 local students who auditioned, she said. A handful ultimately opted out due to scheduling conflicts, but “46 kids is a huge cast.”
The cast members know not only their roles, but also backing roles, and even songs and choreography for roles they’re not technically involved in, Long said.
“We told everyone to be careful because the (star) may be missing and so is the understudy.”
Theater veteran Lilli Sharp is a member of the ensemble, as well as an understudy for Rafiki and Timon.
“It’s hard to keep it straight, so I’m trying to keep them apart, (working) on Rafiki one day, Timon one day,” and his ensemble in part another, said the ninth grader at Dalton Junior High. School. It’s also weird to work on “you really hope you never get a chance to play, but it’s fun to practice and rehearse” parts.
Timon, for example, “eats personality, likes ‘daddy jokes’ and is a little bit crazy,” she said. “There is a lot of movement and Timon takes up a lot of space – physically and in your mind.”
Actors wear masks to protect themselves and others during rehearsals because “only a small number of our actors are eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations,” which are currently available for ages 12 and older, Long said. However, actors will not wear masks on stage when performing in front of an audience.
Each member of the cast will have their backstage space for personal effects, including masks, for the duration of the musical, McLawhorn said. This will hopefully prevent “the spread of germs.”
“The Lion King Jr.”, with choreography by Ashlyn Barnett and assistant conductor from Dalton High School McKinley Kersey, opens on the Mashburn stage of the Martin Theater on Friday, September 10 at 7:30 p.m., with 7 additional: Performances at 30 p.m. on September 11 and September 16 to 18, as well as a morning at 2 p.m. on Sunday, September 12. More information on tickets, including how to purchase them, is available online at https://actdalton.org/ticketsmemberships.html.
“We have had cast members with COVID-19, parents of cast members with COVID-19 and tons of quarantines” among the cast members due to possible exposure to COVID-19, a McLawhorn said.
“We had to be very, very flexible.”
“The biggest challenge was trying to (rehearse) with different people, but I’m just thrilled to be doing theater again and seeing the audience watch it,” said Lindy Hester, seventh grade student at North Whitfield Middle School. , who plays Rafiki. “I missed playing, being on a stage singing and playing and dancing.”
“I love being here with my friends, having fun, and I’ve never cared about the role I have,” said Jackson Kersey, a ninth grader at Dalton Junior High School who plays Mufasa. “I have so much fun with these people, and spend time with them here (several) nights a week.”
“The kids are so resilient (and) they just come to terms with” this reality, McLawhorn said. COVID-19 “has been their life” for the past 18 months, and “they are adjusting to COVID-19 (life) better than us adults.”
“They were so mobilized to help us, and it was really obvious from the start how hungry they were” for the theater, she added. “They are so hungry for the theater to come back.”
It “was a difficult experience, but also an incredible experience,” said Hester. “Everyone filled when” needed with aplomb.