By Tzar Wilkerson
In talking to music teacher Erin Ellington, you really get a sense of how the students of Parkway elementary have grown into fine cast members, stagehands, vocalists, and dancers. Since they began rehearsing in October of 2019 the students and families of Parkway school have been working hard to make their performance of The Lion King Jr. the best it can be. On January 24, 2020 at 6pm and January 25 at 1pm at Watauga High School, they’ll be presenting the fruits of their long labor.
Of Parkway’s 600-odd students, over 100 from Kindergarten through 8th grade make up the cast of this week’s performance. Besides these cast members, Ellington says the support of families have been instrumental in the success of the production: “The families, friends, and parents of our school and folks that are in the production have really just offered their help. People are helping with ticketing, we have a mom who designed and made all the masks that our lions are gonna be wearing in an African style – modeled after the theatrical production. Parents help each other with coordinating costumes. I along with the other four directors are helping with the rehearsals, but there’s so much behind the scenes that’s gonna make this show happen.”
In particular, Ellington sings the praises of two ASU faculty members who have played a major role in getting the students ready to perform. “Without even asking, we were offered help from 2 folks at App State. One happens to be the parent of one of our cast members: Dr. Jenny Snodgrass. She has been helping with vocal coaching throughout all of our rehearsals this October, and with acting in general as well. We also have another professor – his name is Sherone Price. He has a student at Parkway and he’s a professor in the department of dance at App, and he’s been helping with choreography, acting, and voice coaching. They’ve both devoted their time since the beginning of our rehearsals.”
While Ellington was reluctant to take credit for the excellent work being done on the play, she gave special thanks to five “superhuman” directors whose efforts made the play possible: Char Chiarolanzio, Lauren Collier, Erin Ellington, Daniel Machon, Kristina Shableski
Ellington says that playgoers can also look forward to some impressive set and costume design. “Our stage crew and one of our directors named Daniel Machon have taken on the set pieces. They’ve made a huge tree silhouette that we brought from Parkway to Watauga High School and got it set up. Then our crew also had to create Pride Rock, where the lions go. I think it turned out really well!”
“Mr. Machone and his stage crew have made a costume-piece that will resemble the wildebeest, we’ve made something that will represent the hyenas. But in addition to all of those things that we’ve worked on, the parents and the families have been the ones completely in charge of getting all of the rest of the kids costumed. Our hands are not even in that, parents coordinate it, and I can’t wait! They’ve been sending in all their costumes and they’re gonna look outstanding.”
The show is poised to be a big success, and excitement is growing as the first showing draws near.
“Opening night’s this Friday and everything’s coming together! So far we’ve sold over 800 tickets. We will be opening the balcony at the High School this Friday so there will be seats available up there as well.”
But The Lion King Jr. isn’t just a hit in terms of ticket sales, Ellington explains that, to her and everyone else involved in the production, the effort that has gone into making the performance happen was the most rewarding part of putting on the play.
“What folks will be seeing in this production is the final product. Here I am glowing over the set pieces and the costumes that bring it all together, but I really have to emphasize the process that has come to getting to this point. I love that we’re gonna have over 800 people come and see it, and it’s super exciting that the kids are gonna get to share – but this has been a year in the making. It’s really the process – the growth that happens throughout to get to the end goal – to see the kids voices come together, their acting, their drama. All of that stuff really takes a lot of time and energy and effort, so I want to make it a point to make sure that folks understand that there is just a ton that goes into it, and that’s what’s gonna make it outstanding in the end.”
Tickets are still available at https://www.onthestage.com/show/parkway-school/the-lion-king-jr-81436/tickets for $6 in advance, or $7 at the door.
Pictures from rehearsals: