Welcome to The Lion King with KidsAlive!
Our journey into this production began a little over a year ago, when I walked down to one of the after school classes at Special Care to pick up a couple of our performers and a young man met me at the door. "Are you the Director of Aladdin?" he asked. When I replied in the affirmative he continued, "When are you going to do Lion King?" I explained that although I loved the show I wasn't sure that we had the right students to make it happen. "Well, when you decide to do Lion King, I'll do it with you." he announced. Then he turned and walked away.
I'm pretty sure that I RAN without passing go to Pam's office and breathlessly explained that we wanted to do Lion King at Special Care next Spring for Rey. And so it began.
It has been a momentous journey that has brought so much laughter, so much joy, and yes, so many tears. As it turns out, we have not only learned to sing, sign and dance in 5 African languages, but the story of The Lion King has had much to teach us about life, about loss, and about the value of connecting with those around us.
When we first created this organization we call KidsAlive! I had no idea that this program would take the direction that it has. All I can do is run behind trying to keep up with the momentum and reveling at the connections and miracles that happen every day. We are all learning so much........and the top of the list seems to be that its not only OK, but VITAL to share what is in your heart. That it not only helps you as an individual, but it draws you closer to others and helps them too.
Most of us love Disney's Lion King, and our first thoughts often center around that fun-loving pair, Timone and Pumbaa, and their classic motto: "Hakuna Matata - No Worries!" Everyone adores singing along to this catchy tune and we often use the phrase to put people at ease. And yet there is another, deeper meaning to this saying that goes far beyond the concept that everyone should be free to dance through life on their own terms.
This phrase is connected to Ubuntu, an African humanistic philosophy that places an emphasis on the connectivity of humans: "A person is a person through other people." One of the most important lessons Simba learns is that Hakuna Matata isn't centered around having "no worries for the rest of your days." Instead, it focuses on the "no worries" that comes from the understanding that everything is not in your control. Life doesn't always go as planned, but don't worry, because the people who love you are there to help you through.
Our journey through Lion King rehearsals has given us opportunities to take a look at some of the harder moments in life and re-format our understanding. As you'll notice from the audience, Simba and Nala are faced with some tough situations, and yet they find their way through - together. We encourage our students to take big risks and allow the music and the story to move freely through their hearts. This can bring to light some challenging emotions at times, and our young performers with special needs (our Gems) often wear their hearts on their sleeves more than anyone else.
One rehearsal, we noticed that one of our Gems was crying as we staged the number "They Live in You." I put my arm around her and asked what was wrong. "This song makes me sad sometimes," she told me. Yet even as she said it, you could tell that she was adamant about continuing in the number. I responded that "Yes, it does." and we kept going. I would suspect that an outsider looking in might have wondered if this was OK... and yet it felt not only OK, but absolutely healing for everyone. She needed to continue right there in the midst of that number with all those kids and let the sorrow come out until it was gone. It is marvelous that she felt safe enough to do so. Yet the thing I thought was most profound about this whole incident is that most of her castmates were not totally uncomfortable with her crying. They managed to not only accept it, but kept going around her -and the strength of that decision allowed them all to experience something that is pretty beautiful and hard to understand sometimes. It's OK to be sad, it's OK to hurt, it's OK to grieve............and better yet, it's absolutely essential to our well being. There was no judgement on anyone's part. It just was. And that's enough.
I'd been where she was myself the day before and didn't have the strength of that group around me. It is so incredibly hard to be broken and alone. There is definitely something special about the relationships that are developing between all of these kids. It's different. It's real. It's what the world needs more of. I am absolutely humbled and honored to be a part of it.
Today, this incredible group of young performers are prepared to share their hearts with you. May you relish every moment. In the words of Rey Tabe, who started this whole adventure:
"May all your days be awesome and powerful."