There is no business like show business
Happy April! By the time you read this, many of you have already attended the GSL production of The Lion King, Jr. or plan on attending at some point in the next few days. The name suggests otherwise, but the only thing Jr. about this production is the name. Under the leadership of Leslie Reddick, bringing the play together has served as a microcosm for what makes GSL special, as well as the essential role that the arts play in a transformative Middle School. I want to spend some time this month discussing the performing arts and highlighting the reasons why it’s had such an important impact on the middle school program at GSL.
As someone with a great deal of teaching and coaching in my personal background, but limited experience with plays and musicals, I’ve come to learn just how difficult it is to successfully put on a performance. While teaching and coaching provide regular opportunities to gauge progress, our thespians spend nearly four months preparing for opening night. That’s like have four months of spring training or training camp with the only game being the World Series or Super Bowl at the end. Talk about anxiety for the coaches and players! Taking it a step further, Ms. Reddick and her committed volunteers build the set, design and make all of the costumes, and handle all of the promotion, ticket sales, etc. For those of us with a coaching background, that’s like putting us in charge of making uniforms, prepping the field, collecting tickets, and working the snack bar…in addition to coaching the game!
This year’s production has been especially challenging given the complexity of The Lion King, Jr. Since the reveal party on November 6 and the first rehearsal on December 14, the 36-person cast and crew have had 49 practices, including five Saturday practices, for a total of at least 108 hours of rehearsal. That’s impressive and exhausting. With an office just steps from the performing arts practice, I’ve had the good fortune of hearing the cast work its way through warm-ups, dialogue, and songs that we know and love. If you hear me whistling "Hakuna Matata" (no worries), you’ll know why. As someone who lives in the neighborhood, I’ve also noticed Ms. Reddick’s car on campus pretty much non-stop since January, including during spring break. For her and the many adults who’ve made The Lion King, Jr. a reality, it’s clearly a labor of love and a commitment to the development and success of our thespians. I sincerely hope that I don’t leave anyone out, but, in addition to Ms. Reddick’s leadership, I know that Whitley Gurkin, Anne Thompson, Diane Glueck, Layne Wilson, Debbie Whitelow, Rebecca Gilbertson, Dana Brandon, Keith Glazier, Keith Glazier, Kimberly White, Jim Apple, and Dawn Kvande were instrumental in making The Lion King, Jr. a reality. I even heard that Mr. Kvande cut out the felt for the hyenas!
Without question, the performance will be inspiring to everyone in the GSL community and testament to hard work and persistence of the cast and crew. Putting on such an intricate production is a “feel good” story in and of itself, but having a robust performing arts program is an essential part of a transformative Middle School. As many schools move away from visual art or performing arts to add “instructional” time, we recognize the importance of the arts in a “whole child” program. Countless articles are available about the positive impact that the arts can have on students, and it goes far beyond simply helping those that tend to be “right brain” thinkers and who find an outlet in art, drama, and music. In short, great schools use the arts to promote positive character, respect and appreciation for cultural differences, creativity, and inclusivity. Great schools also use the arts to serve as a conduit for positive culture and a means to bring people together. In my humble opinion, it’s not a coincidence that music, art, sports, movies, and plays have played a central role in bringing positive social change. One of my favorite articles on the topic of the power of the arts is “Learning Empathy Through Dance” from the January 2016 issue of Atlantic Magazine.
If you haven’t done so already, I hope that you have the opportunity to see The Lion King, Jr. I’m confident that it will be the most impressive middle school performing arts performance in Memphis, and another glowing example of something that makes the co-ed, two-year-old through 8th grade program at Grace-St. Luke’s so unique and special.
As always, thanks for reading and enjoy the show.
Head of Middle School