TUTS collaborates on student production of ‘The Lion King’

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Thanks to its partnership with the Arts Access Initiative, Lyons Elementary School was able to reach out to Theatre Under the Stars to loan them a director and choreographer to help with their production of “The Lion King” on April 20. And because it takes place two days before Earth Day, April 22, they decided to use only recycled materials for the stage set and actors’ masks. Consequently, nearly every student at Lyons is involved in some way in the production — and lessons in nearly every school subject area were applied to make the play come together.

TUTS provided Lyons Music Director Steven Shannon with Director Chelsea McCurdy and Choreographer Brittany Halen, who have been coming to Lyons regularly over the past few months to help create the musical that has 70 student cast members. There will be multiple shows at Lyons, as well as performances at the Houston Zoo.

Lyons students decided to celebrate the Earth by using recycled or reused art work for the production. They collected 500 milk jugs to create a backdrop, lining them with Christmas lights and gluing them together to provide a glowing sunrise. Students traced their hands on green paper and cut them out to create a horizon of grass. The Make and Rake Club designed Pride Rock using hand-colored sheets of moving paper and cardboard boxes. Westside High School art teacher Chadwick Gray’s class created Lion King head pieces from recycled elements, and a Lyons kindergarten class created headbands from leftover construction paper.

Producing the Lion King has required problem-solving, not only in music, art, theater, and dance, but in math, language arts, foreign languages, geography, and science. For example, while collecting the milk jugs, the students had to calculate the area of each jug panel in order to figure out how many they needed. Rehearsing for the play itself led to conversations around English language arts such as plot, character development, and climax. And the musical contains 20 different African languages, so students had to figure out what many African words mean, not just hakuna matata (“no worries”).

The director challenged the students to investigate the animals they are portraying, which was a biology lesson, and the recycled aspect is part of the science TEKS. The students enjoyed being resourceful and using found materials rather than buying new supplies.

The main Lion King performance will be in the Lyons multipurpose room on April 20 at 7 p.m. There will be three daytime performances for students and teachers at 8:30 a.m., 9:30 a.m., and 10:30 a.m. that day. A Houston Zoo representative will present a pre-show talk on lion conservation, and on Earth Day the cast will perform during the zoo’s Party for the Planet.