Week Eight: Volunteering My Way Around Hawaii

Project: Workshop at Lanai Performing Arts Academy

Actual Time Taken: 5 hours

A few months before the Lion King made landfall in Hawaii, I received a Tweet from a mysterious man asking about a possible backstage tour or Q&A with his students. I forwarded this along the usual PR lines that Disney likes us to use, and didn’t think much about it…

That is until Andrew Gorell, our Zazu, mentioned that he received a similar message though this website. This guy is really web savvy, and determined to talk to us I thought to myself. I finally contacted the mysterious man myself and learned that the man in question, who’s named Matthew, is the leader of a performing arts program (The Lanai Academy of Performing Arts) at a school on the small island of Lanai. He and 25 of his students were flying over to the Oahu to see one of our shows and asked if we could set up a backstage tour for the group. We don’t usually set up tours for school groups ourselves, but Andrew and Thembe  (another singer in the ensemble) offered to help, so I figured we could pull it off for them.

The day of the show, the group descended on our stage door, a gaggle of excited middle schoolers whispering and pointing at all of our costumes, props, and set pieces in awe. At the end of the tour, as we said our goodbyes, Matthew revealed that the kids had something they wanted to perform for us as a thank you for the tour. He suddenly produced out a ukulele from a case and strummed along as the kids belted out their own rendition of “Can’t Wait to be King,” complete with choreography and blocking! Much to Andrew’s delight, there was even an adorable Zazu character played by a precocious little boy who quickly stole our hearts.

We gave them a well deserved standing ovation, and thought that would be the end of our interaction with the group. Little did we know that in a few weeks time, we would be boarding a plane to fly to Lanaii to teach the kids on their ‘home turf‘ of Lanaii! Matthew set up the trip with the help of local sponsors, covering every cost including the flights for myself, Andrew, and Thembe, meals, and a bed and breakfast for an overnight stay!

We left Oahu on a 6:00 am flight (an unspeakable hour for theater folk, such as us…) in a twin prop plane and landed in Lanaii a mere 20 minutes later. We deplaned and after a quick breakfast in the town square, which was delicious. The only real town on the island is Lanai City, which mostly consists of one small square ringed by about 10 stores total. It’s absolutely adorable! After breakfast, we immediately began our first activity of the day, a comprehensive island tour given to us by the Lanai Cultural and Historical Center.


That’s us up at 5:02 AM folks….


Aloha Oahu, Aloha Lanai! 

The island is tiny compared to Oahu, and most of the places we visited were only accessible by four wheel drive trucks or, in our case, vans. He took us to gorgeous vistas and historical sites, all of them seemingly more beautiful than the last. When we were done, we headed up to one of the two Four Seasons hotels on the island for lunch.


The view of Maui from Lanai


The mars-like terrain was as beautiful as it was formidable


Thembe taking it all in!

The lodge was a palatial resort, complete with botanical gardens, golf courses, and croquet fields. We enjoyed a sumptuous lunch, which was sponsored by the Four Seasons as another surprise to us, and then headed over the school to begin our workshop.


A posh lunch!


Andrew squeezes in a quick game…

We met the kids, many of whom we recognized from their trip over to see us in the show, and after a quick ice breaker exercise, jumped right into the workshop. We started with Thembie teaching them “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” in her native language of Zulu. They mastered it after a little bit of work, but we decided to make it even more challenging by introducing choreography, which was my section of the workshop. After learning the dance, I surprised them by asking them to sing the Zulu words while they performed the choreography, which is much like what we do every day on stage!


Teaching time!

Finally Andrew taught his section, which was all about making puppets come to life. He had crafted a little turtle from cardboard and a paper bowl, and the kids took turns using the puppet. While one child got to operate the puppet, Thembe and I worked with the other kids to become living set pieces, which we also get to do every day on stage in the Lion King. One scene we are plants, and in the next we are animals wandering the pride lands, so we worked with the kids to create the turtle’s environment as Andrew worked with the junior puppeteers.


Our teaching turtle, Honu!

At the end of the workshop, we got to help them clean up a production they were working on, which was an original play about bullying. They performed it once for us, and then I jumped in to help clean up the blocking and spacing, while Andrew stepped in to help them with motivation and projection… you know, actor stuff. At the end of the day, the kids were excited, inspired, and asked some wonderful, insightful questions in our Q&A section.


We enjoyed the Q&A as much as the kids did! (Maybe more!)

Matthew let us take a quick nap in the B&B and then treated us to one last luxurious meal at the other Four Seasons hotel as we watched the sunset over the ocean. It was an absolutely wonderful trip, and I’m so thankful that our volunteering efforts are literally taking us places! I’ll never forget those kids at Lanai Acadamy of Performing Arts, and I hope to make it back someday to the beautiful island of Lanai!