Project: Lion King Talkbacks
Actual Time: 2 hours
To be honest, I’m usually scrambling weekly to find an hour of volunteer work every week in every city. It’s harder than you would think, given the fact that we travel full time. Most places want a month-to-month commitment, or lengthy trainings, or background checks, and for good reason. I wouldn’t trust transient strangers with my city’s children/elderly/homeless neighbors either.
But these two weeks, two opportunities literally fell into my lap.
Outreaching in Baltimore
At the Lion King, we get lots of opportunities to give back to the community, if we so choose, though question and answer sessions after the show. Usually these are arranged by our PR department, but sometimes cast members arrange them on their own. This week’s particular session (Week 29, for those keeping count) was arranged by Russel Joel Brown, and featured 125 of his roommate’s church’s congregation members.
You read that right.
One hundred and twenty five.
Usually, large groups are accommodated by having them wait in their seats in the theater after the show lets out. Unfortunately, this arrangement is usually set up by the PR department, and since this session was set up by a cast member, having the hundred and twenty five guests stay in the house wasn’t an option.
So we trucked them all backstage, up an elevator (in groups of ten), into our rehearsal room, and into metal folding chairs. All onehundredandtwentyfive of them.
But the effort was totally worth it, as it always is. The group had wonderful questions and everyone was ever so thankful for the question and answer session, so as always, it was worth every elevator–herding, group-wrangling, metal-folding-chair-hauling moment.
The next week, (Week 30, as the moon follows the sun) was brought to me by our Shenzi, Rashada Dawan.
She randomly ran into a former college classmate, Bresean Jenkins, at one of the numerous Smithsonian museums and, as it happened, he was currently running an arts camp at a local charter school. She offered to come talk to his students, and he jumped at the chance, immediately booking her and a few cast members to stop by the camp.
Rashada, myself, and fellow ensemble dancer Leroy Church stopped by ConneXions Community Leadership Academy to lead a question and answer session for their first ever summer arts program and were promptly surprised by a full out performance! The kids had been working on scenes from “Once on this Island,” and performed with such enthusiasm, talent, and excitement, it literally brought us to tears.
These kids were GIVING it!!!
It is always so humbling to see kids who just love to sing, dance, and move so excited to perform for us. They see it as such an honor for them, but to be honest, the honor is truly for us. Watching them and hearing their open and sincere questions after the performance reminded us of where we came from, when we were young students at summer arts camps, after-school dance programs, and theater intensives.
It reminded us of our younger selves– curious, hungry, driven, and passionate about art. When you dance this show six days a week, eight times every seven days, it can turn into a job that you punch into and out of very quickly. But seeing these kids and their passion reenergized all of us, and reminded us of how truly fortunate we are to do what we do every day.
So we told them how inspired we were, Rashada sang a few amazing songs, we answered a few questions, and were on our way. But the memory of these kids, their talent, their passion, is something I will never forget. I couldn’t believe how amazing their scenes were, even in the first year of existence of this arts camp. It was exhilarating to know that this was just the beginning for this incredible school and camp.
I can’t wait to see what they do in the upcoming years, and what special talents they foster and help to grow in the future.
After all, isn’t that what all of this volunteering, helping out , inspiring others and being inspired ourselves in turn… isn’t that what it’s all about? Changing our little corner of the world for the better?