Behind the Curtains: Festival of the Lion King
You sit in your seat as the lights begin to dim, clutching the freshly-printed program so tightly in anticipation you can smell the ink. The music swells in a triumphant fanfare and you crane your neck to ensure you don’t miss a single moment. The lights go up, the performers come out, and just like magic, it’s show time!
The moment you’ve just witnessed as an audience member appeared spontaneous, but in reality, what you see and hear are only a tiny bit of what’s happening behind the scenes of any production. Walt Disney World Resort is known for its top notch shows and parades and takes extra special care that you as a guest see only the most polished, show-ready version of what they put out. Without further ado, PLACES for the first in this behind-the-curtain series that takes you behind the scenes of all the shows and parades around Walt Disney World Resort!
From Camp to Africa
I want to start this article series off on a really exciting note, and I thought long and hard about which show to feature first. I think the longest running show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a great place to start, so let’s go to Africa!
On Earth Day in 1998, Festival of the Lion King held its first performance for park guests in Camp Minnie Mickey. The show is unique in so many ways, but did you know that it’s the only show across the entire resort that’s presented in the round? In the round is a style of theatre in which the performers present the show on a centrally located stage, and the audience sits in seats constructed ‘around’ the stage. Upon conception, Imagineers and the shows’ director had to figure out the best possible way to showcase the many stunts and circus-like acts, and their solution came in the form of a four-section, in the round style seating area. Next time you see the show, take note of how the show is staged differently than others! There are always performers facing each section of audience, ensuring everyone has a great view of the high paced action! In 2014, the show moved into an all-new theatre built in the Africa section of the park and was named Harambe Theatre. Check out the actors’ reactions when they first saw their new performance space!
Wild Makeup Diagrams
Before we break down the show itself, let’s discover what goes into the actors’ daily transformations. If you’ve never seen it, every character in the show is an animal…but the actors behind the costumes are people through and through! Actors follow very specific diagrams that tell them which color makeup to use and where to place it on the face. Since it’s impossible for the same actors to perform every single show-the production goes off multiple times a day 7 days a week- the diagrams help to ensure makeup uniformity…pretty cool! The makeup is applied in this traditional, side-by-side style dressing room set up similar to what you’d find in any regional or Broadway theatre!
The show’s unique casting process also sets it apart from all the others. Imagine trying to cast for a show where you not only need people who are professional singers and dancers, but who are professional gymnasts, aerialists, stilt walkers, musicians, and fire-twirlers…and that’s just for one show! Auditions for the singer/dancer roles are pretty standard, but I wish I could be in the room when the fire-twirlers are auditioning. I’ve always loved the fire dancer and have secretly wished I could play the role my whole life. Since I’m not a hulking man, the closest I’ll get to living my dream is getting an up close and personal look at what goes into playing the part, and you can too! Follow the link for a more in-depth behind the scenes experience!
Warming up before a performance is a standard practice in showbiz, and unless you’re The Rolling Stones, it’s necessary to prevent injury and to feel ready to take the stage! In the dressing rooms for Festival of the Lion King, expect to hear plenty of vocal warm ups…and monkeys doing pull-ups and swinging around, aerialist birds stretching their wings…it’s a menagerie of epic proportions!
So far, we’ve explored how the performers are cast, what makes their performance space unique, how they prepare for the show, and how they warm up. Of course there are plenty of technical elements, like lighting and sound, that go into a live performance, but they’re mostly for the actor’s benefit. If you’ve seen the show, you’ll know that Simba, Pumbaa, and other characters from the Lion King have co-star roles in the production. However, Simba and all his animal friends perform by way of float. Put more simply: they’re animatronics figures. Not only do tech team members have to sound and light check equipment for the actors; there is plenty that needs to be checked and maintained on the animatronics floats too! What a production!
Festival of the Lion King is a show that must not be missed when visiting the Animal Kingdom. I’m all about the big attractions, but a show featuring live actors and performers should not be passed up, especially when it’s included in the price of your admission ticket! Since the show is performed multiple times each day, you’ll have plenty of chances to catch a performance. Get your kids excited by telling them they’ll be part of the show! Every section in the theatre is assigned an animal, and you’ll all get to make the noise of your respective animal at different points throughout the show. If you’re lucky, you may even be invited to join in a crowd-pleasing sing along at the end of the show. END SCENE.
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Special thanks to Maria Salerno for writing this article: Hiya pal! I am a NYC-based writer/musician thrilled to be bringing you all things Disney! I’m a WDW Annual Passholder, so you can find me in the parks regularly throughout the year. In addition to being a Disney Parks loving girl, I’m also a Disney toy and merchandise collector, a runDisney enthusiast, and Disney music and movie aficionado. You can follow me on Instagram: NYCtoAP and find me on YouTube: NYCtoAP. Thanks for reading, hope to see ya real soon!