The Riverbank High School (RHS) drama class staged several performances this past weekend of the Lion King Jr. at the Black Box Theatre on campus. This was the first live performance held at RHS with a full audience since before COVID and all four shows over the weekend were sold out.
There was a cast of 17 and a crew of eight that made the performances successful and, according to Drama Instructor John Thiel, the show was high-energy and heartfelt.
“Students were excited to share work they had been working on all semester,” said Thiel. “Many students were also part of a 2020 production of The Lion King Jr., directed by Lezlie Acker (former Drama teacher at RHS). That production was canceled because of the pandemic. It was meaningful for these students to step back into the show and complete this journey.”
The first performance was held on Friday at 7 p.m., on Saturday there were two showings at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., and then a matinee on Sunday at 2 p.m.
This is Thiel’s first year at RHS and his first year teaching both Drama and English. He has taught drama for seven years at other schools and with youth theatre community organizations and for five years he has taught language arts to various ages.
Thiel explained that the Lion King is challenging in every way including singing in Zulu, Xhosa, and Swahili. They had large dance numbers with animal costumes and puppets.
He added that, “There are difficult scenes, with murder and loss of loved ones that require powerful acting. The cast and crew met these challenges in beautiful ways, but we certainly had our work cut out for us.”
The stage was set using some of the pieces from the original production in 2020 and the audience was seated which was a highlight for both Thiel and the students.
“It was rewarding to see students, many of whom this was their first play, share their performances with family and friends,” remarked Thiel. “It was also exciting to work with music, characters, and a story that was familiar to most of the team and to audience members. This allowed us to focus more on how we would tell the story, with our unique, creative take on it.”
The drama class is preparing for a holiday-themed Cabaret but their next performance will be a show called “Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic” which Thiel expressed is a fast-paced comedy about students who are training to be wizards.
“I thought it was an entertaining and creative play,” stated RUSD Superintendent Christine Facella of the weekend event. “The students did a great job portraying the characters and it was a great first production for our new drama teacher, John Thiel.”