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BWW Feature: Local Theatre Professionals Participate in 'Talk Back' Q&A with THE LION KING

BWW Feature: Local Theatre Professionals Participate in 'Talk Back' Q&A with THE LION KING
Resident Director Dodd Loomis speaks with local theatre professionals during the "Talk Back" session with "The Lion King" crew on Friday, March 9. (McKenzie Lakey)

137 cast and crew members.

36 ensemble members.

203 puppets.

Dozens of cities.

Thousands of miles of travel.

All of these pieces and more factor into the creation of the touring production of "The Lion King", now entering its 20th year on stage. Resident Director Dodd Loomis and a handful of his fellow Disney Cast Members who help the production come to life, recently pulled back the curtain on their show for a small group of local theatre professionals at Orlando's Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts on Friday, March 9.

The "Talk Back" event was arranged by Juan Torres, a local production stage manager and Walt Disney World Resort Cast Member. Torres said it was his "vast network of friends and peers in the industry" that helped him partner with Disney Theatrical to host the event and connect local industry professionals with "The Lion King" team.

"Being a well known production stage manager in the Central Florida area ... I wanted to take some of those folks and give back," Torres said. "The purpose of [the event] was to give back. Everyone there has been critical to my success in some way or another. I want to help them to be successful beyond the capacity I work with them."

BWW Feature: Local Theatre Professionals Participate in 'Talk Back' Q&A with THE LION KING
Juan Torres, pictured right, smiles as the discussion concludes between his invited participants and the "Talk Back" hosts.

Amongst the group of 15 individuals invited to the session were Walt Disney World Resort performers, University of Central Florida students and members of the Central Florida Community Arts organization (CFC Arts). The "Talk Back" took participants backstage to explore areas of the production, including a glimpse into the quick-change areas of costumes for the cast and an up-close look at some of the well-known puppetry figures.

However, the heart of the meeting focused on the interaction between the young professionals and their Broadway counterparts. With the images of the Pride Lands serving as their backdrop on the stage behind them, the groups sat facing one another in a Q&A style discussion forum held in the first few rows of the theatre. Questions easily poured from the eager group and were met with open and (often brutally) honest answers about life on the road with the beloved Disney storyline.

Some of the more light-hearted curiosities revolved around keeping up backstage morale and the tactics they use to maintain energy during the show-the answer is countless bags of candy divided between two separate bowls provided by crew members, just in case you were curious.

BWW Feature: Local Theatre Professionals Participate in 'Talk Back' Q&A with THE LION KING
Students, performers and local theatre professionals meet with "The Lion King" department managers, including leads from make-up, dancing and lighting. (McKenzie Lakey)

Other questions cut a little closer to the quick, hitting on the struggles of being away from family members for extended periods of time and the challenges of adapting the show at each new venue. Rob Lott, a Walt Disney World Resort performer and active CFC Arts member, posed another question regarding how much creative liberty could be brought into a show as "iconic and legendary" as "The Lion King".

Dodd answered the question head-on, recalling a time early in his role with the production in which he felt "empowered" to take his ideas and apply them throughout the show. However, he said jokingly to the group that he learned quickly that implementing major changes was not in his job description.

BWW Feature: Local Theatre Professionals Participate in 'Talk Back' Q&A with THE LION KING
Department managers for "The Lion King" discuss their history with the show and personal backgrounds on Broadway as performers and technicians. (McKenzie Lakey)

"You have to entirely let your ego go. Take it out ... rip it up and get rid of it. The show is iconic, you can't change that," Loomis said. "In terms of changes we're dealing with scalpels here, not machetes."

The success of the "Talk Back" was noticeable from the excited chattering of the participants around the stage door following the evening. From the mouths of the experts who coordinate every inch of the stage-including the intense dance and fight choreography that fills the Pride Lands, to the orchestra pit that brings the show roaring to life-these young professionals did their best to unveil all of their potential opportunities within an ever-expanding industry.

"I think it's amazing and incredibly generous that this team would not keep to themselves," Lott said. "But instead, they open their doors to audiences and allow us the opportunity to see the work they do."

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From This Author McKenzie Lakey