Designing “Disney’s The Lion King Junior” Part 3: Costumes

Costuming, Directing Without the Drama, Technical Theater Tips, The Lion King Experience

Welcome to Part 3 of Designing Disney’s The Lion King, Junior.  The previous posts will give you some insight into our design process and the set, today we are talking costumes.  If you are just joining us here is some info you may find helpful.

The intention for the design aesthetic for our production of The Lion King, Junior was to do a (mostly) non-masked production that looked very different than the iconic Julie Taymor designs, but still retained some of the scale and magic of the original production, but on a much more modest school budget.  I did not want it to look like a cheesy replica of the original, which it would have if we had tried to replicate the designs. Most schools do not have the time or budgets to create the level of detail and craftsmanship you would see in a Disney production.  We scaled the sets and costumes way back and focused on the essence of the story and characters which proved to be a really smart decision and resulted in a production everyone was really proud of.

Production Concept: Costumes, Hair and Makeup

The overall theme for our production of The Lion King, Junior was Safari Chic.  We humanized all the characters and spent some time working with both the cast and our 8th Grade Stage Production classes researching and pinteresting to create inspiration boards. The essential question was: “if The Lion King characters lived in today’s society who would they be and what would they wear?”

The Hyenas
The Hyenas were one of my favorite designs of this show. We decided on a punk/goth hybrid with the heavy makeup, colored hair extensions and graphic tees.  The Hyenas are the disenfranchised youth who are on the fringes of Pride Rock society, refusing to conform and ready to fight anyone who gets in their way.  They were easily manipulated by Scar and his quest for power.  I loved casting a group of very nice girls to play Scar’s gang and their look was intentionally in contrast to his very put together more high fashion look below.  We went with similar but different for this group to create a cohesive look and color palate with each girl having their own individual look.   We went with combat boots, different patterned silver, gray and black metallic leggings, graphic t-shirts and leather jackets.  The girls were obsessed with their crazy hair, faux hawks and hair extensions, they were not a crew to mess with.

Scar is the Machiavellian evil genius who is pulling all of the strings.  In fact, The Lion King, Junior in some ways is really the story of the rise and fall of Scar.  We went for a very polished, sleek, high fashion look for our Scar.  He is in black pants with gold stripes a fantastic gold patterned smoking jacket (custom made and ordered from Asia), complete with gold cravat and pocket square in the same fabric as Mufasa’s pants.  We even added gold glitter soles to his dress shoes to give him some added pizzaz.  In our production, Scar was the classic second in line to the throne, ostentatious younger brother.  His quest for power and domination was clear in the way he treated his underlings.  We went with a gold stripe in his hair and a small almost tattoo like scar with some gold highlights on his face to keep the slick appearance.

Mufasa is the king of Pride Rock and needs to have stature.  We put him in gold pants and a black and gold patterned long sleeve t-shirt.  We had an identical outfit made for Simba for the end of the show when he returns to Pride Rock.  The patterned jacket with fringe acts as a subtle lion’s mane.  The old fashioned look of the cloak was intentional and the inspiration was that it had been passed down from father to son for generations.  In the first photo you will see a gold crown which was used to show the transfer of power in Pride Rock.  It started out on Mufasa, Scar took it from Mufasa’s dead body to crown himself and then it was taken by Simba in the end.   Mufasa’s costume had more volume than Scar’s to make him appear to be bigger than Scar’s sleek look and more able to win in a fight, when in reality our Mufasa and Scar were about the same height. 

The Lionesses
The Lionesses in our production were played by the gymnastics team and we needed costumes they could easily move in.  In Circle of Life they entered running through the audience and we used spring boards on the floor so they could vault onto the stage with cartwheels, dives and more. I found these amazing gold lame jumpsuits on Amazon and at around $20 each they were a budget friendly, striking costuming solution.  The students thought they were super comfortable and easy to move in.  They have adjustable straps and elastic at the waist and ankles which made them easier to work with when doing back handsprings.   We went with a warrior style single dutch braid in the back and put gold cord through their hair to add some drama.  As flash tattoos were the big thing last spring/summer we used them to add some sparkle, toughness, and individuality to our lionesses. As for makeup, it was an exaggerated cat eye in black, gold and white, gold highlight and gold lipstick to finish off this classy but fierce look.

We wanted to play with the idea that Simba was a slacker kid and teen who was a bit of a troublemaker who then grows into his greatness.  We ordered the same t-shirt and jacket for both young and old Simba in different sizes.  The T-shirt was a great tie-dye lion that we paired with a gold American Apparel track jacket to tone it down and add in some of the gold which was our common lion color.  The jackets matched our lioness jumpsuits, Mufasa’s pants and Scars cravat really well and helped tie the costumes together.  We paired this with khaki shorts.  Young Simba (played by a girl in our production) had a pair of gold heely’s to tool around in and to give her that more kid like feel, where Simba had a pair of custom painted gold converse shoes. By dressing them in almost identical costumes it made the transition in Hakuna Matata clearer for the audience and was a great moment in performance.  You can see in the top two photos below Young Simba and Simba with Timon and Pumbaa.  Simba has a costume change when he goes back to the Pride Lands and is then dressed identically to Mufasa to represent his willingness to grow up and take his rightful place as king.  It also helps to make the confusion of the Lionesses thinking he is Mufasa make more sense.

Young and Old Nala had the same costumes as our Lionesses to identify them as a part of that group.  They had two dutch braids with gold cord running through them to make them look different than the other Lionesses with only one braid.  The girls also used matching flash tattoos, including a striking gold necklace style one, to help show that they were the same person.  Young Nala had gold heely’s and older Nala wore jazz shoes to help show how she had grown up.

The Zazu costume was a massive undertaking involving tons of layers of fabric and sequins.  Our Zazu was a girl so we went with a high low dress with a massive train tail feather in a bright blue.  By using a variety of colors of fabric in the skirt and train we created a really fun and shimmery costume which looked fantastic onstage and made her really stand out in all the scenes because she was in such a different color palette from the rest of the cast.  Her miniature top hat was painted with a variety of blue and purple metallic paints and she had 4 different colors of hair extensions braided into her hair and sticking out to give it a feathered appearance.  She had blue eyebrows and blue lipstick with silver highlight to make her features pop.  She wore a pair of blue metallic Heely shoes so she could glide around the stage as if she was flying. The arm warmer wings were one of our favorite sight gags.  Inside one of the wings was a full map of the Pride Lands that you can see in the photo below.  She would open it up when they were with the Hyenas to show Simba and Nala that they were in the wrong place.

Rafiki is a magical shaman type character who appears unexpectedly throughout the show.  We played with this idea with some great genie type pants with white symbols from a variety of cultures with a great military style vest top and black combat boots. Our Rafiki was fierce and we wanted to give her some power with her costume.  We added on a reversible cape that she wore a variety of ways including with the hood up when she was skulking around in scenes.   One side of the cape is black silk and the other side was a glittery purple swirly pattern that really catches the lights.  The cape was reused from a production of Into The Woods I had directed a few years ago.  Rafiki also had flash tattoos, but in silver, and a really striking but simple black and white makeup design that really made her standout from the rest of the cast.

Timon and Pumbaa
Timon’s costume was very safari inspired, complete with a pith helmet and utility vest.  We found the striped pants in a box of old costumes and they really seemed to fit the character. It was a quirky costume and seemed to really fit Timon.  We had to make a last minute change with Pumbaa, the student who was supposed to play the part skipped three rehearsals the week of the show and our Scar happened to know all of his lines so he played both Scar and Pumbaa in performance.  It was amazing to watch but required some last minute costume alterations.  Pumbaa was supposed to be in the shirt seen here with khaki shorts and flip flops looking very surfer dude.  As a result of the change, the student playing Scar only had time to change the shirt and kept on his Scar pants and shoes. We added this hat which had a blonde wig sewn in for the performances so he would look like a different person and through on a pair of yellow wayfarers to cover the Scar makeup on his face.  The joys of live theater.

Dance Ensemble
Our Dance Ensemble had a black base costume of leggings and leotards which we layered other costumes over.  They were blue and pink birds in Circle of Life.  In the stampede they wore commedia masks (our only use of mask in the production) with brown satin capes to create the stampede.  We created some gold colored grasslands costumes with skirts, head pieces and arm warmers with hanging tule for the Grasslands number and they added large gold umbrellas for I Just Can’t Wait to Be King.  They had green tulle skirts (not pictured) and large green umbrellas to dance with in Hakuna Matata and silver and white bird costumes for Can You Feel The Love Tonight, with our principle dancer in a blue Zazu like costume with tons of layers of fabric.  We tried to keep the costumes simple as they had tons of different changes.

Giant Puppets
Our Giraffe and Elephant were created by our amazing art teacher and one of the 8th Grade art classes.  They are made out of different thicknesses of craft foam with clear flexible plastic pipping, PVC, and lots of hot glue.  They sit on external frame hiking backpacks and were very light weight.  The Giraffe was about 9 feet tall and the Elephant was around 8 feet once the kids put them on.  There is one student in the Giraffe and two in the Elephant. They were painted with spray paint and we were really excited about how well they turned out.  They got a round of applause when they entered during Circle of Life.  This was our nod to the Julie Taymor puppetry of the original production and provided a nice balance with the rest of our costumes and a little bit of wow factor for the opening number.


Tune in next week for some in process photos from the design process! Want to know more details on the different elements of this production or need some tips and tricks for staging The Lion King, Junior?  Comment below and I am happy to help!

Designing “Disney’s The Lion King, Junior” Part 2: Scenic Design

Costuming, Directing Without the Drama, Scenic Design, Technical Theater Tips, The Lion King Experience, Theatre

Welcome back to Part 2 of Designing Disney’s The Lion King Junior, the Scenic Design Edition.  If you are just joining us and haven’t read the previous blog I have included some relevant information to fill you in on our design ideas.  If you have read the last one, feel free to skip ahead!

The intention for the design aesthetic for our production of The Lion King, Junior was to do a (mostly) non-masked production that looked very different than the iconic Julie Taymor designs, but still retained some of the scale and magic of the original production, but on a much more modest school budget.  I did not want it to look like a cheesy replica of the original, which it would have if we had tried to replicate the designs. Most schools do not have the time or budgets to create the level of detail and craftsmanship you would see in a Disney production.  We scaled the sets and costumes way back and focused on the essence of the story and characters which proved to be a really smart decision and resulted in a production everyone was really proud of.

Some Background and Challenges:

The National Tour of The Lion King was going to be in town for a month leaving a few weeks before our performances, so it would make for an easy comparison between the productions for both students and parents.

Our stage was fairly small and not very deep with little to no wing space.  To cross over from one side of the stage to the other you needed to go outside through the side doors in the wings and run around the building. There is no fly system.  We were working with a black traveler in front of a concrete block wall to the outside in the back and some cream colored curtains across the front of the stage. We only have about 9 feet of height between the stage floor and the teaser.

Production Concept: Set

Due to our massive space limitations we knew a unit set was the only way to go.  With the help of a fantastic Art Teacher, the 6th grade art classes painted a stunning African Savanna sunrise/sun set complete with an Umbrella Tree on Tyvek.  We used our leftover paint from our production of Bye Bye Birdie in the fall (photo of the set below), and the colors ended up working really well under the lighting.


Using our (very old) strip lights with white, red and blue gels we were able to make it appear that the time of day was shifting throughout the show.


Pride Lands and Jungle
We used painted umbrellas in tans for the desert and green for the jungle to easily move on and off stage to differentiate the Pride Lands from the Jungle of Timon and Pumbaa.  The umbrellas were also used for choreography in “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” and “Hakuna Matata”.  We ordered large white wedding umbrellas in bulk and spray painted them with several matte and metallic shades and finished them off with some glitter spray paint to achieve the desired effect.  This was an easy way to change the look of the stage without having to store large set pieces in our almost non-existent wings.

Scar’s Lair
There are quite a few scenes that transition quickly back and forth between the Pride Lands and Scar’s Lair in the beginning of the show.  We have very limited space and wanted to give Scar a really different environment from the African Savanna befitting his quest for power.  Our Scar was very debonair and sleek, a Machiavellian evil genius and needed a flashy place to call home.  We rehung the red satin curtains I had made for 42nd Street over our existing main curtains using large binder clips and gave him a gold armchair upholstered in the same fabric to act like a throne and played the scenes in front of the curtain.  The contrast of the red with his black and gold costume and the costumes of the Hyenas was very striking and added to Scar’s evil persona.

The Stampede and The Gorge
The Stampede was created using many of our dancers and the actors playing the lionesses dressed in all black with Commedia masks and brown satin cloaks (around 20 people).  We used tap for this number to up the stakes and because this was the only place in the show we used masks it had a strong effect.  We rehearsed this number without Young Simba initially and then put her into it, she was completely freaked out the first time we tried it and was convinced she was going to fall off the stage (she didn’t).  When Mufasa is pushed off by Scar we used the brown cloaks to hide part his fall (he was caught by other members of the cast) and when they cleared the stage he was lying dead center stage, and Scar took the crown from his dead body.  I was really proud of all of the students for fully committing to this moment.   “The Mourning” had many of the parents in the audience in tears.

They Live in You
LED Flashlights are amazing things.  For these numbers we had much of the cast dressed in all black with small flashlights in each hand.  They created the backdrop of stars behind Mufasa and Simba to symbolize the ancestors. We lit the father and son with high powered adjustable beam flashlights.  Everything was bought for around $25.00 on Amazon.  Sometimes simple solutions can be incredibly powerful.  There is a video clip from the number below taken at a dress rehearsal.

Tune in next week for the Costume Design process. Want to know more details on the different elements of this production or need some tips and tricks for staging The Lion King, Junior?  Comment below and I am happy to help!



“Grease Live” from the Control Room

Directing Without the Drama, Musings

As a former stage manager, calling shows were my favorite part of the job.  I loved being in control of the rhythm of the show and felt like I was conducting the piece.  Needless to say, this fantastic video from the control room of “Grease Live” made me want to get back on a god mic and start calling cues.  I love the behind the scenes looks at how productions are made and this is a fantastic glimpse into the magic of television.

Walk the Moon meets 42nd Street

Directing Without the Drama, Musings, Theatre

Words cannot express how obsessed I am about this fantastic opening number from the 2015 Broadway Cares Gypsy of the Year performance.  I was introduced to Walk the Moon from some of my fabulous middle school theater students in Cincinnati (shout out to Drew and Rachel) and “Shut Up and Dance” was my song of the summer.  42nd Street is also one of my favorite musicals of all time, so to combine the two is simply amazing.  I love the way they have taken the opening and plot of 42nd Street and done a mash up with this very popular song.  Enjoy!


Parting is such sweet sorrow…

Directing Without the Drama, Musings, Theatre

This week has been very bittersweet.  I am excited to be embarking on my new adventure teaching abroad in Singapore, but am also sad to be leaving my wonderful students and colleagues in Cincinnati.   I have had the privilege of working with some incredibly talented kids and even more talented adults.

One of my 8th graders wrote a fantastic goodbye speech for the closing assembly yesterday that I thought I would reprint here.   Thank you Drew, for Aslan, Julian Marsh, Conrad Birdie, Harold Hill, Stephano, Scar and at the last minute Pumbaa.  It has been such an honor being your teacher and helping launch your love of theater.  Thank you for all the laughs, the characters and the memories.  I am so excited to help you continue your theatrical journey and see where it goes.  The admiration is mutual, I only ask to be thanked at the Tony Awards 🙂

A teacher, a director, a mentor, a friend.  When I first met Miss Damon I was part of a small panel tasked with interviews the candidates for the Middle School theater position. I wasn’t sure what to think of Miss Damon, but over the next two years my opinion changed completely.  The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe was a trial run for what was yet to come.  We blocked the show through jokes, laughter and fun and put on a stellar middle school performance.  Not a month later, Tap Boot Camp began and Miss Damon taught the firlls how to tap and the boys how to fake it.  We quickly learned that Miss Damon’s forte was musical theatre.  Through sweat and through blood we forged an experience in a fiery heart of true family.  The matriarch of this family was of course, Miss Damon.  We said our goodbyes for the summer and took a short three months respite eager to begin the 2014-2015 season, it was sure to be a memorable one.  The first day of school was marked not by crisp folders and a new backpack, but by Bye Bye Birdie auditions.  A new batch of talent, ready to shine, entered Founders and were welcomed with open arms.  Bye Bye Birdie set the bar pretty hight, yet with Miss Damon’s direction we were sure to surmount it.  Earlier, before summer vacation had begun, a small group of 7th and 8th graders auditioned into an elite group headed to the Junior Theatre Festival the following winter.  Immediately after Bye Bye Birdie, rehearsals began like never before.  Under Miss Damon’s leadership, 15 Middle Schoolers ventured to Atlanta and were immersed in the world of Musical Theatre for 3 days.  The time flew by and before we knew it, we were back on the bus headed to Cincinnati for The Tempest.  Many of us had never performed Shakespeare before and The Tempest loomed over the Theatre department like an evil gray shroud.  Miss Damon, The captain of our ship told us to be brave, have faith in our abilities and to most of all, have fun.  The Tempest, though not the most conventional show, was another successful show.   Audition for The Lion King were a bittersweet affair.  We sang and danced knowing that the “7Stars Theater” was losing more than just its upperclassmen.  Miss Damon held her head high and stuck it out through countless rehearsals never thinking of the end.  When it finally came to Tech Week, the end was in sight.  The final performance of The Lion King  was marked with tears of joy and sorrow.  Through it all, we were behind our leader.  I can say that without her guidance, my life would be drastically altered.  Miss Damon gave me the courage to get truly invested in Theater.  I thank you for giving me the courage to continue.  Miss Damon has touched the lives of all who she directed and the effects of her passion will never be forgotten.  As Sean O’Casey said, “All the world’s a stage and most of us are desperately unrehearsed.”  Though your direction, many of us at the middle school are well rehearsed for theatre, academics, and life.  Goodbye Miss Damon and once again, thank you.

Pre-Audition Workshops

Directing Without the Drama, The Lion King Experience, Theatre

A quick recap of last week of our Lion King Experience.  We took a week off because our production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” apparently caused a pretty massive snow storm in the mid-west and we lost a few days of school, so while technically last week was week three of The Lion King Experience, we will call it Week 2.

We had several days of pre-audition workshops, one for 6th Grade, one for 7th & 8th Grade and a Dance pre-audition workshop.  We had pretty big numbers and it looks like around 25% of the school will be involved in the show which is really exciting, but now I have to figure out how to fit all the kids on our relatively small stage.  We talked through the characters and I taught all the audition songs to the two groups of kids.  Separating them was a good idea as they should be looking to audition for different kinds of characters, and the older kids didn’t have to listen to the how to audition for a show speech which they were very grateful for.

The kids will have singing auditions on Monday and Tuesday of this week and will have to do one or two cuts from the show from a selection they have been given.  The music cuts are between 30 seconds long (Hakuna Matata for the nervous singers) to around 1 minute and 10 seconds.  I have found this gives enough to get a sense of their voices, but not so much that it feels like it goes on forever.  It is also relatively easy for the kids to prepare.

At the dance audition we had over 50 kids in a room learning some choreography to a 45 second cut of “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King”.  My goal with dance auditions is always to include some basic steps to see if the kids have rhythm with a few more complicated things to see how they can handle quick changes.  I always use both hands and feet moving together and have some specific times where they need to be looking in a certain direction.  It was certainly achievable by all of the students in the hour or so we worked on it, but it was really clear who could do it vs who could actually perform it.  I have found adding a short freestyle section that the kids can show off their skills in is a great way to really see who the dancers in the group are.  I was really impressed with how far some of my 8th grade boys have come in the last year and a half and as kids with no formal dance training, other than being in productions, they have made MASSIVE progress and are able to not just do the choreography but really put their own spin on it which is amazing.

Auditions are this week so stay tuned to find out our final numbers and just how I fit all of the kids into the show (we are a no cut program).

Welcome to The Lion King Experience

Directing Without the Drama, The Lion King Experience, Theatre

I am so excited to be directing one of the first productions of Disney’s The Lion King, Junior this spring.  The show was just released and had a massive roll out from Disney at the Junior Theater Festival in Atlanta.  My students were so excited about this show that we scrapped our plans for our spring production and transitioned into The Lion King.  I am currently in pre-production for the show and have just finished all the audition song cuts and am in the beginning stages of the design process.

I am very fortunate to have an amazing art teacher at my school who likes to work on huge projects with the kids.  She is working on designs for an elephant and giraffe puppet to use in the show that will be massive (hopefully we can get them through the doors.)

In addition to the show, Disney has created an entire curriculum that I will be using with my 8th grade theater classes.  We are just getting started, but in looking through the resources it is really well done.

I thought I would blog my way through our production this spring and share any tips and tricks I pick up along the way.  Hopefully it will be helpful to someone down the road.  So stay tuned… We “just can’t wait” for auditions in a few weeks!

Junior Theater Festival 2015

Directing Without the Drama, Theatre

My students are beyond excited to be one of one hundred group’s participating in the 10th annual Junior Theater Festival in Atlanta Georgia next weekend. They have been doing a phenomenal job in rehearsals for a 15 minute version of The Music Man. Run by Itheatrics and sponsored by Playbill, Music Theater International and Disney, the Junior Theater Festival is a celebration of musical theater in schools. It is a great way for students to meet other kids from all over the country and even all over the world who share a common interest. Personally, I can’t wait to network with other theater professionals and reconnect with many I’ve met at several workshops I’ve attended in the last year. I can’t wait to be inspired by all the workshops, performances and speakers at this amazing event with over 4500 people.

If you’d like to follow us on our journey, check us out on Instagram and Twitter: @7starstheater

My students will be live tweeting and Instagraming the entire weekend and it sure to be very entertaining ride. Check back after next weekend for an update on how it went.

Project 38

Directing Without the Drama, Theatre

Very excited to be directing a middle school production of “The Tempest” for this new endeavor!

PROJECT 38 – Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s new arts education initiative!

Over the last 20 years, CSC has brought classical theatre and literature to life for over 200,000 students from 150 schools in more than 100 zip codes across three states. This close connection with students and educators has inspired them to take on this exciting new endeavor. Last season, Cincinnati Shakespeare also “completed the canon” by producing all 38 of Shakespeare’s plays. The 38 plays have served as the inspiration for the title of PROJECT 38.

In this program, CSC will collaborate with 38 different area schools. Each school will be given one of the 38 plays in Shakespeare’s canon. Then, over the course of the year, teaching artists from CSC will go out to each of the schools and work with the students and faculty on bringing that play to life in various ways. This could be through a traditional production, a monologue or scene, or a dance piece, or music piece, a mural, etc.- anything the students & school can conceive of and feel passionately about. It will culminate in the PROJECT 38 festival at the end of the school year which will become a multi-day celebration in which all the students will gather, and share what they’ve created with each other, their schools, family and friends and with the community at large.

The dates of the festival this year are April 15-22, 2015.