Sunrise takes centre stage with ‘The Lion King’

There are costumes to make, elephant trunks and wildebeest masks to complete. There’s the papier-mâché ‘Pride Rock’ awaiting finishing touches and songs to be recorded in the studio. There are lines to memorise and traditional African foods to cook.

The Sunrise Adult Training Centre production of ‘The Lion King’ is an opportunity for special needs adults to take on new challenges and push their skill sets. The musical, scheduled for 13 June at the Harquail Theatre, is the result of months of work by the Sunrise Centre’s clients and staff.

For adults served by the Centre’s theatre programme, the benefits are immense. Theatre offers a chance to step into new roles, test social skills in a safe setting and take on greater responsibilities. Over the years, Sunrise director Kimberly Voaden has seen participants grow in innumerable ways.

“It’s great to see the improvement in confidence and memory and teamwork for the clients on an annual basis. We’ve got clients that when they first came to the Sunrise Centre, they might have had a non-speaking part or said two or three words and now they’re one of the lead roles,” Voaden says.

For adults on the autism spectrum, for example, the task of learning lines and exploring different characters can have great benefit.

“[It] can be quite therapeutic for people that do have difficulty with social communication because it’s almost like practice, taking someone else’s perspective,” Voaden says.

Work on the musical began in January with a lesson in democracy. Clients were tasked with campaigning and making the case for different show options – this year the choices came down to ‘The Wizard of Oz’, ‘Dirty Dancing’ and ‘The Lion King’.

After the campaigning came a secret ballot. Director Stephanie Rattan says the votes were overwhelmingly in favour of ‘The Lion King’. Clients were drawn by the possibilities for creative costumes, fun music and dancing. The selection has pushed clients and staff alike to try on new hats and roll up their sleeves.

“It’s also such a great opportunity for our clients to be centre stage and to have spotlights on them to showcase how amazing they are, their abilities in terms of memorisation, in terms of acting and emotive expression, and just getting dressed up and being the people that everybody’s coming to see,” Rattan says.

“It’s amazing for the community to come and support and see our clients in all their glory.”

For the second time, the Sunrise Centre is partnering with Centre Pointe Dance Studio.

The dancers add extra flair to the performance.

“We’ve got a couple of dance numbers that help to back up the scenes, back up the characters, give them a little more of a strong ensemble feeling, so they feel a little more professional,” says dance instructor Natasha Clark.

For her, working with Sunrise has been a positive growing experience as well.

Sunrise clients practise lines outside the Harquail Theatre in preparation for their upcoming performance.

“It’s the most uplifting feeling I think you could ever get from anything. I love it. I love that they recognise you straight away. They know who you are,” she says.

In the coming days, the team will put the final touches on hand-painted costumes and props.

One of the actresses, Gabriella Terry, 27, is also working on perfecting her roar. Playing the role of Simba, the future king, she wants to get it just right.

“You’ll hear me sing, dance and also, let’s try out that strong roar,” she says, before letting out her best lion grumble. “Those that have families, please come.”

Sunrise staff member Julie Welds-Kandler shows off some of the costume items for ‘The Lion King’.

The show starts at 7pm at the Harquail Theatre on 13 June. Adult tickets are $5. Children under 3 are free. For more information on the production and to ask about tickets, call the Sunrise Centre at 949-3330.

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