The Springer Opera House will open their summer children's theatre production of Jungle Book this week. The production is part of Georgia Repertory Theatre's Summer Theatre Festival, and will feature a cast entirely comprised of Springer Academy students. Jungle Book is Georgia Repertory's final production for the summer.
As the title suggests, this production of Jungle Book is based on the beloved children's story about Mowgli - a boy raised by wolves in the jungle of India. Through the story, Mowgli discovers that real friends are not determined by the pack you are born into, but the pack you choose. And now, he must choose whether to defy the law of the jungle or leave his home forever.
Georgia Repertory's production will feature Springer Academy students who have rehearsed for just a week and a half on the show. If you're thinking this timeline sounds impossible for young people to successfully achieve, don't be fooled.
Cast members have come through Springer Academy's rigorous theatre training, a program specifically designed to prepare its pupils for work in professional theatre.
Ixchel Samaniego is the director for Jungle Book, and has loved working with the cast. "In short- it's been a dream," said Samaniego. "I take my job very seriously in that I’m preparing them for the professional world, whether it’s working efficiently and empathetically in the theatre world or in any other professional setting. They’ve risen to the challenge from 9 a.m.- 4 p.m. each day, even when their bodies and minds are utterly exhausted."
In the production, Samaniego has integrated many multi-sensory experiences for the young audience members who will attend the show. In addition to playing each of their roles in the story, cast members also play percussion, climb a playground-like set, and do challenging choreography throughout the performance.
The set design was done by Matthew Swindell, who wanted to add to the immersive vision for the show by using the script to develop a sort of jungle playground for the actors. Children will revel in the experience of watching cast members swing from vines, dangle from silks with aerial choreography, and climb "trees" during the show. The set has made for a challenging element for the actors, but it will pay off immensely as a live tool for engaging the show's young audiences.
Samaniego said watching the cast go through the rehearsal process has been incredible. "Even with choreography, percussion, dialogue, and the climbing aspects of the set that make them sore every day, we set the entire show in 2 1/2 days then went right into run throughs," she explained. "Their talent astounds me- but more than that, I’m in awe of their dedication to better the show, challenge themselves, and build up their castmates to excellence and confidence."
The cast and crew have brought Samaniego's vision for the production to life. "My initial vision for this production of Jungle Book was that I wanted to create a raw and fully-immersive experience," she said. My goal is for audience members to set one foot in the theatre and feel that they are in India, smack in the middle of the jungle. The actors and production team have done an incredible job in creating that vision. Our sets, our sound, our lights, all of it lends itself perfectly to the raw and immersive experience I had in my head. I wanted to create a show that both parents and kids could enjoy together, then leave the theatre still mesmerized by the experience."
Parents of young children should know that masks are involved in the show, but have been done in a way that are not scary or intimidating to young children. Costume Designer Amanda Mattes wanted to incorporate a way to create the animals and make them somewhat realistic, but also give that fantastical element that is Jungle Book.
"We really felt that if we went with makeup there was a large chance of it getting smudged because of the way the actors are flipping upside down and climbing during the show," said Mattes. "When I got involved with costume design, I was very inspired by Julie Taymor's work in The Lion King. She studied a lot of Malaysian puppetry technique, and that is actually where the mask design comes from for this show. They are all made of wicker and bamboo. I had an apprentice for this show named Jori Kent. Her assignment was to create the masks from my technical designs. She did an amazing job."
Rebecca Gossett is the stage manager for Jungle Book, and has been very impressed with the percussion element Samaniego has worked into the show. "One of the coolest things is that the cast members all play percussion live and underscore each other's scenes," said Gossett. "We worked with a girl named Caroline Vaughn who is a CSU Schwob percussion student. She came and worked with them for a week and taught them how to play the percussion for the show. So they play a role, go off stage, and come back around to play the marimba or bongos for another member of the cast. It's amazing, and it adds to the immersive experience our director wanted for the show to offer our audience."
If anything, the press preview on Monday morning proved that Jungle Book is not just a summer student production being put on by a professional theatre company. Its cast and crew are first-rate actors and techs held to the highest standards. For many of them, Jungle Book is the first stepping stone in a path toward promising careers.
Mowgli will be performed by Abbey Crowley, a recent graduate of Brookstone School. Crowley has been at the Academy for eight years and this is her fourth production. After Jungle Book, Crowley will head to Cornell University in the Fall.
Lizzie Martin will play Baloo for her last role with Springer Academy. She has spent the last 14 years enrolled in the Academy, and will begin pursuing a major in theatre at the University of Georgia in the Fall. This is Martin's ninth show at the Springer Opera House.
Hallie Richardson is performing the role of Kaa, and will be utilizing her training in aerial silks to suspend herself in the air during her scenes. Richardson has studied aerial silks from Courtney McCutchseon. The silks add yet another dimension to the set and the experience for children of seeing the snake more realistically. Richardson spins and hangs in the silks effectively portraying the snake's body in the trees.
Samaniego is proud of the production her entire cast has put together, and can't wait for Columbus to see the show. " What I love so much about the story of Jungle Book is that it’s not always pretty- it’s the power struggle, the temptation, the emotions of protecting someone you love, knowing when to let them go, those moments of realization that childhood is over," she said. "I had no doubt that this particular group of teens would be able to tell that story in the raw, real way I imagined, yet keep that childlike quality of discovery. I told them on our first day of rehearsal that they are the perfect group to tell this story."
Jungle Book opens Friday and runs through July 22. For more information on the show or to purchase tickets, visit the Springer Opera House website or call their box office at 706-327-3688. ◼︎