Natchez Little Theatre youth workshop welcomes audiences to the jungle

Published 11:17 pm Saturday, June 24, 2017


NATCHEZ — In under an hour, more than 30 youth packed into the green room at Natchez Little Theatre to transform into creatures from the Indian jungle including monkeys, vultures and a python.

The children were getting made up for the first time in anticipation of the upcoming summer youth workshop production of “The Jungle Book.”

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The production will be presented Thursday through July 2 at the theater on Linton Avenue.

Donning a green, scaly costume, Parker Maxwell, 11, of Natchez, transformed into Kaa, the python that attempted to curry favor with Shere Khan the tiger. Maxwell, making a fourth appearance in the summer youth workshop, was playing a villain for the first time.

“It is not really my personality, so it is different for me to act,” Maxwell said. “It’s more of a challenge.”

With purple headgear, ears and a little gold nose, Jyrah Griffin became Sassy Monkey. The Natchez 10-year-old said she loves acting.

“I’ve been acting for two years,” she said. “I was in The Little Mermaid last year. I just like acting. You get to act silly, sing, dance and talk.”

Yellow fuzz around the midsection, antennas and some red paint on the cheeks inspired several children to buzz around like a bee. Luke Simpson, 6, of Monterey, is one such bee.

“I’ve never done a play before,” he said. “I’m excited. Sometimes I do plays at home with my sister.

“I am liking it. I like how we get to sing and dance,” he said.

For Zaide Paine of Natchez, becoming Mowgli requires only a wig. The 10-year-old said he had done school plays where he had to act like creatures such as his fellow cast members, but Paine said he thinks he is doing better acting as a person.

“My grandmother (Sue Burkhalter) got me into acting at the little theater,” Paine said. “She said, ‘Zaide, I have been acting for 15 to 20 years, and I think you will like it.’”

“It has been very fun. I didn’t know I would get so addicted to it,” he said.

Paine said he likes the music, which is directed by Terrence Robinson.

“You stop listening to the music and find you are singing it,” he said. “You can’t stop singing it.”

Natchez Little Theatre Executive and Artistic Director Layne Taylor said the adult volunteers have helped design and create the costumes and the sets.

Katie Borum, 17, designed the face paint and also did the choreography. The award-winning actress is playing a more behind the scenes role this time to learn more about other aspects of theatre and to help children change into other creatures mid-play.

“It has been really, really fun,” Borum said. “It’s been kind of chaotic, but the kids have picked it up fast. They’ve been fun to work with.”

Taylor said in the 13 years of the youth workshop, this has been one of his favorite experiences.

“In these trying times in which we live, this gives you hope,” Taylor said. “This shows what can happen when a diverse group of people come together as a complete team.

“I sit up in the light booth with tears of happiness because they are all so imaginative and creative. One thing I love about Natchez is all the talent that exists in this tiny town.”

“The Jungle Book” is the story of a tiger, Shere Khan, trying to drive the man-child Mowgli out of the jungle. Taylor said for the tiger it is not about who Mowgli is, but what he represents in deforestation.

“Theatre is supposed to entertain,” Taylor said. “But it is also supposed to teach the audience.”

For inspiration, Taylor said he went with the 1960s Disney animated version over the more modern adaptation because it is more light.

“This one is positive and has a happy ending,” Taylor said. “Everyone knows the story of ‘The Jungle Book’ and many love it.”

The play will run at 7:30 p.m. from June 29 through July 1 with a final Sunday matinee oat 2 p.m. on July 2 at the theatre, located at 319 Linton Ave. Tickets, $20 for non members, can be purchased online at or calling 601-442-2233 or toll free 877-440-2233.

Borum, painting the faces of many of the children in the green room, said she’s enjoyed this role, particularly the choreography. Borum said she hoped Natchez would come enjoy the play.

“It’s an amazing production and you will be entertained, no doubt about that,” she said. “The kids are so great in it and they would love it if we could get a full house.”