Through the Viewfinder: Behind the curtain during ‘Lion King’

Published 11:11 pm Wednesday, July 4, 2018

NATCHEZ — If you went to see Natchez Little Theatre’s production of Disney’s “The Lion King” last weekend, you were likely impressed by the choreographed dance moves and show tunes such as “Hakuna Matata.”

What you probably didn’t see was the hard work people put in behind the scenes, including parents such as Jackie Griffin, who worked backstage to help actors with costume changes and wardrobe problems.

Neither did you see the behind-the-scenes work of Terrence Robinson, the musical director and performer who arranged the music, or the teamwork between Amanda Merriett and her son, Tyler Merriett, 12, and other actors she helped as needed between scenes, or Joanna Brumfield, who kept an infant calm, before his part in the final scenes of the performances.

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Behind the scenes of a play is like another entire production, hidden from the public all so the actors can shine on stage.

Amanda Merriett has been helping with NLY productions for four years, and she said acting in plays is one of the only extracurricular activities her son enjoys doing.

“It’s either Legos or reading or doing the theater,” she said, adding she enjoys participating because the children are so impressive in their talents.

Jackie Griffin said she describes herself as an all-around mom, and her daughter, Jyrah Griffin, 11, acted as one of the hyenas in “The Lion King” production.

“Every year she’s getting better,” Griffin said, “reacting with kids, reacting with acting and bringing out more and more with herself every summer. I couldn’t find anything else she liked to do, so this was a plus.”

Jackie Griffin said she and her daughter consider themselves a part of one big family when they are at the theater.

“These kids play together, they act a fool together, laugh together when they get in trouble they all get silent together like a real family,” Griffin said. “They fall together. They stand together. When it comes down to acting, they act together.”

For some of the performers their roots in the theater run deep.

Lauren Jones grew up around the theater. Now she is back with her daughter, Zoe, a process which Lauren Jones said has brought up many of her childhood memories.

“From being little and playing in the costume room and playing in the makeup room — it’s got the same ambiance and even smells the same in here,” Jones said.

Lauren Jones’ father, Sam Jones, directed several plays at Natchez Little Theatre, while her mother would work backstage, in the wings and upstairs in costumes and makeup.

When Zoe got old enough to read a script and memorize lines, Jones said it was time to pass along the family tradition.

Terrence Robinson wore many hats in the production of “The Lion King.” On stage he played King Mufasa and backstage he was the musical director and father to another actor in the show, Trenton Robinson, 5. The two have been acting together since Trenton was 2 years old. Trenton Robinson has been acting for most of his life both in movies and on stage. He said his family listens to the music from “The Lion King” all the time around the house, and they help critique each other’s performances while in practice.

“In a good way, it brings out a lot of their personality, and I’ve seen a lot of kids come here who are painfully shy,” Trenton Robinson said. “Being on the stage helps them to get rid of that nervousness about being around people. It makes them all-around better people.”