Becoming More: Off-Stage Wisdom from Young Performers

The middle school recently closed the curtain on a stunning production of The Lion King, Jr. In one poignant scene, the spirit of King Mufasa speaks to his adolescent son Simba in a vision and urges him to aim higher. “Look inside yourself, Simba,” he says. “You are more than what you have become.”

This exchange felt beautifully familiar. As the teachers and I work with middle school students during class, advisory, TOE trips, athletics, and extracurricular activities, we try to inspire them to “look inside themselves” and imagine what they can become. We also try to help them reflect on their choices and how they have grown.

After the dust settled on the play, I had lunch with several of the student performers to talk about their experiences. The play took weeks and weeks of their time. It pulled them out of their comfort zones. What did they learn? How did they grow? Was it worth it?

They responded with the insight and enthusiasm that characterizes our middle school students. They described their surprise at discovering how comfortable they felt on stage. They expressed their delight at making new friends and observing their classmates’ talents.  And they reflected on how good it felt to work hard and be a part of something larger than themselves.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Question: After participating in the play, what do you know now that you didn’t know before?

  • It takes more than the lead parts to pull off a musical –  a lot of teamwork goes into pulling off something so big.
  • Anyone can become friends –  even a lion, a warthog, and a meerkat!
  • You don’t have to have a main part to shine on stage.
  • I learned how much work and time it takes to create something great.
  • Performing doesn’t just make me happy, it makes the audience happy.
  • I know not to break character or laugh on stage, even when someone is making funny faces!

Question: What did you learn about YOURSELF from participating in the play?

  • I learned that once I put my mind to something, I can bring out the best in myself.
  • I can sing in front of large crowds with confidence.
  • I learned that I don’t feel uncomfortable on stage.  In fact, the stage is where I feel safe.
  • I enjoy being a different person for a day –  it takes you out of the “real” world and lets you experience an alternate reality.
  • I discovered that I love acting. Being on stage makes me happy.
  • I can interact really well with people –  even if I don’t know them very well.

Question: The play took a lot of time and effort –  where did you find your MOTIVATION?

  • I was motivated by building something –  by creating something that we could all call our own.  We made The Lion King!
  • Acting brought out the creative side of me. I discovered I had a passion for it.
  • I was motivated by being part of a huge group of people who share my love of drama and singing.
  • I wasn’t working for a grade –  I was working toward a goal.
  • I wanted people to see me on stage!
  • I wanted to be a part of something amazing and beautiful.

And because their enthusiasm couldn’t be contained . . . here are just a few more insights they shared with me:

  • The play helps kids find their true personality in a “no judge zone.” It allows us to see what we might be hiding when we try to “fit in.”
  • Drama helps kids explore options for the future and find their voice. It’s a place where it’s okay to be LOUD and express yourself.
  • Creative output is key to success. Wouldn’t you want to be able to creatively express yourself?
  • Performing gives you the confidence to speak up publicly outside of school.
  • You don’t need to be the lead. You can start small and dream big –  and you can create something beautiful.

The ability to reflect on powerful experiences is often as important as the experience itself. When students pause to consider how they’ve grown and what lessons they have learned, they can stand a little taller and face the next challenge with a little more confidence. After spending time with these young performers, I would amend King Mufasa’s words and say to them: “Look inside yourselves. Aren’t you amazed by what you have become?”

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