Center stage. Blaring white lights bounced off my glistening, colorful skin. Hundreds of faces focused on me. My heart felt as though it was about to jump out of my skin, as I prepared to initiate the school musical with the blare of an African tune, awakening the lions. Ankles quivering in disbelief, I inhaled my last breath to begin the song. My whole body filled with fear and anxiety; was I big enough? Good enough? Strong enough?
“Nants ingonyama bagithi baba,” the melodic words poured from my lips, like a waterfall.
As I looked around in utter terror, I saw children’s gleeful faces, and crescent shaped smiles throughout the audience. My parents beamed like the summer sun as they listened to my heartfelt tune. Sweat trickled from my palms to my wooden rainbow-colored stick as I latched onto it. I can do this, I thought, encouraging my inner monkey to come alive. Suddenly the lights flashed from me to other forms on stage, and the animals’ neutral brown and gray shades, joined my vibrant Rafiki colors.
The other animals chanted, “Sithi uhhmm ingonyama.”
Again, I answer the animals with a melodic, “Nants ingonyama bagithi babo,” as I pounded my stick on the ground dramatically.
We clustered together for the ceremony of the newborn lion, and I continued to sing with all of my might. Limping like a baboon across the stage, I joined my friends, Mufasa, Sarabi, and Zazu, to take hold of Simba, the newborn, and present him to the kingdom, from high upon a mountain’s top. The final words of the song escaped my mouth, “It’s the Circle of Life!” The lights flickered off at the sound of the large tympani’s call. I sighed with shock and exhaustion. The musical had begun, and I had started it all!
Sitting to the right of the stage in the shadows, I watched other characters as they entered for the second scene. I took a private moment to reflect on how I had gotten myself into this challenging and precarious situation. Back when I was a new middle school student, I had always envied my older sister Jill, who was three years older than me and attended my same middle school. She was an outgoing, spunky, and strong leader in our school, as an eighth grader. I had been, on the other hand, a little fifth grader who wanted to do well like her, but often lacked confidence and an upbeat attitude. As a drama student she had starred as Sharpay Evans in our school’s eighth grade take on High School Musical, wowing her friends and teachers in her final year at middle school. Contrastly, I had always questioned my talents as a performer and learner, and never really thought that I would ever hold such a public and important role, no matter what grade I was in. I remembered when The Lion King had been announced as the musical, my eighth grade year, that, I had only imagined being one of the lionesses, in the back, supporting the main characters who were partaking in the conflict of the story. Now, as I gazed out at the engaged crowd, and allowed the music of the savannah to cover me like a blanket, I began to realize I had underestimated myself.
Suddenly, the arrival of the character Zazu snapped me out of my meditation, and back into my own eighth grade reality. Transitioning into the next scene, I sat in the monkeyhut that Mrs. Bogrette had designed, and knew I would emerge as a strong and important character. Worries of the first song dwindled away, and I watched my classmates move about me with the routines we had been practicing for months. Instead of stressing because it was all happening too fast, my mind shifted into high gear, and my emotions took over. Soon, my big scene with Simba was upon me, and instead of nervously fearing it, (as I had during so many rehearsals in the past), I yearned for the upcoming opportunity to show off my abilities. The next part had always been a very hard scene for me; I not only had to sing dramatically in my sassy yet ridiculous character, but I also had lines in between my song to coordinate with other cast members. I had to connect with Simba, the main character and explain that his father had died, but would live on through him. When I walked on stage, my typical, anxious attitude had suddenly flippedoff, like a switch, and I sang out at the crowd with a new sense of spirit and strength.
Gesturing to the fog machine and lower part of the stage which represented a pond, I confidently crowed, “Wrong again, he’s alive. I’ll show him to you. Shh, look down there, ” I demanded, pointing to the water’s edge.
In disbelief, Simba frowned and said, “That’s not my father, that’s just my reflection.”
“No. Look harder,” I urged him, and I set off in song, like a bird, encouraging him to join me in sharing the musical’s central message.
While Simba and I sang together, I looked out at the audience with pride and jubilation. The beat of the piano and drums soon bounced in time with my footsteps, and I was at peace with myself. I recognized that just like the main character in the show, I no longer cared about what others thought of me. The rhythm and tone of the music filled me, and I became confident and proud, just as Simba was becoming a strong leader of the pridelands. Later during that act, I sat again in my cozy, compact, and decorative monkey shack. As I silently reflected again on my own journey as a person, I connected further with the journey of the baby lion; he had been frightened and meek at first, but much like me, he had soon realized how dependable and valuable he truly was.
Powerfully, the second to last song, Shadowland, began to envelope the characters on the stage, as well as those in the audience, and I prepared to sing for one of the last times. I strutted toward the stage and looked at the many friendly faces, singing and swaying in rhythm alongside me. The stage itself, was now my friend too. Pursing my lips to sing my last lines, I scanned the crowd for my sister and parents. My eyes locked on my sister Jill, who sat with tears in her eyes. The struggle of doing something that was not exactly me, the struggle of participating in something that I could be judged for, and the struggle of finding myself through this hard experience, was new and different for me. As I gazed into my big sister’s teary eyes, I realized the risk I had taken was paying off. I struggling to be Rafiki, I had found a new side to myself, and had consequently learned that I like my sister, and the main character, had a powerful inner core that was worth sharing, confidently, with those around me. Finally, the play was coming to a close. As I draped a gold, lustrous robe on Simba, the new King of the Pridelands, I honored him with a formal bow. The finale song was moments away, and all of the sudden I was very sad that the musical was ending. At the same time however, I was proud of the path I had forced myself to take. The circle of life on stage had represented the cycle that all animals go through in life. More specifically however, the struggles of Mufasa and Simba connected to my own growth and personal journey through middle school.
“And so we are all connected in the great Circle of Life!”