About 40 students from area high schools got a behind-the-mask look at the puppets of The Lion King at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center on Friday.
Participants in the Fox Cities P.A.C.’s Center Stage high school musical theater awards program were invited to an exclusive talk and workshop with two members of the Broadway touring company of one of the most popular musicals of all time, puppetmaster Michael Reilley and longtime cast member Tony Freeman.
“They seemed pretty sharp,” Freeman said of the students. “They were asking great questions.”
The students got a look at how many of the famous puppets and masks work, as well as insights on how Broadway tours work and how much work goes into caring for sets, costumes and puppets. (It’s a lot.)
The workshop was especially relevant to students from Green Bay West, who are building their own puppets for their upcoming production of Avenue Q.
“It’s just really neat to see their side and their production and how they run it. Obviously it’s very professional,” said Mary Roffers, who’s directing the Avenue Q production. “To get the input from them is very valuable to the kids. I’m a union stagehand, so I’ve seen more of this than they have. To have this exposure, because they are building their own puppets, is very valuable.”
“It was very informative. I came in not knowing really anything about puppets,” said Kiarra Deno, one of Roffer’s students, who brought one of the puppets she had made for Avenue Q. “It was really cool to see the Broadway, professional things, so maybe I can improve my work.”
She said it was “surreal” to share her puppet — a fuzzy purple monster — with Freeman, who said it looked “pretty professional.”
“This was such an amazing experience,” said Fond du Lac High School student Denika Schels. “From being an actor and not being able to see all the other stuff that goes on, it was really an amazing experience.”
The Lion King has another week in Appleton, with some tickets still available for each of the remaining eight performances. In addition, the cast will host a benefit concert Monday night in the Kimberly Clark Theater inside the Fox Cities PAC. Tickets are available for $75 and a silent auction and cash bar will also be available. All proceeds benefit the Fox Cities PAC’s community arts programs as well as Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS.