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At the Helm: A look behind the ‘Jungle’

The 15- by 20-foot room is painted a pale green, padded bench seats hug two adjoining walls, and it’s dimly lit.  It’s a place for the children to relax or quietly pass the time as they wait to step out on stage and perform for a live audience.

On this particular Saturday night, during the second performance in a nine-show run of “Disney’s The Jungle Book,” the Green Room inside the Brookings Harbor Community Theater is a hub of low-key activity.

In one corner, two teenage girls, dressed in elephant costumes, are texting on cell phones. Nearby, two boys speak in hushed whispers. Three more huddle on the floor playing with plastic army men. Four actors crowd a smaller, adjacent room, sitting still while makeup artists transform their faces into cartoon-like masks.

Tucked into a high corner shelf of the Green Room is a small television. It is connected to a video camera above the audience, pointed at the stage. No matter how occupied the actors seem, each one regularly glances up at the screen to track what is happening on stage. Nobody wants to miss their cue. They’ve worked too hard to blow it now.

Director Dori Blodgett steps into the Green Room to watch the television. She smiles and claps with quiet enthusiasm when one of the actor’s well-rehearsed line elicits a hearty laugh from the audience. She turns to the actors and softly orders, “Okay, elephants get ready!”

Out front, the audience applauds as the actors leave the stage, replaced by the young pachyderms who march single file in time to the military music.

The exiting actors return to the Green Room. One grabs a bottle of water. One whips out a cell phone. Another sits down on the floor to play with the army men. As always, the actors keep an eye on the television. Nobody wants to miss their cue. They’ve worked to hard too blow it now.

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For several months leading up to opening night, the cast of at least 23 children, ages 8 to 15, rehearsed two or three times a week. Even when they weren’t on stage, each actor was expected to be nearby, ready for their cue. All the while, they were supported by small, dedicated stage crew who planned the sound and lights, built and painted sets, and made costumes.

My daughter Alia, 8, plays a monkey and wolf cub. It’s her acting debut. Her mother, Jacque, and I have followed the production from the first audition to opening night. I stand amazed at what Dori and her merry band of young actors have done in such a short time. I admit it – I had my doubts. I nervously anticipated opening night, only to be thoroughly delighted by the performances.

The cast members appeared to take it all in stride. I witnessed it firsthand as a volunteer in the Green Room during the second performance. Shouldn’t they be pacing the room? Practicing their lines? Rubbing a rabbit’s food for good luck?

I saw none of that. The actors seemed confident and relaxed. A few looked bored.

But then I spotted it. Once. Twice. A third time. The actors glancing up at the television. Nobody wanted to miss their cue.

They’ve worked too hard to blow it now.

~~~

The Jungle Book continues this weekend and next through May 29 at the Harbor Performing Arts Center. Performance times are 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays.

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