Beyond "The Lion King Experience"

How A Summer Theater Camp Is Working Towards More Than Just A Production.

Back in July, Downing-Gross Cultural Arts Center began its first ever Summer Theater Camp - giving children the opportunity to gain experience in the world of theater. For some, like 6 year old Christian Chever, this is their first production. There is much to be learned in the short 8-week program for this quiet young beginner. His first-time jitters are calmed with the help of some of the older and more experienced campers, including rising-9th grader Yazmine Holmes, who previously played Charlie Bucket in Downing-Gross’ February production of Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka. “If you get nervous, try not to think about the audience. It will be dark so it is hard to see them. Just focus on the show.”

During the camp, the kids have participated in a variety of workshops and classes including music and vocal training, choreographed stage combat, and set design. Some of the themed workshops, however, have extended beyond the standard “Lion King Experience” curriculum provided by Music Theater International (MTI). One of the most notable of these workshops is the “Anti-Bullying Sessions” with Shant’a Miller, founder of the Hampton-Roads based organization, Parents Against Bullying. She had them create a “Drop a Kind Word” wall of envelopes, in order for the young performers to leave a positive message – building one another’s confidence. While the on-stage production represents the finish line for the hard-working campers, the journey has been designed to enrich their lives off-stage as well.

The camp will culminate in a 60-minute adaptation that is a mix between the Disney film and the Broadway production. It will reference the story popularized by the 1994 animated film, while incorporating some of the songs in African dialects featured in the live production. The show will be held on August 9th at 10th at 6:00 PM in the Ella Fitzgerald Theater at Downing-Gross. For tickets, please visit

Photos Courtesy of Shant’a Miller of Parents Against Bullying and Cindy Johnson.


About Downing-Gross Cultural Arts Center

The Downing-Gross Cultural Arts Center is a multi-purpose cultural space in the Southeast community of Newport News, VA. Originally built as the Walter Reed School, the historic building has been restored and open to the public since October 2008. The building is owned and operated by the City of Newport News, Parks, Recreation and Tourism department.

The center houses several event spaces and large/small group gathering rooms available for event rental. The core of the Downing-Gross Cultural Arts Center is the Ella Fitzgerald Theater, a 276-seat venue named for the “First Lady of Song.” Other event spaces in the building include the Anderson Johnson Gallery, the Newport News Community Gallery, the L. Marian Poe Meeting Room, the Banquet Room, and the Charles C. Allen Executive Board Room.