The Ensemblist is celebrating the 20th Anniversary of The Lion King on Broadway by asking some of our favorite ensemblists to share their stories of performing in the iconic Broadway musical. Today, we hear from current cast member Kimberly Marable.
I first graced the stage as a Bird Lady in The Lion King on February 11, 2014, which makes me, after 3 3/4 years, one of the newest ensemble members of the Broadway company. As crazy as that sounds, particularly as someone who's spent much of her career going from one job to the next, the time has literally flown by. It truly doesn't feel like almost four years has passed... so much has happened!
I have to admit, when I booked the show, I put my nose up at the idea of having a "government gig." In spite of the financial stability, I didn't want to become creatively stagnant (like I ignorantly assumed the people here were), or forget the "hustle & grind" and skills that got me to the Pridelands in the first place; I didn't want for The Lion King to be my final resting place. But the Pridelands are SO MUCH MORE than the paycheck. To be plain, being in The Lion King ensemble has been a gift and a life changer.
The Lion King came at a time in my life when I wanted to be in a show that allowed me to uphold my social conscience, and that brought joy to both me and to audience members. The show is all of those things in spades. Though for the most part we play animals and plants as opposed to people, I am beside myself with how much beauty, reverence, and respect are shown in the theatrical representation of African languages and African (and other global) cultures, particularly South African; from the make up we wear, to the songs (in multiple languages) that we sing, to some of the movements we do.
It's no secret that the puppetry is the star of the show, and is in large part what has made the show last for 20 years so far. It is inspiring to actually be the elements that are so visually stunning about the show... to be the grass that's growing out of the ground, to be the giraffe walking across the savanna, or the birds that soar above audience members' heads as they whisper (or yell) with tears in their eyes, "So beautiful!" Coming down the aisle 16 times per week allows me to see firsthand just how much joy and awe The Lion King brings to people, and it fills me up.
Our ensemble has a bit more of an operatic set up, with a singing chorus and a dancing chorus (obviously on a much smaller scale numbers-wise, our full ensemble is 25, or 34 including our super-talented swings). Out of our 13 person on-stage choir, 8 are from South Africa (affectionately called by me "Zulu Nation"), which initially made for a bit of culture shock upon my joining the company. Prior to being in The Lion King, I'd never experienced the theater in the United States as a bilingual environment (with the other language being Zulu no less). Almost four years later I still find myself having to adjust when conversations that began in English continue in Zulu, but I welcome the cultural immersion. I've learned and continue to learn about South African life, languages, traditions and culture, and I believe we can all afford to be as proud of who we are.
To a degree unlike other shows that I've been a part of, I am literally surrounded by seasoned artists with a wealth of experience. As an ensemble we are nationally renowned choreographers, Drama Desk Award Nominees, film-makers, song-writers, producers, recording artist backup dancers/singers, graduate students (and grad school grads), dance studio (and other business) owners, international ambassadors, dance/gyrotonic/yoga instructors... not to mention TV and voiceover actors. And while our outside projects do help keep our minds agile, the creative juices keep flowing while in the building.
If the annual Haunted House we do for the kids of Broadway or the Holiday Door Decorating Contest aren't indications of that, I don't know what is. In the 7, 10, 15, even 20 years that people have been with this show, there is no shortage of creative stimulus both in and outside of the building.
I think what has been the most valuable takeaway for me are the MANY life lessons I've learned. Pardon the example, but with the degree of learning and growth I've had, it almost feels like being back in college. I'm a proud student of PRIDELANDS-U! Seriously though, I've been reminded daily that I am very much an artist, but that is secondary to being human. Practically speaking I've gained apartments, doctor/surgeons, physical trainers, and a shared love for running.
On a grander yet more personal scale, being a member of The Lion King ensemble has taught me how to be a better romantic partner, philanthropist, business collaborator, and future-mother. I am surrounded by some of the most outspoken, funny, caring and intelligent women, who show me just by living, that I can have it all... that I can achieve a work-life balance and not lose my sense of self. I often joke that everything I know about pregnancy, babies, and small children, I learned from being in The Lion King but it's true.
II am humbled by this whacky, spirited and spirit-filled, generous, and wildly talented bunch. But more than that, I am greatful to have (had) such wonderful teachers, and companions along this life journey. In my time here, our ensemble has had marriages, births, crises, deaths - a true circle of life that continues to “...move us all, through despair and hope. Through faith and love." We continue to laugh through it all. The Lion King ensemble has changed my life for the better, and has been the true embodiment of ubuntu: I am, because you are.