Colin Carn, who portrays Young Simba, displays the mask he’ll wear during the Springfield Arts Council’s Youth Arts Ambassadors’ production of “Disney’s The Lion King., Jr.” Photo by Brett Turner

Backdrops, masks make ‘Disney’s The Lion King, Jr.” roar with pride

It’s a team effort when the Springfield Arts Council’s Youth Arts Ambassadors put on a production. Not just on the stage but behind the scenes.

For its presentation of “Disney’s The Lion King, Jr.” at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 9 and Saturday, Nov. 10 at the John Legend Theater, the Ambassadors were aided by members of Project Jericho, who helped create backdrops, and cast parents, who crafted elaborate masks some cast members will wear.

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Project Jericho artists helped bring Wonderland to the stage two years ago. This time, the group headed for Africa in their minds to create an original backdrop for this musical at the Ambassadors’ invitation.

“Our Project Jericho artists had so much fun painting the backdrop for their production of ‘Alice in Wonderland, Jr.’ we were excited to partner again,” said Project Jericho director Lo Houser.

They contracted Cera Marie, a Columbus-based artist who specializes in large-scale painting installations and has done two mural backdrops with Project Jericho previously.

Cera Marie created three unique sketches for show director Krissy Hartman to choose from and after one was selected, she blocked it off on the canvas to make the painting process simple and efficient according to Houser.

The painting began on Oct. 1 and each Monday after as part of the Open Studio program. Eleven students painted for a combined 34 hours in October.

“As we’ve been painting, we have received updates on how the costumes and set pieces were coming along. They are all impressive,” Houser said. “Every piece of the show is thoughtful and creative. It’s sure to be a masterpiece from start to finish.”

Susan Kittles studied at the Columbus College of Art and Design, but never made a mask before.

That didn’t stop her artistic instincts when she got an email with a request for help to make masks for “Disney’s The Lion King, Jr.”

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As several of the main actors in the stage productions use the masks, it becomes an important part of telling the story. So Kittles and husband Andy along with another parent went to work making sculptures out of clay, created a plaster cast and painted and embellished the masks with metal attached to a sports helmet.

It became time-consuming, taking seven weeks for the eight main lions’ masks. Simba’s in particular was the largest challenge with his big mane.

The seal of approval came when the cast got the finished products. Colin Carn, who is playing Young Simba, especially liked his.

“I thought only the big kids got masks,” he said, thrilled to mount it on his head.

This type of reaction and now that it’s done has Kittles also feeling satisfied.

“I’ve really enjoyed being a part of it,” she said.

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