Two years after its conversion to an arts-based curriculum, the Los Berros Visual and Performing Arts Academy is ready to step under the spotlight.
The Mission Hills elementary school will present Disney’s “The Lion King Jr.,” the school’s first full-fledged musical production that will be open to the public, during a limited run this weekend at Lompoc High School’s Little Theater. The shows are scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with the final performance slated for 1 p.m. Sunday.
The production is considered by Los Berros leaders as a landmark for the school, which transitioned into an arts academy for the start of the 2015-16 school year.
Los Berros Principal Heather Anderson, who is among many at the school excited for this weekend’s run of performances, said she and other school leaders developed a three-year plan for the campus prior to the conversion and always had communitywide productions in mind.
“On the list was the opportunity to participate in a full-scale theater production, from start to finish,” she said. “We knew this was an ambitious endeavor, and would require a great deal of energy for staff. We decided it would be something to plan to have in our second year, after we had gotten more comfortable with all of the first-year changes that were put into place.”
Leading the charge for “The Lion King Jr.” is Sarah Raines, a professional singer who was brought on to direct the show.
Raines is a resident artist with the Children’s Creative Project, a nonprofit arts education program, but this is the first time she has directed a musical featuring a cast made up entirely of children. She began working with the students — 24 of them are included in the cast — during auditions in January and has been leading after-school rehearsals ever since.
Raines said her previous directorial experience was with college students and older adults.
“I didn’t know how (the Los Berros students) would compare to them, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” she said.
Raines said the journey to get to this weekend has involved a lot of hard work but has been enjoyable.
“For me, this is super fun,” she said. “They probably think I’m pretty demanding because I have very high expectations and I hold them to a high standard, but I believe in putting on the best show we can.”
Several members of the cast expressed a similar sentiment.
Sixth-grader Brianna Isabella, who will celebrate her 12th birthday on opening night, said she’s savoring the experience. Brianna said she was a background extra in the Clint Eastwood-directed film “American Sniper” — which allowed her to meet Eastwood, an encounter that she said made her “very happy” — and has long had an interest in acting.
“I’ve been working so hard on this, even at home, and I’ve been telling my family and all my friends all about it and telling them they should come,” said Brianna, who will play the role of Rafiki. “So I’m really excited.”
Fellow sixth-grader Alana Burgett, who will play the role of adult Nala, said the production has been a “fun and crazy" experience.
Alana, who has attended summer camps with Lompoc Youth Theater, said she enrolled at Los Berros two years ago because of the school’s transition to an arts academy.
“I’m very excited and a little nervous at the same time,” she said of this weekend’s performances, “but definitely more excited.”
Many teachers, parents and former Los Berros students helped make the show a reality.
Among the teachers involved are musical director Jackie Munoz, choreographer Sara Foss, costume and prop designer Tracy Thompson, and set designer Marna Ford.
“Those staff members and many others have supported us in other ways, such as advertising for the production, providing baked goods for intermission sales, ticket sales and set painters,” Anderson said. “We also have had an amazing volunteer step in to assist as stage manager, Hailey Pickles. … Parents and family members are helping with costume design and make-up and many other odd jobs that have needed to be done in order for this event to be a success.”
Also volunteering are Los Berros alumni, many of them currently attending Vandenberg Middle School, who will be working as ushers, and Lompoc High School Drama Club students who have volunteered to do lighting and sound.
“I believe the entire community of Los Berros can take credit for this production, as they have all offered support in some way,” Anderson said.
Following this weekend's shows, the school plans to have student groups perform at the annual Lompoc SpringFest celebration, scheduled this year for April 21 to 23, and is considering a holiday production for December.
Raines, like many others involved in "The Lion King Jr.," said she’s excitedly looking forward to seeing all of the hard work pay off this weekend.
“I’m so thrilled,” she said. “I think everyone is going to be surprised that this is an elementary school production. I think the talent level is very high.”