The auditorium of Bradley Bourbonnais Community High School felt like a beehive as more than 90 kids were waiting anxiously to start of rehearsal. The kids — all younger than 14 — were preparing for the upcoming production of Disney's "The Lion King Jr.," through the Bradley Bourbonnais Theatre Education Project's (BBTEP) summer camp.
"Everywhere you look, people are working together," said Gianna Kohl, of Bourbonnais, who plays Rafiki.
In addition to the young actors, both teen and adult volunteers were busy selling tickets, finalizing choreography and working on assembling backdrops.
"I have never been in a production this big," said Mario Guastalli of Kankakee, who plays Mufasa. "It is hard work to put something like this together."
It might have been hard work, but the hard work had a silver lining.
"The atmosphere here is pure fun," added Gavin Grey, of Bourbonnais, who plays the grown-up Simba. "When you get to know the people in the show with you, it adds to the fun you can have with it."
Following the Disney movie plot, "The Lion King Jr." is the coming-of-age story of Simba the lion cub, who loses his father and then faces betrayal by his uncle. While the story is familiar, the twist in this production is the actors performing this story about the "Circle of Life" all are children.
"I love the costumes, the makeup and the choreography," said Carter Heinrich, of Bourbonnais, who plays Young Simba. Stephen Menard, a junior at Bradley Bourbonnais High School, hand-painted some of the costumes for the show.
The opening number is a showstopper, and it sets the tone for the rest of the play. The actors not only take the stage, but they take the audience and perform in the auditorium aisles. The musical numbers are given new energy by a new generation of actors.
When the actors sing in the aisles, there won't be a member of the audience who won't want to sing along. The production is the latest for the BBTEP which saw its camp enrollment double this year.
"We went from 45 campers last year to 94 this year," said David Morgan, the artistic director of BBTEP, which was formed by parents and community members looking to support local arts. The nonprofit arts organization's main focus is funding theatrical productions at BBCHS, but they also strive to make educational opportunities available to all students, regardless of their school district or income level.
Every adult is a volunteer at the camp that runs from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, and an occasional Saturday, for six weeks.
While anyone ages 7-14 in Kankakee County can join the BBTEP, each child has to audition for his or her actual part.
"The experience teaches the kids about how to audition," said Morgan. "And about how to be on stage."