Menlo News December 15, 2023

Middle School Master Class by a “Lion King” Star

A member of the traveling cast of “The Lion King” led an inspiring morning of dance, song, and lessons learned on the road to Broadway.

As they shuffled, shimmied, and sashayed their way around the dance room, Middle School dance students were being treated to a master class in choreography from a member of Broadway’s traveling cast of “The Lion King.”

The actress, Jennifer Theriot, who plays the role of Serabi in the show, taught them a portion of the dance from the powerful ballad, “He Lives in You.” Jennifer had a keen ability to relate to the middle schoolers, describing moves on their terms: from “kicking a soccer ball” and “shielding your eyes from the sun” to “serving a platter” and “hugging a tree like a koala.”

The students learned an impressive routine in just one class period, later performing the number for their peers during assembly. Jennifer then sang Shadowland, a solo from her understudy role as Nala. But perhaps the most moving part of the morning was the Q&A: both in hearing what questions the students were curious about as well as her authentic and inspiring responses.

One student asked whether she had advice for someone who wants to go into Broadway. Her advice? Always train, always be learning, be knowledgeable, be well-rounded, and be nice. “You have to be focused and really put the work in and also make sure you’re a good person,” she said.

As to whether or not she still gets nervous, Jennifer responded, “If I’m not nervous anymore, that means I don’t care and I need to move on.” To cope with nerves, she suggested breathing, mantras, and focusing on the story your character has to tell instead of your ego.

When asked how she deals with rejection, Jennifer shared that she teaches a masterclass in auditioning, and the goal is not to put yourself in a position where you have to bounce back. Be prepared, do your thing, and then leave. Because everything else is out of your control, and you’re not entitled to any particular role.

In terms of an end goal, she shared, “I always want to be storytelling, I love teaching, I love directing. There’s no end goal to me, or I’ll stop working, I’ll stop thinking. I want this to always be a part of my life.”

Middle School Learning Specialist Frankie Machado closed the assembly by asking one last question: “If you could go back to your middle school self, what would you tell her?”

Jennifer paused, reminiscing. “Once you get to high school, so many things are thrown at you, from ‘What do you want to do?’ to ‘Who do you want to be?’ And I kept with what I loved in middle school because that was where I was so honest with myself. Whenever you really feel like you’re being truly honest with yourself, keep that. Don’t let the noise say otherwise.”