J Company performs ‘Lion King’ songs for Encinitas pre-school

A La Jolla theatre group visited an Encinitas pre-school Oct. 26 to expose them to the live arts and show them how fun it can be.

As youth performers from J Company presented songs from its currently running "Lion King Jr" show for the 2 to 5-year-old students of Easter Seals Head Start school, the children sat in awe and laughed as they watched a beloved Disney movie come to life before their eyes.

The cast performed renditions of "The Circle of Life," "Hakuna Matata" and "I Just Can't Wait to be King" during the half-hour show, followed by question and answer periods.

"See Young Simba?" Joey Landwehr, J Company artistic director, asked the kids. "He's only 10. That's not much older than you. You can do this, too."

Landwehr said he believed it was important for children to be exposed to the arts at an early age. He said he hoped the preschoolers seeing his cast, age 10 to 15, was inspiring enough for them to think about letting the arts play a role in their lives.

"Theatre changes lives and saves lives," he said. "Theatre has been proven to help people grow scholastically and socially. I think, especially in this day and age of social media where people don't connect anymore, theatre is one of the only outlets where you have to connect one-on-one. The younger they are, the better. We need to make sure that theatre and the arts are part of every child's life. It makes them a better human being to be able to empathize and connect with other people."

David Landis, 10, who played Young Simba, said he was 7 when he began performing.

"If you have a dream and you want to follow it, just go out there and do it," said the South Carlsbad boy to the kids following the performance.

J Company gives back regularly to the community, Landwehr added. It has a program called Random Acts of Culture where they do select free performances for under-served areas of San Diego.

Sharon Murray, a former full-time teacher at Easter Seals, said she set up the event and invited J Company to Easter Seals because the children at the school, which serves low-income families, have likely not seen live theatre before in their lives.

In the past, the school brought in professionals like firefighters and police officers to talk to the students about their jobs, but Murray thought the children should learn about the arts, too.

"We don't have a lot of opportunity for field trips to see art," she said, adding funding for field trips is limited. "When I act things out or sing, [my students] look at me like I'm a crazy person. When I tried to do things with them that were play-oriented, the concept wasn't there. I saw J Company was doing this show, and I thought that was perfect."

Murray said she hopes the performance inspires kids, who aren't athletically inclined or have other hobbies, to know that the arts might be an option for them, if they enjoy singing and acting.

J Company will perform "Lion King Jr" at San Diego Center for Jewish Culture, 4126 Executive Drive in La Jolla, Nov. 4 at 8 p.m.; and Nov. 5 at 1 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. For tickets and more information, visit www.jcompanysd.org.

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