The Lion King is iconic not only in the realms of the Disney universe, but has touched fans for generations. The story of The Lion King based off the 1994 animated film has been adapted to all literary formats as well as multiple stage productions worldwide, as well as a touring company in North America.
Recently. I chatted with ensemble member John Sloan III, who grew up in Oak Park, Michigan before moving to Farmington as a teenager, about how he got the theatre bug and his experience being a veteran with The Lion King.
What sort of kid were you?
I was a kid that always got into trouble for what they said not necessarily what they did. I think that was pretty standard and I don’t think that’s changed at all. I’ve had a lot of opinions. I’ve always had a lot of opinions. I have a smart mouth. Like my dad would tell me to clean the room and would tell him ‘okay’ and he’d come home and it wasn’t clean. Then, I would say ‘Well dad, you never told me when I had to clean. You just said I had to clean it at some point’. I was that kid. I found, thankfully, a creative outlet to be able to express myself and channel some of my energy that’s in large part due to my parents. It was either that I think or somebody was going to strangle me at some point (laughs).
When did you first get the itch to become a performer?
I think if you ask my parents that would have been from day one. My mom and my aunt are both music teachers. That was huge. I grew up with music and performing arts just around me all the time in a way that just seemed ubiquitous. I had to realize later that was uncommon. I always enjoyed it. I’ve been playing the violin since I was four and then I went onto the piano and saxophone and obviously singing for a while too. It wasn’t really until high school that I made up my mind this is what I want to do for a living.
Was there a specific event that happened that lead to that decision?
No. I had sung in church when I was younger and played the Metropolitan Youth Symphony on the violin. I did some acting when I was a kid. I had my SAG card. I done some voiceover and some commercial work. I got out of that because I wanted to be a kid and being on set and doing voiceovers is cool for a little while, but then it just got kind of annoying to me, if that makes any sense at all. I always kind of came back to it. Even when I was in school, I was still in the orchestra and in the choir, participating in that way. Because what I always saw teaching in music, that’s what my family did, that’s what made the most sense. Then we went to see Les Misérables, it came through the Fisher Theatre. I must have been a sophomore or freshman in high school and I just remember leaping to my feet. I didn’t even wait for the curtain call. We were sitting in balcony where they put all the school groups and I just jumped to my feet as the show was over. I just felt this rush of energy and excitement. I had no idea what it was. That was right around the same time that my dad, he teaches at OCC (Oakland Community College), started talking to me about what I wanted to go to school for and what I wanted to major in. I was saying I wanted to go for like pre-law public policy. He said ‘What about the performing arts?” I was like you can’t make money in that and its really hard and it seems like there’s a lot of competition. I gave him a very pragmatic reasons as to why that didn’t make any sense and he said ‘Is there anything you enjoy doing more?’ and I said ‘No. Not at all’. Then he said go to college for that and we’ll figure the rest out later.
That conversation with your dad is like the opposite of what most people in your industry would say.
It’s the exactly opposite actually. I didn’t realize that until I got older and I got to college. I went to Michigan for Musical Theatre and I didn’t realize how rare that conversation was until I started talking to friends of mine. That’s always been something that I think has been a real blessing. My family has always been really supportive of me taking what a lot of people would consider an atypical career path.
What’s been your experience like with the Lion King?
Nobody ever teaches you how to be in a show for this long. I don’t want to say that my experience at Michigan didn’t prepare because it absolutely did. All the other shows that you do, whether its regional theatre, its 6-8 weeks, if its another tour, its maybe a couple years, 2-3 years, but this show has been touring forever. The things that stick out in my brain are a little bit different than what happened in other productions. Out here, its birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas. I’m getting ready to go to birthday party for a friend of mines daughter. Its here 21st birthday and I’ve known her since she was 12. Its those kind of family moments and experience that, when you’re on a tour, are a little bit different from doing a sit down because we are all artists and we’re all figuring out how to be touring artists. The challenge there is that when you have difficult moments that happen in your life, whether it’s a relative passing or dealing with the struggles that come with not being able to be near your family or relationships. You are who you have. It’s the company. I’m very close with my family, my brother and sister, but I’ve spent more time with these people that I work with than I have with anybody else. So, our show because the story in itself is so closely tied to family and its tied to this in some ways archetypal, but always a relatable story of coming of age and wanting to impress your parents and at the same time, trying to separate yourself from their shadow. Finding who you are in those ways and it had a lot of familial themes.