Playing Tarzan, gorillas takes a toll on the body

Photos by Tom Rivers: Matilda Erakare’s hands are beat up from her role as Tarzan’s mother, a gorilla named Kala.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 30 March 2017 at 10:59 am

Bloody knuckles, ankle burns – ‘absolutely worth it’

Matilda Erakare, right, speaks with the gorilla Kerchak, Tarzan’s father (played by Victor Benjovsky). The gorillas spend much of the show hunched over on their knuckles.

ALBION – This week’s production of Tarzan by the Albion High School may be the most physically taxing show ever by the school.

Characters move about the stage hunched over, leaning on their knuckles. Many of the gorillas, and Tarzan himself, have developed thick callouses on their fingers, which sometimes bleed.

They have bruises on their knees and burns on their ankles.

“It’s absolutely worth it,” said Matilda Erakare, who plays the mother gorilla, Kala. “We’ve never done a show like this before.”

The cast includes 23 gorillas as well as a Tarzan. When they started rehearsing in January, Director Gary Simboli had them doing the awkward gorilla gait, putting their weight on their knuckles.

Simboli knew that first month would be the toughest for the students, getting their bodies used to the demands of the show.

“They have had to train their bodies for this show,” Simboli said. “They are walking over, hunched over in an awkward gait, while speaking and doing their lines.”

He had students in their auditions try to walk naturally like gorillas.

“I couldn’t do it,” Simboli said. “We started right at the beginning with rehearsals and had them doing what they needed to be doing.”

Enoch Martin plays Tarzan. He and all the gorillas get a workout every rehearsal.

Evan Steier plays one of the gorillas. His fingers have developed callouses and many nicks and abrasions. He has stamina as a long-distance runner for the school. But even he said the show is hard on the body.

“It all depends on how much you put into it,” he said.

Simboli said the entire cast has poured themselves into the roles.

Enoch Martin shows his dinged up knuckles before rehearsal on Wednesday.

Enoch Martin plays Tarzan and his hands show the toll of the playing the character. His fingers that look swollen with a host of scrapes and callouses.

Martin said it was a difficult start during the rehearsals, getting used to gorilla gait. But he said his hands and body have adjusted.

The students last week started practicing on the main stage in the Middle School Auditorium. It has a much harder floor than the Large Group Instruction room in the high school. That stage has thicker padding. The main stage in the Middle School has a thinner dance cushion.

With less “give” on the the stage, the gorillas and Tarzan have needed to be strong mentally.

“We’ve never had a show this taxing,” Simboli said. “They are on their hands and knees singing and with the fight scenes.”

The performances are 7 p.m. on Friday, and noon and 7 p.m. on Saturday.

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