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An intimate look at touring with The Lion King 

She's the queen of the road

Home means something different to everyone. To some, it's the family surrounding them; to others, it's a specific place. To others still, it's the meatloaf at the old diner up the street, and to some, it's the sound of cicadas in the trees. As a dancer on the national tour of The Lion King, the thought of what makes a place "home" is something I've had to cultivate over five years of constant travel. And I'm still figuring it out.

Every four weeks, I pack every last item of my immediate life into a small, silver Prius. This includes, but is not limited to, towels, sheets, a small table and chair, pictures, kitchen supplies, a shower curtain, a foam mattress topper, clothes, toiletries, a 32" LED TV, a 10-pound cat, a 50-pound dog and all the accoutrement that come along with these furry children. It's some kind of magic straight out of Mary Poppins when everything fits just so. Most of the time, though, it's pure sweat and tears to get everything smashed in. I take it that this may be why most of my cast chooses to fly from city to city in relative comfort, courtesy of Disney. But I was never one for the faster, easier way. I choose to drive so I can see our beautiful country, as well as any two-headed calves, dinosaur putt-putt ranges or the World's Largest Anythings that may cross my path.

We haul across the country to our next destination in the span of a day or two, as we travel on our only day off in the week (Monday). We arrive just in time to unpack our lives, show up to an orientation meeting in our new theater and perform a dress rehearsal, followed by a full show that night. The first week is, needless to say, exhausting, but not because we perform in essentially nine shows (counting our dress rehearsal). Imagine all of the tiny logical problems you would have to work through if you moved your entire existence to a new place. Where is the closest grocery store? Is there a dog park nearby? Is the gym open when I have worked up the motivation to work out? Who is the nearest reputable mechanic? Am I going to be able to find the brand of organic, blue, gluten-free chips I've been non-stop snacking on in the last city? The stresses are small, but innumerable.

There's also the largest stress of them all, which is where do I live? While our company kindly supplies us with hotel options, heating up soup in the complimentary coffee pot gets old rather quickly. You find yourself yearning for an oven, stove topped and full sized, within a few months' time. Our troupe utilizes a variety of resources to find housing, from AirBNB to Craigslist. As sketchy as finding a place to live for a month on a site like Craigslist sounds, I've actually had some of the best roommate experiences from that forum. I've lived with artists and created music videos, and shared homes with crime reporters who have taken me onto scenes to scoop the story. Yes, it takes an adventurous spirit to take these risks, but we do take every precaution to make sure serial killers, bed bugs or ghosts don't occupy the houses before moving in.

"Why do you put yourself though all of this?" I've been asked. "Don't you get lonely? Don't you miss your family? Don't you hate feeling confounded by the nonsensical one-way streets in our downtown?" I sigh and answer yes, yes and Yes! to all of those questions. But as to why we do this, the answer is simple. How could we not? How could we pass the opportunity to perform in one of the most moving, historically significant theater pieces of our time? How could we pass up the chance to explore cities that we may have never stepped foot in before? How could we not share this story, dress up as animals, dance and sing, and make a living having the time of our lives on stage? The payoffs outweigh the stresses. The cast and crew quickly become your family and wherever you get to lay your head becomes your home. I do miss my family and friends at home every single day, but I have learned to carry pieces of them — and whatever home has meant to me — packed (albeit very tightly) into a small silver Prius.

(The Lion King ends its Charlotte run on Sept. 1. For full details, go to www.blumenthalarts.org.)

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