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Theater

Leechburg Area thespians take a walk on the wild side and adopt gorillas

| Sunday, May 6, 2018, 9:00 p.m.
The gorillas 'adopted' by the Leechburg Area Drama Club.
Submitted
The gorillas 'adopted' by the Leechburg Area Drama Club.
Leechburg Area High School Drama Club students Tucker Spiering and Blake Foster pose with musical director Alyssa Bruno Walls (center) in the Leechburg auditorium where their spring musical production of Disney’s “Tarzan” was performed last month.
Joyce Hanz
Leechburg Area High School Drama Club students Tucker Spiering and Blake Foster pose with musical director Alyssa Bruno Walls (center) in the Leechburg auditorium where their spring musical production of Disney’s “Tarzan” was performed last month.
The Leechburg Area Drama Club recently adopted two wild gorillas living in Rwanda, mother Taraja and infant Ishimwe, through Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.
Joyce Hanz
The Leechburg Area Drama Club recently adopted two wild gorillas living in Rwanda, mother Taraja and infant Ishimwe, through Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.

Things got wild during musical season for Leechburg Area Drama Club students this spring.

As in wild gorillas.

As the students rehearsed for their spring musical production channeling their inner gorilla for their production of Disney's “Tarzan,” director Alyssa Bruno Walls was inspired by frustration.

“We hit a lot of obstacles and rehearsals were very rough that week,” recalls Walls. “We had just about everything that could go wrong, go wrong, and I was losing my passion for directing.”

Walls decided to take a break from technology, shutting off her phone and delving into Edgar Rice Burrows classic tale, “Tarzan of the Apes” at home.

“I had a lightbulb moment and decided to turn a bad week and attitude into something good,” Walls says. “I thought, ‘I am going to do something good' and I remembered the ‘Ellen' show had featured the late Dian Fossey's mission and the gorillas being adopted.”

Surprise for the students

Fossey established the Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda's Virunga Mountains in 1967 with a goal of protecting and studying the near extinct mountain gorilla. Fossey's life was cut short when she was murdered (still unsolved) in her Karisoke cabin on Dec. 27, 1985. She was laid to rest in the graveyard behind her cabin, among her gorilla friends.

Walls donated more than $100 of her own money (not from the drama club fund) and surprised her students during rehearsals at school, introducing them to their symbolically adopted mother and infant mountain gorillas — Taraja and Ishimwe.

“We got really giddy. We were surprised and we stopped rehearsals to watch a three-minute video of our two adopted gorillas in the wild,” says freshman Tucker Spiering.

Walls says it is important for her as a director to set an example and show her students the importance of philanthropy, not only in the arts, but in world events too.

“Some of the students cried, some were real excited. It was a real mix,” says Walls of her cast's reaction to viewing the gorilla video. “They all thought it was really cool and it did help boost morale going into tech week. It was a nice reminder that it's so easy to get self centered in the thick of things. It was a refocusing on where our priorities are.”

The Fossey Fund offers symbolic adoptions of some of the mountain gorillas in Rwanda, usually about three or four different gorillas each year, says Erika Archibald, senior communications officer for The Dian Fossey Gorrilla Fund International.

There are only about 800 wild mountain gorillas left, notes Archibald, although they are awaiting latest census results. “The gorillas are found in two areas — the Virunga mountains and the Bwindi Forest. We've been doing this (adoptions) for about 15 years, so many have been adopted over the years.”

Daily needs

Archibald says the adoption fees (ranging from $40-$150) go toward daily gorilla needs.

“The money goes to support our daily gorilla protection patrols in Rwanda,” Archibald says. “We don't provide food, since these are wild gorillas. Our trackers, anti-poachers and researchers follow gorilla groups, collect information on them and protect them from dangers such as poaching, climate change and habitat pressures such as not having enough intact, healthy forest ecosystem for them to live in.”

Drama student Blake Foster, a sophomore, says the gorilla adoption news was a welcome distraction from the stress of rehearsals.

“It's nice we took the focus off of us and tied in a charitable aspect,” Foster says.

The students will receive periodic updates, photos, videos and letters from the field about the gorillas.

Details: gorillafund.org

Joyce Hanz is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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