Since its publication in 1960, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird has become the best-selling novel of all time and is perhaps the most widely read book exploring race in the United States. In January Washington University’s Edison Theatre will join forces with Metro Theater Company, St. Louis’ foremost professional troupe for young people, to stage an all-ages theatrical production of the civil rights classic.
“As we anticipate our new national leadership and cope with difficult local issues, To Kill a Mockingbird strikes home with renewed relevance,” says Charlie Robin, executive director of Edison Theatre. “It’s a story that resonates with ever deeper meaning and strength. Seeing it brought to life on the stage will unlock nuances in a way that only theatre can.”
Performances, which take place in Edison Theatre Jan. 9 to 18, are held in conjunction with the Big Read, a national program sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, which is designed to encourage communities to read and discuss a single book. The St. Louis Big Read, which is organized by Washington University, will include dozens of community-based events throughout January and February 2009.
Set in 1935 in fictional Maycomb, Alabama, To Kill a Mockingbird is a coming-of-age tale centering on the trio of Jean Louise “Scout” Finch; her older brother, Jem; and their visiting friend, Dill. Under the watchful eye of Calpurnia, the Finch’s African-American housekeeper, these three spend lazy summer days concocting theories about Boo Radley, a mysterious neighbor. But when Scout’s father, the widowed lawyer Atticus, is called to defend a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman, the bonds of family, friendship and even civil society are tested and Scout learns the true meaning of dignity and tolerance.
“Harper Lee calls her book ‘a simple love story,'” says Carol North, artistic director for Metro Theater Company, who directs the cast of 19. “It is that and much, much more. The enduring power of To Kill a Mockingbird is its ability to touch the heart, as well as awaken the conscience of readers.
“For me, it’s a call to action,” North adds. “We need only look at our own community to see how social inequity, racism and fear of the ‘other’ continue to divide us. I’m so grateful for the partnership with Edison Theatre that makes it possible for Metro Theater Company to bring this powerful story to the stage for St. Louis.”
The cast is led by Nicholas Kryah as Atticus and Bobbie Williams as Calpurnia. Double cast in the roles of the children are Berklea Going and Emily Jackoway as Scout; Hal Matthews and Jimmy McEvoy as Jem; and Parker Donovan and Drew Redington as Dill. Dominic Richardson plays Tom Robinson, the young man Atticus defends, while Andrew Keller is Mr. Gilmer, the public prosecutor. Also featured are Susan Arnold Marks as Mayella Ewell, Robinson’s accuser, and Greg Johnston as her drunken father, Bob. The mysterious Boo Radley is played by Martin Casey.
Rounding out the cast are Eddie Webb as Reverend Sykes; Chuck Lavazzi as Judge Taylor; Jeffrey Awada as Sheriff Heck Tate; and Kelley Ryan, Roxane McWilliams and Beckah Voigt as neighbors Maudie Atkinson, Stephanie Crawford and the dreaded Mrs. Dubose. Musician Sandy Weltman is featured in the production.
The production is based on the 1970 stage adaptation by Christopher Sergel. Sets and props are by Dunsi Dai and Eric Barnes, respectively, with costumes by Lou Bird. Lighting and sound are by John Wylie and Amanda Bruggeman. Bruce Longworth is dialect coach.
Also on Jan. 9, immediately following the opening night performance, Metro Theater Company and Edison Theatre will host a post-show reception for the cast and actress Mary Badham, who played Scout in the Academy Award-winning 1962 film adaptation. Tickets to the reception are $35. Badham also will participate in post-show Q&A sessions following both the 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. performances Saturday, Jan. 10.
Tickets to the show are $16, or $12 for children, students and seniors, while groups of 10 or more can purchase blocks of tickets at $8 each. Tickets to the opening night post-show reception are $35. Both are available through the Edison Theatre Box Office at (314) 935-6543; through all MetroTix outlets; and online at www.metrotix.com.
Edison Theatre is located in the Mallinckrodt Student Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd. For more information, call (314) 935-6543 or visit www.metrotheatercompany.org or www.edisontheatre.wustl.edu.
Metro Theater Company is nationally recognized as one of America’s finest professional theaters for young people and families. Founded in 1973, the Company has produced more than 29 original works for audiences totaling nearly two million people. Metro Theater Company has toured to 41 states and appeared in international festivals in Canada, Italy, Japan and Taiwan. Thousands of school students benefit each year from touring performances and workshops conducted by Metro’s teaching artists. Metro Theater Company makes theater arts alive and accessible to young people and adults, and assists educators in making learning more effective and engaging for their students. For more information call (314) 997-6777 or visit www.metrotheatercompany.org.
Edison Theatre’s OVATIONS Series serves both Washington University and the St. Louis community by providing the highest caliber national and international artists in music, dance and theater, performing new works as well as innovative interpretations of classical material not otherwise seen in St. Louis. Focusing on presentations that are interdisciplinary, multicultural and/or experimental, Edison Theatre presents work intended to challenge, educate and inspire. Edison Theatre programs are made possible with support from the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency; and the Regional Arts Commission, St. Louis.
THE BIG READ
Modeled on successful “city read” programs, the Big Read is hosted by Washington University in partnership with several St. Louis organizations, ranging from local governments, libraries and school districts to museums and arts and literacy organizations.
Events will include more than a dozen book discussion groups as well as lectures, readings, film screenings and other opportunities to explore the themes of Lee’s novel. For example, the Missouri History Museum, the St. Louis Public Library and the University City Library all will host screenings of the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird, each of which will be introduced by Badham. The museum also will present a thematic tour titled “St. Louis in Black and White,” which examines the relationships between various racial and ethnic groups in St. Louis.
In addition to the public performances, Edison Theatre and Metro Theater Company will host a series of special matinees for approximately 5,000 St. Louis-area schoolchildren representing more than 40 schools. In conjunction with the matinees, Metro Theater and Washington University will sponsor a series of Big Read essay, art and spoken word contests for participating schools. Finalists will have their work displayed in the Edison Theatre lobby, with the grand prize-winner in each category receiving a free iPod. Meanwhile Scholastic, the world’s largest publisher and distributor of children’s books, will have books for sale at all performances and the NEA will provide reader’s guides to all audience members.
The Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Arts Midwest. Area sponsors include the Regional Arts Commission, KTVI Fox 2 and HEC-TV.
For a complete Big Read schedule and updates, visit http://bigread.wustl.edu/
WHO: Edison Theatre and Metro Theater Company
WHAT: To Kill a Mockingbird
WHEN: Jan. 9 to 18, 2009
WHERE: Edison Theatre, Washington University, Mallinckrodt Student Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd.
COST: $16; $12 for children, students and seniors; $8 for groups of 10 or more. Available through the Edison Theatre box office, (314) 935-6543; through all MetroTix outlets; and online at www.metrotix.com