It’s a story most people have read in the classroom or watched in black and white on television — a timeless classic that sails through generation after generation, challenging the battle between good and evil, inequality and innocence. It’s “To Kill A Mockingbird,” and it’s the upcoming production presented by the Northern Kentucky University Department of Theatre and Dance.
Originally published in 1960 by Harper Lee, the novel “To Kill A Mockingbird” became an instant must-read, selling 30 million copies, in over 18 languages. The movie adaptation, released in 1962, won an Oscar. And in 1970, Christopher Sergel adapted “To Kill A Mockingbird” for the stage, and theaters across the country began performing it. Now, NKU is taking its turn with the show.
The two-act play set in 1935 in Maycomb, Ala., focuses on the lives in the small southern town determined to stick to its old-fashioned ways. When faced with challenges of race and equality, Maycomb residents find it hard to accept new ideas.
An adult Jean Louise Finch (or “Scout,” as she likes to be called) narrates, almost from above, the events and transformations Maycomb and its people see throughout the story, while keeping a child-like innocence that is crucial to the story. Director Daryl Harris believes a main strength of the play is that it is told through the eyes of a child.
Harris was drawn to “To Kill A Mockingbird” because it is a continuation of his main focus of applied theater, arts enacting social change and ethnicity studies. He said it’s the play that he felt the most connected to out of this season’s choices.
For the actors to completely immerse themselves in the characters, Harris arranged a trip to Alabama for the cast members.
On the trip, the cast and some crew members visited Harper Lee’s hometown, Monroeville, Ala. Its people and controversies were Lee’s inspiration behind the book. While there, the cast rehearsed in the courtroom, which was replicated for the movie and it was where a trial, eerily similar to the one in the story, took place. The sleepy southern town provided the cast with an idea of where Harper Lee came from and where her inspiration for characters evolved.
Web Exclusive: Read Claire’s live blog coverage of the theatre trip to Alabama here.
The cast also visited The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa where Lee attended law school, and Birmingham to tour the Civil Rights Institute. Harris believes that the trip was worthwhile. “Everybody ‘got it’,” he says. He can see, even in rehearsals alone, that the trip was a “viable and deeply-felt learning experience” for everyone.
Freshman Terrance McCraney plays Tom Robinson, the controversial African-American character accused of raping a white woman. After the trip to Alabama, McCraney said, “I don’t have to imagine anymore,” about being in the Monroeville courtroom and how Robinson would have felt as an outcast in Maycomb.
The long hours on the bus (20 hours round-trip in one weekend) also served as a bonding experience for the cast, McCraney said.
For Harris, the most exciting part of production is seeing the three levels of interaction — young children, college students and seasoned actors — all working together. Working with the children brought in to play Scout Finch, Jem Finch and Dill Harris offers a learning opportunity to the NKU actors. It helps prepare for the real world of theater, according to Harris.
After coming to the show, Harris wants audience members to take away questions. He wants theater to generate conversations, controversial and not, among the viewers.
“To Kill A Mockingbird” begins Dec. 2 and will run through Dec. 12 in the Corbett Theater. For more information or to purchase tickets (on sale now), visit or call the Theatre and Dance Department Box Office at 859-572-5464.
Story by Claire Higgins