The Reading Memorial High Drama Department has put on some lavish productions before, but the set for “To Kill A Mockingbird,” Harper Lee’s classic tale of pre-war southern America, looks “as much a part of Maycomb as Missionary teas,” to borrow a line from the play.
Opening tonight at the Reading High Performing Arts Center, Director Bill Endslow, the chair of the RMHS Drama Department, has put together a faithful production of the classic story of racial injustice and the loss of innocence.
Endslow said the themes present in the work, coupled with the book’s popularity among students, were key factors in deciding to bring the Pulitzer Prize-winning yarn to the stage.
Popular And Poignant
“Students at the school read it in English class,” explained Endslow. “Plus, everyone who reads the book says it is one of their favorites, and it’s an American classic, so that’s another reason why.”
One of the more challenging facets of the production for the student-thespians of the RMHS Drama Department is taking the well-known characters—some of the most beloved in the entirety of the American literary canon—and recreating them in a believable fashion.
No one is more acutely aware of this fact than Alex Deroo, who finds himself facing the task of portraying Atticus Finch—one of the novel’s lead characters. It is Deroo’s first leading role at RMHS. So much for dipping a toe in the water.
“I’ve had a lot of supporting roles, but this is my first big lead,” he said. “It’s a big adjustment ... With this show, especially, I have been pretty nervous. It’s been a difficult experience for me, but I got myself into it.”
With this “buy the ticket, take the ride” attitude, Deroo will attempt to bring one of the most well-known characters in literature to life.
“There is a lot to Atticus, he’s a very complex character,” he said. “There’s a lot of pressure on me because he’s one of the most beloved characters in American literature.
“I want to be believable; I want the audience to believe it, and I want to be satisfied with my own performance,” added Deroo.
As with any stage production, opening night jitters are par for the course. According to some of the actors who will recreate “To Kill A Mockingbird” tonight, however, they come in varying degrees.
“I think it depends on the part you have,” said Allison Keane, who will portray Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, the narrator of the tale. “Sometimes if you have more lines, it’s a little bit nerve-wracking. It definitely varies from show to show, but I’m definitely less nervous now than when I was a freshman.”
Jenitha Fingfing, playing the role of the Finch family’s housekeeper, Calpurnia, acting for the first time at Reading High, didn’t mince words when asked if she was nervous.
“Yes,” she responded without hesitation. Fingfing decided to try her hand on the stage on a whim, after reading the novel in school. “I really like the story, and they needed people, so I auditioned and here I am.”
Abbilyn Chuha, who plays one of the more fascinating characters in the book, Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose, agreed that nerves are normal before an opening night.
“This is my fifth show,” said Chuha. “It gets easier, knowing what to do, because you’ve done it so much, but you are always nervous.”
The opening night jitters aren’t the sole property of those on stage, either. As co-Technical Director Lizzy Gordon pointed out.
“I’m really excited right now, but Friday afternoon I might be a little nervous,” said Gordon, who will serve in the role of co-tech director for the second time. She also said the experience of doing this job before has taught lessons that will be applied this time around.
“My first time, it was the other tech directors first time too,” she said. “But we worked really well together and figured it out ... Definitely working with some of the different aspects of tech we will do differently ... We kind of learned how to problem solve.”
Back In The Day
Another challenging aspect of the production, according to Endslow, is getting the kids of today in the mindset of the American south, circa 1935. But luckily, he has help with that, in the form of Dramaturge Katherine Ferolito, whose task it is to research the time period and help the actors grasp the nuances and colloquialisms of the period.
Also, the heavy racial aspect of the work can be tough for kids to be comfortable with.
“It’s hard to say some of the words that people call each other,” said Endslow. “I think that’s the biggest challenge.”
After what Endslow calls “a lot of research by students and myself,” the play is ready to open and from the looks of it, he said, another memorable production is in the offing.
“I think it’s going to be a great show.”
The RMHS Drama Club will be presenting "To Kill a Mockingbird" three times: Friday, March 9 at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, March 10 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, March 11 at 3 p.m. Tickets are on sale: online using TicketStage or at the door 90 minutes before each performance.