Thursday, May 23, 2019

And If That Mockingbird Won’t Sing…: Response from a 5th-Grade “Dill”

TYA Today Online spoke with several members of our national theatre community about the recent conflict surrounding the stage adaptation of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Several regional, community, and children’s theatre productions of the adaptation by Christopher Sergel were abruptly shut down by a cease-and-desist from the Broadway producing team behind the new Aaron Sorkin-penned adaptation currently running on Broadway. In response to a national backlash, representatives from the Broadway production have made a rare and surprising offer to a number of venues most affected by the sudden change in rights—the opportunity to produce the Aaron Sorkin version currently only running on Broadway. While this marks a significant concession, this offer raised even more questions, with several small companies scrambling to figure out if and how they could stage an entirely different version of the show.
5th Grader Avi Gilbert was cast to play “Dill” in a production that was set to open March 8, 2019 at the Dayton Playhouse in Dayton, Ohio and was abruptly shut down while in rehearsal. We recently spoke with Avi about his experience.

TYA Today Online: How long have you been performing, and what do you love about being an actor? Was this your first time performing in a production alongside adults?

Avi Gilbert: I have been performing since I was in a school play in kindergarten, over five years ago. I love being an actor because I really enjoy meeting other people who share one of my hobbies, and it’s fun for me to interpret my character’s feelings onstage. I am an athlete, so I have found that acting is another “team sport.” My first time performing with adults was when I was seven years old and played Randy in La Comedia’s production of A Christmas Story: The Musical.

Did you know about TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD before starting rehearsal for this production? What did it mean to you to be a part of this production?

AG: When I found out that there were kids’ roles in To Kill A Mockingbird at The Dayton Playhouse, I started reading the book and watched some movie clips. I realized it was a really intense play that taught an important lesson, so I was really looking forward to performing in it.

I was truly looking forward to this production because someone who had directed me before, Matt Lindsay, was a perfect Atticus. Also this would have been my second time being directed by Matthew Smith and my third production with The Dayton Playhouse.

How did you feel when you found out the production was cancelled? Why do you think it is important to tell this story on stage in your community?
AG: After three weeks of memorizing lines and rehearsing for hours, I was devastated when they announced that To Kill A Mockingbird was not going to be produced. We were two weeks from performing the show when we found out we had to quit because of Broadway rights. It was so hard to cancel the show because the lesson was really strong and our community needed to be reminded that there is still racism in the world. It was important to show this play to everyone. I felt terrible, hurt, and disappointed when I found out that the play was not going to be produced because we worked so hard, the set was built, the costumes were ready, and suddenly it’s all wasted. Our community theater, The Dayton Playhouse, lost a lot of money during this potential lawsuit. It’s hard for me to understand why this had to happen.
" It was so hard to cancel the show because the lesson was really strong and our community needed to be reminded that there is still racism in the world. It was important to show this play to everyone."

Even though the play was canceled after all the hard work and money spent, I really enjoyed this show while it lasted, especially being able to socialize with my fellow actors and learn about this ugly part of American history. I hope The Dayton Playhouse will consider me in another production, because, as always, “the show MUST go on!”

What do you think about the possibility that your theatre may be able to produce the new version of To Kill a Mockingbird?

AG: I recently found out that we might be able to do a different version. I would love to still teach the lesson that it’s meant to teach. I feel that having to learn new lines and blocking would still be better than quitting the entire play. Another reason is that we could keep the set instead of wasting the time and materials used to build it.

About this possibility, Board of Directors Chairman Matthew Lindsay added: My thoughts: This is an amazing opportunity for a community theatre to stage a Broadway script, a script that other theaters will not have a chance to perform for years. It is very different from the older script, and has many technical challenges. The board is considering the script and also awaiting details of the offer. We are also working to find a way to fit it into our next season’s schedule.

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