Thursday, May 23, 2019

Are we the Lucky Ones or the Unlucky Ones?: A Response to a cancelled To Kill A Mockingbird Production

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 after regional, community, and children’s theatre productions of the adaptation by Christopher Sergel have been abruptly shut down (some of which were opening in the next few weeks) 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 community and regional 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.
Oklahoma Chidren’s Theatre Executive Director Lyn Adams wrote the following statement for TYA Today Online in response to the recent cancellation of the OCT production.


Oklahoma Children’s Theatre, a small nonprofit theatre, housed on the campus of Oklahoma City University was caught in the net of chaos surrounding  Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and the legality of production rights to the Sergel adaptation.  We had planned to present this adaptation in September as part of our collaboration with OCU’s School of Theatre.  It was shaping up to be a wonderful collaboration as it included young performers, adult community actors and OCU Theatre students.  The daytime matinee audience would have been middle and high school students. Perfect for Oklahoma Children’s Theatre right?

Except that due to a conflict between the licensing company and the Broadway producers of the new Aaron Sorkin version, the rights were taken away from us. At first, under threat of legal action we felt that perhaps we had dodged a bullet in that we had time to select another title. Then, producer Scott Rudin announced that he would allow those theatres who already had an agreement in place the opportunity to produce his adaptation, royalty free!  Whoohooo!   Perhaps we really were the lucky ones, because …well,  what a deal!  As we began to imagine this great opportunity, we understood that there are no children in this new version.  Scout, Jem and Dill are portrayed by adult actors reflecting on the past, and Atticus is featured as the protagonist.  This has given us much cause for consideration. I have always loved the journey that Scout as protagonist takes, leaving her childhood behind as she steps into the confusing world of adults. As I high schooler, I read the book over a weekend listening to Gordon Lightfoot’s album “If You Could Read my Mind.” The images Harper Lee created and Lightfoot’s music has blended for me into one loving embrace of Scout, Dill and Jem. Truth is, I just don’t know what we are going to do, as I don’t know if I can say goodbye to Scout.

My sympathies go to those theatre companies who were weeks away from opening their productions. How can they mount an entirely new show? What a pain to say the least.

In the meantime, between now and September, we will continue with our touring production, our spring Break and summer camps, and our annual fundraiser. We will open and close 6 productions and as I write, host kids for a day of fun and games because their schools have closed for the day… oh yes, and figure out what we are going to do about that September slot.



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