Rehearsals begin today for Geva’s next production, the stage adaptation of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. The actors are in town, housed in Geva’s beautiful artist housing. The outline of the set, designed by Jack Haldoupis (see the set model on the left), has been taped onto the floor in the rehearsal room. The script has been copied. Geva’s production departments are hard at work building the set, fitting the costumes, collecting the props, preparing the lights and sound. The education department has been working for months preparing the Stage Door project (more to come on this year’s program, but check out stories from previous years here.) And, of course, yours truly has prepared background information for the creative team.
That information – a 43 page packet of research materials – is a quick glance at the world of the play and the background of the novel, gleaned from books, magazines, newspapers and, of course, the internet. It begins with an exploration of Harper Lee herself. Since the novelist has shunned the media spotlight for over five decades (her last interview was given in 1964), much of this information comes from the bestselling biography, Mockingbird, by Charles J. Shields. It’s a great read, and definitely worth adding to your wishlist (or checking out from your local library!). One of my favorite parts of the book is Mr. Shields’ exploration of Lee’s childhood – perhaps because it gives such great insight into the rascally tomboy at the center of it all, Scout.
While Harper’s upbringing was upper-middle-class, she grew up during the Depression, which had a clear impact on her life. In an interview, Lee connected the devastation of the Depression with the growth of her imagination. “We had to use our own devices in our play, for our entertainment. We didn’t have much money. Nobody had any money. We didn’t have toys, nothing was done for us, so the result was that we lived in our imagination most of the time.”
The Lee family lived next door to the Faulks, who often played host to their young relative, Truman Streckfus Persons. (Later in life, he changed his name to Truman Capote.) Nelle, as Harper Lee is known by those in her hometown, and Truman were fast friends. One summer, Lee’s father gave them an Underwood typewriter, and the two started writing stories together. While he moved to New York City in third grade, Truman returned to Monroeville most summers, and they remained close. “When we were a bit too young to read, Brother, who was a voracious reader,” Nelle remembered, “would read many, many stories to us. Then we’d dramatize the stories in our own ways, and Truman would always provide the necessary comic relief to break up the melodrama.”
This friendship proved pivotal for Harper Lee – Truman became the basis for the character of Dill (a man who’d grown up with them remembered him as “a smartass. No one liked him. But Nelle protected him. When kids would hop on Capote, Nelle would get ’em off. She popped out a lot of boys’ teeth.”). But maybe even more importantly, that Underwood typewriter continued to link the two writers – when Capote needed help with his book In Cold Blood, it was Harper Lee he called.
More to come as we delve into the script – this afternoon, we gather for the first read-through!