Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird has been a perennial bestseller since its publication in 1960, and later became an equally beloved film. Hong Kong perpetuates the Mockingbird legend, and may even spark a whole new wave of interest, when the Mockingbird Players of Monroeville stage five performances of its theatrical adaptation at Asia Society Hong Kong Center between October 12 and 14. We interviewed the play’s co-directors, Dawn Hare and Jane Busby, who told us what this classic work of American literature is about and the challenges of performing at Asia Society Hong Kong Center. Following is a complete transcript of the interview.
What is To Kill a Mockingbird about?
To Kill a Mockingbird was actually the book written by a lady from our hometown, Monroeville, Alabama, Neil Harper Lee. She wrote it in the late ’50s and early ’60s, when it was published. She won a Pulitzer Prize. It was then turned into a movie that it is more famous or as famous as the book, starring Gregory Peck and Robert Duvall as Boo. This is the play version we perform, that was written or adapted to the stage by Christopher Sergel. The plot takes place in the 1930s, 1935, right after the edge of Depression in the United States at the time, so everyone was poor — “dirt poor,” as they say at home. It’s about a time when trials were by the jury system. They still are in the United States. At this time though, no women were judges or lawyers or they were allowed on the jurors, no black folks, only white men were allowed in those capacities.
This is a trial for the alleged rape of a young woman where they alleged a black man performed it. The jury has to make a decision whether to believe a black man, who is obvious to everybody that was telling the truth, whether they stick with cultural bias and go with the white witness. They reach a verdict and the jury gets to hear the verdict during the trial and see whether it’s fair or not.
Who are the 60 cast members of the Mockingbird Players of Monroeville?
They are all amateurs. They are all volunteers, basically come from all walks of life. We have veterinarians, a mortician on board. We have private business owners, schoolteachers, preachers, and a CEO from a bank. I’m a judge in real life. I’m an attorney. My day job is to be a judge in the court system. But I was a theater major in college, so I have either performed or directed or been some part of the theater, not professionally but semi-professionally, for years. One thing about our cast, we usually… just like I came on board, whenever my youngest son started playing the part of Jem and we have a lot of family ties. We have three members of three families together on this trip.
What are the challenges of performing the play at Asia Society Hong Kong Center?
Logistically — first of all, you’ve got to get 40-plus people over here, half way around the world, deal with multiple flights and deal with jet-lag. So you come with a cast — when we get here, they are tired. Then logistically, because they are amateurs, every time when they do it in some place differently, they almost have to relearn their parts where professionals will be more able to adapt. For us there is a directorial challenge of taking the space up here in the roof garden, which is a fabulous space. But turning it into a production space with entrances and exits. At home, we have entrances and exits stage right. If you have entrances and exits stage right, you are going off the roof garden, so we have to make some modifications.
Ideally, if we could have only one cast, it would simplify rehearsals, but because we have five performances in three days and we have children, we really felt the need to bring two complete casts of the main roles. It’s a lot for children to perform five times within three days. That gives us one set of kids to perform in the matinee and one set of kids to perform in the evening, to keep them a little fresher. It’s tough for a 10-year-old to do that many performances.
Published on Asia Society Hong Kong Center’s blog on October 12, 2013.