A Half Century Later, To Kill A Mockingbird is Still Relevant
From Nov. 18 to Nov. 20, Andrews University Theatre Wing (AUTW) performed their fifth play since the club’s conception, To Kill a Mockingbird, based on Harper Lee’s award-winning 1960 novel of the same name, at the Burman Auditorium in University Towers
To Kill a Mockingbird is a story of racial prejudice and injustice set in an imaginary Alabama town in the 1930s. In her novel, Lee tells the story of a criminal trial. The defendant—a 25-year-old African-American male—is Tom Robinson, and the plaintiff—a 19-year-old Caucasian female—is Mayella Violet Ewell. The story is narrated by Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, the daughter of Tom Robinson’s lawyer, Atticus Finch. At the end of the trial, while all of the evidence is in his favor, the jury still chooses to convict Robinson for a crime he did not commit.
AUTW’s production included a wide array of students in its production, from freshman to members of the Berrien Springs community. According to AUTW members, the club began rehearsing the play starting at the beginning of the year. As it neared closer to opening night, they rehearsed more often, rehearsing for five hours a day the week before the play.
Annelise Burghardt (freshman, Explore Andrews) played Mayella Violet Ewell, the plaintiff.
“It took me a while to understand the character of Mayella,” Burghardt said, “because at first I played her way too sassy and upfront, but once I really started to understand her and understand her mental processes and maybe the, as Bennett (Executive Producer of To Kill a Mockingbird) said, how she was a very backwards person, it helped playing her more.”
Bennett Shelley (junior, English, French), AUTW’s Executive Producer, revealed the motivation behind their choice of To Kill A Mockingbird. At first, the club had planned to enact a production of The Scarlet Letter, a play based on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 novel set during the Salem Witch Trials, but according to Shelley, this year’s political climate and current events sent them in a different direction.
Shelley said, “We decided with the recent issues with the Black Lives Matter movement and the racial issues that our country has been witnessing and experiencing, we thought it might be nice to give a different feel. We thought, let’s do something that is…current and relevant to the things we’re struggling with, the issues we have in our country. The issue of race has never died, and that’s obvious. We see it here in 1930s Alabama; we see it here in 2016 across the country.”
The audience responded well to AUTW’s decision to use their stage as a platform to make a political statement.
Raier Rada (freshman, architecture) said, “I thought that the play did a good job of waking people up by letting them hear the words spoken. It made me realize even more that this treatment of blacks and other minorities is not okay.”
“I believe it was very timely. Racial injustice is a topic that cannot be ignored anymore,” said Tori Cooke (freshman, pre-physical therapy). “We must become aware of the problems that divides our nation. In order to move forward, we must also continue to voice these issues in order to find a solution.”
AUTW is looking ahead to next semester, and planning their next production. Shelley said that if all goes well, they will be performing Beauty and the Beast. Shelley said that the club is looking for an architecture major to design and construct the set. For their production of To Kill A Mockingbird, the club built the sets all by themselves. With a large production like Beauty and the Beast, AUTW members said they would need some assistance.
Overall, those in attendance for To Kill a Mockingbird believed that AUTW made a good first impression this year, as many expressed excitement to see what the club will perform next.
Cooke is planning on attending AUTW’s next play.
Cooke said, “I will be there to support my friends and the arts.”