‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ is a staple in American literacy. Penned by Harper Lee, the compelling story of racial injustice and childhood innocence has gone on to become an educational tool for many in school, a widely successful movie, and now, one of the most successful stage shows in recent years.
‘TKAM’ follows the Finch family, with the patriarch Atticus at the helm of the story. Although told in the film and book from the viewpoint of Atticus’ daughter Scout, the plot expands to include a bevy of transfixing characters, including the rambunctious Jem Finch, the mysterious Boo Radley, plus the Finch’s steady and wise housekeeper and caretaker, Calpurnia.
Set in 1938 in Mobile, Alabama, the pulse of society seems vastly different—although as we see unfold on stage, the ideologies that seem almost archaic unfortunately still live and breathe in our world today. Brought to life now by Academy Award winner Aaron Sorkin and directed by Tony Award winner Bartlett Sher, the latest show to hit Philadelphia stars Richard Thomas as Atticus Finch, Melanie Moore as Scout Finch, Jacqueline Williams as Calpurnia, Justin Mark as Jem Finch and Mary Badham (the original Scout in the 1962 film) as Mrs. Dubose.
To talk more about the impactful story, actress Jacqueline Williams sat down with Metro to dive deeper into her character and what audiences will see unfold on stage.
How did you get started in theater?
I’m from the Chicago area, but my family was originally from Mississippi, so our Southern routes are immediate. I got into theater in grade school with the ‘Blessed Christmas Play’ and I’ve been involved with it my whole life from there. [Since then] I’ve worked all over the country, in film, TV and radio.
Before auditioning, how well did you know the story of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’?
The book and the film have been favorites of mine for most of my life. I read the book first when I was about 11-12, and I’ve read the book I think three times in my life. I’ve also seen the film at least 8 times, it really is one of my favorites.
So I would assume that when this opportunity came up, you jumped at the chance to be part of the show?
Oh, absolutely. Especially with Aaron Sorkin penning the adaptation and Bartlett Sher directing, I mean, you couldn’t ask for a better team.
For fans of the book and the movie, will what they see on stage capture the spirit of the story? Are there any changes made?
It does bring everything to life on stage before you, and it’s a theatrical event that fleshes out a lot of things. For instance, I play Calpurnia, and my role is greatly fleshed, so you really get more information and more of an experience of Calpurnia’s relationship with Jem, Scout and with Atticus. You get more of an idea of her place in this family essentially being a surrogate to the kids and a trusted confidant of Atticus for many years. [Atticus and Calpurnia] really are more like brother and sister and there’s a mutual respect in that… They talk about many things and go toe to toe on many things and share many things. They have lots of conversations, and for Atticus, Calpurnia is also a representative of the Black community and all that entails—the feelings, the perspectives and the experience. [But] as much as he tries, he just cannot know life at that time from the Black perspective. The storytelling is handled a little differently in this live event [as well,] it’s essentially the three kids telling the story as opposed to just Scout. It really is a wonderful and full event of the story, and people need to treat themselves and come out and be part of the experience.
How would you describe your character, Calpurnia?
Calpurnia is the truth. She is wise, witty, she is honest, she is frank and she is the truth. That’s her in a nutshell.
Are there any scenes from the stage show that really stand out to you?
There’s definitely more than one because it really is a beautiful, beautiful production and we really do have a dynamite company. It’s too hard to single out. But, Mary Badham is part of the company. Mary was Scout in the film and she is touring with us and playing the deliciously evil Mrs. Dubose. So, that’s a little nugget to share.
For those who don’t know the story as well, what would you tell them to expect for the stage show of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’?
They can expect a truth through history that we are still experiencing today. They can expect a view of coming of age for these kids, they can expect witnessing the nature of the human spirit… And they can expect love amongst a family and a community, but also the ugliness and the racism amongst a community and what that does to the community, relationships and what it continues to do to our society today. They can hopefully investigate things in their lives and what they have done to make things better and what they can possibly do from here on out to make things better. They can expect a lot of laughter, joy, some pain, possibly healing and some hope.
‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ will be performed at the Kimmel Cultural Campus, in partnership with The Shubert Organization until July 24. For information and tickets, visit kimmelculturalcampus.org