I recall reading this book in middle school. I remember loving it. I remember thinking “what a beautiful book” and “What incredibly poetic yet, simple words." I recall finishing the last sentence on the last page and feeling thankful that we are no longer living in such a racially biased and unjust time. “Thank God” my middle school self thought, “things like that don’t happen anymore.”
As adult, as an artist it is sadly and abundantly clear to me now that this story is not an anecdotal look into how it once was. That said, I couldn’t let this script remain a trite piece of history, not with all of the stark modern day parallels. Parallels that you do not have to search for, they are not a stretch. When I was collaborating with the designer (Iliana Marks) of our marketing and postcards we were both in shock that every book cover, every production poster, every promotional add for this piece of literature/play was beautiful and gentle. A little girl here, a mockingbird on a lovely little tree branch there, a tire swing swaying amidst a floral background—all of them gentle and childlike. Yet, within this piece horrible acts occur in a town, too small-minded, and too sheltered to take a stand against said horrible acts. Where exactly is the beauty in that? I suppose I could’ve focused on Scout and the children’s journey as they watch these events unfold. After all, children are the future. The children in this play were supposed to be the future. But that take on To Kill a Mockingbird has been done already. Here we are in 2016 and unarmed, often innocent black men are still being killed (just like Tom) in the streets for traffic violations, selling cigarettes, or just walking home with some candy and soda. My focus couldn’t be on the children, it needed to be more than that. It needed to be a call to action; not a gentle, reminder that we can always hope in tomorrow. I’ve grown weary of “our thoughts and prayers are with…” “Our hearts go out to…” I’ve had it with hoping and waiting. The time is now. Change is needed now. What you will see tonight is without a doubt, and I say this without an ounce of pretention, unlike any Mockingbird you’ve ever seen and definitely not like the one you read in high school. We chose to focus on the past and the present butting heads using modern day music from primarily black artists; again to highlight the fact that you are not watching history. In the play’s original form, Miss Maudie was given all of the direct addresses to the audience and moments of narration. I took those moments, deconstructed them and rewrote them for a modern “greek chorus” of black student actors. You will watch them dip in and out of the story; participating, commenting, and narrating as a modern day eye looking in. The black characters within the action of the play, all three of them, have no power. They have no voice. That was an issue for me in terms of making this piece relevant to a 2016 audience. Our chorus will serve as a means to make connections, ask the hard questions, and offer new insights on the play.
There is a lot of “not all” rhetoric going around that wants to refute the idea that we have injustice issues in America. You know the story, it goes something like: Not all men are sexist. Not all gun owners are irresponsible. Not all Police officers are racist or operate from a place of extreme fear…etc. However, as society we should never become complacent with hate, ignorance, violence, and injustice ever. Just because “not all” of a demographic participates in a vile deed doesn’t mean it’s not a problem. It is my dire hope that with this piece we can encourage the audience to partake in a thoughtful discourse as well as inspire self reflection and education. Stop thinking you can’t do anything. You can always do something. Talk to your children. Engage your less exposed relatives in a well informed and passionate debate. Peacefully protest. Write your congressperson. Write a play. Vote. Educate a friend. Whatever you do, please don’t sleep on this. This isn’t about choosing a side; it’s about choosing love. It’s about choosing people.
-Ashley R. Kobza