My Glimpse into the Green Room: To Kill A Mockingbird

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’re at half hour.” The stage manager reminded the cast and crew over the intercom.

Sitting before my mirror in the dressing room, I joined the professional actors as we completed our final preparations: applying make-up, repinning loose strands of hair, checking costumes, and brushing teeth.

I was making my acting debut, as a one-time only guest spectator in the courtroom scene of To Kill A Mockingbird, produced by the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. I’d bid on the spot in the theatre’s silent auction last March.

Harper Lee’s 1960 novel, is set in the fictitious town of  Maycomb,  Alabama during 1936, an era of Hoover carts,  shoeless children, interminable summer heat, and racial segregation.  I first read TKAM in 1967, turning pages surreptiously under the desk during my 7th grade social studies class. Like sealing wax, the story left an impenetrable impression that continues to this day.  I taught the novel to middle school students, hoping to infuse its timeless messages of integrity, compassion, tolerance, and equality.

When I heard about the theatre’s plans to produce the play, adapted by Christopher Sergel,  and its intentions to offer a courtroom seat, I jumped at the chance to be part of literature I love.

At my costume fitting, I tried on five period dresses, several pairs of shoes, and a couple of hats.

Women weren’t allowed to be in the jury then; but townspeople filled the benches, eager to watch how the town’s attorney, Atticus Finch, could possibly defend a black man accused of raping a white girl.

I attended my “put-in” rehearsal to practice entering, carrying a folding chair, setting it up in the right spot, sitting with my ankles crossed, responding to what I heard and saw on stage, finding a comfortable pose to maintain during moments when the action froze so another scene could occur, using my prop, a paper fan, and exiting in the dark, my arm balanced by another performer.

To play a Southern woman of that era, I knew I had to invoke a persona outside my comfort zone.  How could I possibly side with the character of Bob Ewell, a drunk who took advantage of his daughter, the lonely Mayella?

I considered the famous words of town attorney, Atticus Finch, appointed to defend the accused Tom Robinson.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it. ” (TKAM, p.30).

I rolled these words around inside my head the entire day, while hiking in the Poconos, while driving, while eating meals. I needed to suspend my personal beliefs to remain in character, to express shock that a black man was being called as a witness, to absorb Atticus’ charge to the jury, and to react to the verdict.

Dressed, hair in a coil, and made up, I entered the “Green Room,” the space below the stage where the actors wait until they appear in the play.   (for the origin of the term: http://www.theatrecrafts.com/glossary/pages/moregreenroom.html)  Here the actors ate from large trays of take-out Chinese food, played endless card games of poker and solitaire,  that they’d stop when they were needed and resume as soon as they returned; stretched into yoga poses, and scanned the Internet, looking for their next job.

Stagehands looking the part

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’re at 10 minutes.”

And then, “Ladies and gentlemen, 5 minutes. Places, please.”

Fans from Chancellor Ave. School, Newark attending performance

What the performers say about TKAM:  

For other posts about TKAM:

https://cyclingrandma.wordpress.com/2011/11/09/mary-badham-looking-back-with-scout, https://cyclingrandma.wordpress.com/2011/09/25/banned-book-we…em-harry-tango
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About cyclingrandma

I was a journalist (Danbury News-Times, Ct), before becoming a teacher, and continue to write for professional journals. I have written several study guides for Penguin Books and write for Education Update, a newspaper based in New York City. (www.educationupdate.com). I’ve interviewed many authors, college presidents, and scientists. I wrote “The Kentucky Derby’s Forgotten Jockeys” for Smithsonian Magazine's website, www.smithsonian.com. (April, 2009). Two essays have been published in book anthologies; one for Wisdom of Our Mothers, (Familia Books) and the other in “College Search and Parent Rescue: Essay for Parents by Parents of College-Going Students.” (St. Martin’s Press). I was a middle school Language Arts teacher for more than 10 years and have just completed a five year grant position under No Child Left Behind in Newark, NJ public schools. I have three children, two daughters-in law, and six grandchildren. I'm an avid cyclist, knitter, cook, and reader. I love theater, museums, and yoga.
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10 Responses to My Glimpse into the Green Room: To Kill A Mockingbird

  1. In 2007, Inherit the Wind returned to Broadway for a limited engagement with Brian Dennehy and Christopher Plummer. Seats were available on the stage for those members of the audience who wanted to be “townspeople” and see the show from a different viewpoint (behind the actors!) We had to arrive early, put all our paraphernalia in off- stage lockers, turn our cellphones OFF (even on vibrate they would have caused problems.)
    I remember the feeling of looking out at the audience and wondering how the performers did this, show after show. It solidified for me the idea of NEVER being an actor but it was an eye opening experience. Glad you got to the chance to be on stage!

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  2. Sounds very exciting. This was one of my favorite books and a favorite movie. The closest I came to a green room moment was meeting Philip Alford when I was in the 6th grade and talking to him about filming the movie. Enjoy the play and the experience of being part of the cast

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  3. Sakina Pitts says:

    Over the years, I’ve grown an immense LOVE for Theater….Musicals particularly, however this production of To Kill A Mockingbird in such an intimate theatre gave me the same feeling of that when viewing an actual Broadway production with such a powerful theme. The actors and actresses truly captivated me as if I too had read the book as a young girl. I’m proud of you for having the courage to make your acting debut!! You’ve been afforded an opportunity that some may never get in a lifetime! So even if your role was a one-time guest spectator in the courtroom scene, I’m sure you “MADE IT COUNT”!!!! 🙂

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  5. Leah says:

    What a great post and such a fun experience. I love To Kill a Mockingbird. I can imagine that being a part of the play was so special. And great reminder of Atticus Finch’s words of wisdom.

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