To Kill a Mockingbird

Adapted by Christopher Sergal
From the novel by Harper Lee
Poster design by Bill Burgard

December 7 - 9 at 8 PM
December 10 at 2 PM
Power Center

background | press release | synopsis | program | photographs

Background Information
Nelle Harper Lee
Nelle Harper Lee was born on April 28, 1926, in Monroeville Alabama, a city of about 7,000 people in Monroe County, which has about 24,000 people. Monroeville is in southwest Alabama, about halfway between Montgomery and Mobile. The youngest of four children, Miss Lee studied law at University of Alabama before settling in New York City. In 1957, Miss Lee submitted the manuscript of her novel to the J. B. Lippincott Company. She was told that her novel consisted of a series of short stories strung together, and she was urged to rewrite it. She re-worked the manuscript for the next two and a half years with the help of her editor, Tay Hohoff, and in 1960 "To Kill a Mockingbird" was published, her only published book. "To Kill A Mockingbird" was on the best-seller lists for a period of over eighty weeks. In May, 1961, she was the first woman since 1942 to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Miss Lee has since published various magazine articles, but remains a highly private individual, rarely appearing or speaking in public. She was awarded in 1997 an honorary doctorate (one of five she has been given) at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, for her "lyrical elegance, her portrayal of human strength, and wisdom."
- excepted from a great Harper Lee resource on the web

Parallels between the Novel, Miss Lee and the 1930s
There are many parallels between the trial of Tom Robinson in "To Kill a Mockingbird" and one of the most notorious series of trials in the nation's history, the Scottsboro Trials. On March 25, 1931, a freight train was stopped in Paint Rock, a tiny community in Northern Alabama, and nine young African-American men who had been riding the rails were arrested. As two white women - one underage - descended from the freight cars, they accused the men of raping them on the train. Within a month the first man was found guilty and sentenced to death. There followed a series of sensational trials condemning the other men solely on the testimony of the older woman. A known prostitute, she was attempting to avoid prosecution under the Mann Act, which prohibited taking a minor across state lines for immoral purposes, such as prostitution. Although none of the accused were executed, a number remained on death row for many years. The case was not settled until 1976 with the pardon of the last of the Scottsboro defendants.

Additionally, Miss Lee's own childhood carries many similarities to her narrator Scout. Miss Lee grew up in the 1930s in a rural southern Alabama town and would have been six years old at the time of the Scottsboro trials. Miss Lee's father, Amasa Lee, was an attorney who served in the state legislature in Alabama. Her older brother and young neighbor (Truman Capote, who served as the pattern for Dill) were her constant playmates. As a child, Harper Lee was an avid reader, similar to Scout's own ability to read before starting school.
- excerpted from

Adaptations of the Novel
The motion picture rights to the novel were reported as sold to Alan Pakula and Robert Mulligan, February 23, 1961, about two months before the Pulitzer Prize was awarded. By the first week of January, 1962, pre-production was well under way. An exclusive pre-release showing of the movie was held Christmas Day 1962 to qualify the picture for the 1962 Academy Awards. In her introduction to Horton FooteÕs published screenplay of the novel, Harper Lee wrote, "If the integrity of a film adaptation is measured by the degree to which the novelistÕs intent is preserved, Mr. Foote's screenplay should be studied as a classic." The film was honored with five Oscar nominations and won Academy Awards for Best Actor (Gregory Peck), Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Black-and-White Art Direction. It also won special humanitarian awards for its treatment of racial injustice.

The novel was first adapted for the stage by Christopher Segal. Director Kyle Donnelly noted "what sets the Sergel adaptation apart from the 1960 novel and 1962 screenplay is the use of the adult Scout, or Jean Louise, as a narrator woven into the story, at some moments reliving it herself. There are more passages from the novel (than in the film), descriptions of things you don't see, which makes the evening very theatrical." A favorite with regional and academic companies, "To Kill a Mockingbird" has become one of the most performed shows in the nation. It is performed annually in May in Harper Lee's hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, by the Monroe County Heritage Museum which is located in the Monroeville Courthouse.

Press Release

The University of Michigan's Department of Theatre and Drama presents a dramatization of Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird." This timeless tale of the innocence of childhood and the shock of growing up will run for four performances from December 7 through December 10 at the Power Center for the Performing Arts in Ann Arbor. The drama provides a poignant look at justice and the human spirit, as told through the eyes of a young girl learning the mysteries and realities of adulthood.

"To Kill a Mockingbird" is the only novel by Harper Lee. Born in 1926 in Alabama, Lee's childhood bears many similarities to Scout, the central character of Mockingbird, although it is not autobiographical. Lee drew on her own experience as a young girl in the South to create a rich atmosphere filled with the distinct voices of the people in the town of Maycomb. An intensely private and reserved woman, who rarely makes public appearances, Lee once stated "The novel is a love story pure and simple. My love of the South, a father's love for his children and the love they give in return."

She first approached a publisher in 1957 with a series of short stories, and he recommended that she re-work the manuscript into a novel. The novel was published in 1960. It quickly garnered acclaim, winning the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1961, making Lee the first woman to win the award since 1942. The story was turned into a movie in 1962, starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch and winning numerous awards of its own. Dramatized for the stage by Christopher Sergel in 1970, the play is continuously produced throughout the county, including an annual production in LeeÕs hometown of Monroeville, Alabama. The dramatization retained more of the original novel's prose than the movie, which provide rich descriptive elements necessary for the theatrical requirements of live production.

Told through the perspective of eight-year old Scout, "To Kill a Mockingbird" is set in a small Southern town during the Depression. She and her brother Jem are being raised by their widower father Atticus and by a strong-minded housekeeper Calpurnia. Wide-eyed Scout is fascinated with the people of her small town, but from the start, there's a rumble of thunder just under the calm surface of the life here. The black people of the community have a special feeling for Scout's father and she doesn't know why. A few of her white friends are inexplicably hostile and Scout doesn't understand this either. Atticus, a lawyer, explains that he's defending a young Negro wrongfully accused of a grave crime. Since this is causing such an upset, Scout wants to know why he's doing it. "Because if I didn't," her father replies, "I couldn't hold my head up."

Atticus's reply to Scout underscores the central theme of the play: the ability to put oneself in another's shoes in an effort to recognize truth. "Ultimately it's all a matter of courage," states director Kathryn Long. "The notion of finding the balance between following what you think is right and seeing the world from someone else's perspective. Scout realizes that Atticus seeks the balance between these two notions and that he expects her, and indeed the entire community, to respect both. This is a powerful message for any time. The key to adulthood is moving from the egotism of childhood to finding the common ground that allows us to live in a society."

Guest director Long earned a Ph.D. in theatre from the University of Michigan and is currently a free-lance director based in New York. The artistic team for "To Kill a Mockingbird" also includes scenic designer Gary Decker, who recently designed the set for the Musical Theatre Department's October production of "Of Thee I Sing." Designing costumes is associate professor Jessica Hahn whose designs include "The Daughter of the Regiment" and "A Little Night Music." Graduate student Harold F. Burgess II ("Colored People's Time") will design lights. Rounding out the artistic team is sound designer Henry Reynolds whose designs include "The Importance of Being Earnest" and "Our Country's Good."
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Our narrator, Scout Finch, describes her family history and her town of Maycomb. She, her brother Jem, and their friend Dill, share stories and fantasies about the mystery man (Boo Radley) who lives near by. As time goes by, Scout and Jem find some mysterious presents in the knothole of an old tree on the Radley place, leading to fascination with the mysterious Boo Radley.

Wide-eyed Scout is fascinated with the people of her small town, but, from the start, there's a rumble of thunder just under the calm surface of the life here. The black people of the community have a special feeling about Scout's father and she doesn't know why. Atticus explains to Scout that he will be defending a black man named Tom Robinson on the charge of rape.

When the danger of a rabid dog threatens the town, Scout discovers that her father, whom she previously thought too old to do anything, does possess some talents. Atticus turns out be a crack shot, killing the dog in one shot at a great distance.

As Tom Robinson's trial approaches, Atticus worries about the safety of his client. This fear that proves to be justified. A group of townspeople appear at the courthouse one night, with the intention of lynching Tom Robinson. The only person who stands in their way is Atticus. At first, the mob intends to plow right through him, but with the unexpected arrival of Scout, Jem and Dill, they realize the error of their actions.

When Tom Robinson's trial finally begins, evidence begins to show that Robinson is innocent. When Mayella Ewell takes the stand, it becomes obvious that her story has many holes in it. When Tom Robinson takes the stand, another story comes out. It becomes evident that Mayella Ewell was a very lonely person who found an excuse to get Tom into her house so that she could hug him. Her father, Bob Ewell, beat her for her actions. Mr. Ewell also forced her to say that Tom Robinson raped her, so that Ewell wouldn't get in trouble.

After the verdict is announced in Tom Robinson's case, guilty, the children, as well as other members of the community, discuss and react to the verdict. Mr. Robinson is sent to prison. Some time later, Atticus returns home with the news that Tom Robinson has been killed.

Scout prepares for a Halloween night presentation at her school. She plans to wear a bulky pig costume, one that severely limits her vision. While returning home from the school pageant, Jem and Scout are attacked. Jem's arm is broken, and a stranger carries him home. Afterwards, a search of the area by the local officials turns up Bob Ewell's dead body. As the sheriff and Atticus listen, Scout tells them what happened to her and Jem, ending by pointing to the man who had carried Jem home, whom she realizes is Boo Radley. Atticus assumes that it was Jem who stabbed Bob Ewell, but the sheriff tells Atticus that he intends to report that Ewell fell on his own knife. Atticus is sure that the sheriff is trying to protect Jem, until it finally dawns on him that it was actually Boo Radley who killed Ewell. Scout walks Boo Radley home, and then returns to her house to see Atticus sitting by her unconscious brother, as the play ends.

Click here to view the To Kill a Mockingbird program as a PDF file

Production Photographs

Anthony von Halle
as Atticus Finch
Maggie Smythe as Dill Benjamin Klein as Jem
and Taryn Fixel as Scout

Boyd White III
as Tom Robinson
Lauren Spodarek as
Mayella Ewell
Dan Granke as Bob Ewell