Central High Adds Twist To ‘Mockingbird’

cast of To Kill A Mockingbird on stage

One of the two casts of 'To Kill A Mockingbird' at Champaign's Central High School

Devyn Tammons/WILL

If you've read the book, To Kill A Mockingbird, you know it's a story that centers largely on issues of race and justice. Those are themes that continue to resonate today. So, when Champaign's Central High School decided to stage a performance of Harper Lee's novel, they added a modern twist. This weekend, students will perform two versions of the play; one with a traditional cast, the other with the races of the major characters reversed.

LaDonna Wilson directs the drama program at Central.  She says the idea for the two casts came to her last spring. But the events in Ferguson, Missouri motivated her even more.

"It was clear that we still live in a society sometimes where it feels like you are still guilty until proven innocent if you’re of color," she says. "So one of the things I talked about with students is if maybe if we did the role reversal we can kind of feel what it’s like to be the people that have to defend themselves just for being themselves."

Cedric Jones plays the role of Atticus Finch in the reversed version of the play. He says, "At a very young age I think I was exposed to what it means to be a black male in America."

Jones says that he hopes to get a better understanding of what it was like to be a majority as well as a minority in the time period. And Jones wants the audience to connect the themes in the play with current issues.

"I hope they get a better understanding of the time period as well as how that relates to situations that we have going on in America today," he says. "I hope they get a better understanding of things like race relations and different things of that nature."

In the traditional version of the play, Jeremy Brown plays the part of Atticus Finch. He says the role reversal in the two performances fit the theme of the book: That you can't understand someone else's experience unless you've walked in their shoes. In this case, that experience is racism.

"I would say that I wish I understood. But being inherently white," he says, "I don’t understand that, you know it’s something that’s just, I won’t get it entirely. I don’t think there’s ever a point in my life where I’ll truly understand how much it means to be discriminated against in that way."  

Wilson, the drama director, also hopes that the audience gains a better perspective on the way race is viewed in this country; especially during Black History Month.

"I think that every time that we examine and think about our perceptions of race it’s a good thing. And I think that many of us can go through day to day basis without ever having to consider it. And this month especially I think it’s kind of an important time for us to think about it," Wilson says. 

Thursday and Saturday's performances feature the minority-led cast. Friday and Sunday feature the traditional cast.

Story source: WILL