To Kill A Mockingbird at Young People’s Theatre

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Not too long ago my social media feeds were filled with support, discussions and favourite books as part of Banned Books Week. It reminds us to think about the material we read and speak out about our ability to decide on appropriate works for ourselves, like, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, listed on Freedom to Read’s Challenged Works list

I understand that the racially changed storyline and language may make some people cringe or feel uncomfortable. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be a story to read or discuss. When I heard this production was making an appearance at Toronto’s own Young People’s Theatre I was eager to see it with our Junior Style Blogger. The required reading for her grade seven history class had us discussing race, religion and discrimination.

To Kill a Mockingbird takes place in the middle of the depression in the southern United States at a time when many individuals considered blacks to fall further down the social scale than whites. When Bob Ewell, a white man, accuses Tom Robinson, a black man, of attacking his oldest daughter, sides are drawn in the small town. It’s true racist language and behaviour is displayed in the play. It made my daughter and I uncomfortable as something that we knew was wrong, a part of culture that shouldn’t have happened. As I sat in a packed theatre of school kids, many of ethnic origin, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of them knew first hand the feelings expressed in the play, hatred from others purely based on a difference.

To Kill A Mockingbird, YPT

L-R: Matthew G. Brown as Tom Robinson, Mark Crawford as Mr. Gilmer, Jeff Miller as Atticus Finch and W. Joseph Matheson as Heck Tate in a scene from To Kill a Mockingbird at Young People’s Theatre Oct. 6 to Nov. 2, opening Oct. 9; Set & Costume Design by Dana Osborne, Lighting Design by Lesley Wilkinson; Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

The play will make you sad and angry yet hopeful. Yes the language and hatred is strong in parts, making even me tense in my seat, but it serves as a reminder of what shouldn’t happen and the courage of a few to stand up against the many even if it means failure in the end.

The Young People’s Theatre version of To Kill a Mockingbird did a good job of illustrating the main essence of the story, although somewhat condensed compared to the book. Hopefully it opens up dialog between youth and their parents and teachers. Our past, no matter how distasteful, is there for us to learn from. Just because it makes us uncomfortable doesn’t mean we should ignore it.

Unlike some plays designed to entertain, To Kill a Mockingbird isn’t something you just watch and walk away from. Even if you read the book, seeing people in the role as the characters I find can be far more impactful. I think the tears and comments from my daughter and that of the other audience kids can attest to that. The study guide for the play although designed for teachers, does have some great resources for parents too, whether you take your kids to the play or they go to see the performance with their class. Use this opportunity to start a conversation on the topic that you might want to ignore or feel it isn’t relevant to you and your child. Racism and how we view one another in society is an important issue for everyone.

The 90 minute play runs until November 2, 2014 with weekend performances available for families. You can see the full show schedule here.

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