Written by Karen Gilodo, Associate Artistic Director, Education (Young People's Theatre) Adapted by Lois Adamson, Director of Education (Stratford Festival)
INTRODUCTION TO THE GUIDE
"This is their home. Since some of us have made it this way for them, they might as well learn to cope with it." -Atticus Finch
When do we start teaching young people the hard lessons in life? When do we teach them that sometimes life isn't fair, that justice and the law can be two very different things, and that firmly held beliefs will be challenged. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Jean Louise (Scout) undergoes a process of moving from innocence to experience as she learns about the predicaments of those around her. Why won't Tom Robinson get a fair trial? Why would Bob Ewell treat his daughter so harshly? And just who is Boo Radley? In this study guide we have created exercises that will encourage students to consider, question and evaluate fairness, justice and their own belief systems. Students will be prompted to "walk in someone else's shoes" and try on different perspectives as they arrive at their own opinions. To Kill a Mockingbird is controversial. Students will likely have a multitude of reactions to the play. It is our hope that this study guide may act as a resource for open and honest discussion and exploration of this work of literature -and theatre- that raises important questions. We encourage you - teachers, parents and other adult stakeholders - to share this piece and this study guide with your students so that we might help young people grapple with these tough issues as a community.
Grades 6 and up
To Kill a Mockingbird Student Preparation
- All Grades: Language/English (Listening to Understand, Speaking to Communicate, Reading for Meaning)
- All Grades: Drama, Music, Visual Art
- Gr. 6 -12: Health and PE (Living Skills, Safe and Positive Interaction, Conflict Management, Stereotypes and Assumptions, Bullying, Harassment, Decision Making)
- Gr. 10: Canadian History since World War I (Communities, Conflict and Cooperation, Great Depression)
- Gr. 11: American History (Identity, Citizenship and Heritage: Great Depression - discrimination policies and practices, systematic oppression)
- Gr. 11: World History since 1900: Global and Regional Interactions (Identity, Citizenship and Heritage: limited citizenship and/or human rights)
- Gr. 11: Understanding Canadian Law (Foundations of Criminal Law, Criminal Justice System, Human Rights)
- Gr. 11-12: Equity, Diversity, and Social Justice (The Social Construction of Identity, Power Relations, Social Awareness and Individual Action, Respecting Diversity, Promoting Equity and Social Justice)
- Gr. 12: Canadian History, Identity and Culture (Ethnocultural identities)
- Gr. 12: World History since the Fifteenth Century (Great Depression, Segregation and the American South)
- Gr. 12: Adventures in World History (Great Depression)
- Gr. 12: Canadian and International Law (Rights and freedoms: Development of Human Rights law)
- Gr. 12: Legal Studies (Rights and Responsibilities)
- Coming of Age
- Strong Female Role Model
- Social Inequality
- Responsibility, Integrity and Perspective
- The Law and Justice
- Good and Evil
- Human Dignity
- The Mockingbird
- Innocence and Loss of Innocence
- Love and Caring
An Interview with Nigel Shawn Williams, Director, To Kill a Mockingbird
Why did you choose to direct this production? What excites you most about it?
I chose to direct this piece because of the challenge is set forth. There is always a burden or some pressure associated with directing an incredibly well know piece of literary history for the stage. I felt it. It was because of this fear that I chose to go ahead and do the piece. There are also the important issues being tackled in the piece that I wanted to have an opportunity to tackle from my voice, my generation.
I'm not sure if the word excited is the right one. What interests me most about To Kill a Mockingbird, is having an opportunity to tell a story about racial injustice and systemic racism that happened in 1935, and to see whether our audiences can understand that our world sadly has not changed much. If I am excited by anything, it is the 'after' I'm excited about. After the play, will anyone change their views? After the play, will anyone speak up when they witness discrimination? After the play, will more people stand up and speak up against racism, class discrimination and misogyny? The opportunity for change is what excites me.
I know it is still early days, but I was wondering if you might be able to share a little bit about your vision for the piece.
The biggest question is why we are telling this story. Why has Jean Louise come back to Maycomb, Alabama 30 years later to remember these horrible but important times in her childhood? What is she going through right now, that she must conjure these memories?
She is the focus. The poverty, the depression, the segregation, the deaths of two men, witnessing a rape trial, an assault on her and her brother. These incidents are traumas. There is nothing beautiful about it.
Her present is 1964, during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Is she being cursed by what we are now? Seeing hatred raise its ugly head and not knowing who or what can stop it?
To Kill a Mockingbird is controversial. It is often criticized for reinforcing the white saviour trope. In schools, it is sometimes pulled from curriculum reading lists due to arguments that the use of racial epithets makes some students uncomfortable or that there are more relevant texts to teach Canadian young people today. What is your take on the piece? What new perspectives do you find this classic offers a contemporary audience at an increasingly divisive time?
I think if someone is going to use a racial epithet it won't start because he or she read a novel. To Kill a Mockingbird is still an excellent example of study to peer into the behaviour of our past. Racism, bigotry, and discrimination are taught. Treating everyone on this planet as equal human beings is also taught. We all have to decide what kind of curriculum we want to teach our children.
My frustration is that sadly we need to keep telling these stories to remind ourselves that hatred corrupts and destroys. The new perspective on this classic is telling it now, from our generations' point of view. From the point of view from an artist of colour.
On the note of White saviour trope, I don't think we'll find that in this production because I refuse to reinforce the Black stereotypes. And I would argue that Atticus didn't really do very much 'saving'.
Who is this play for? How might audience's best prepare themselves to see it?
The play is for everyone. No one is too young to understand that racism should end. To prepare themselves for this, audiences could read the newspapers, listen to the news...look around. The degradation of a human life is happening all around us. It's happening in our own neighborhoods. It happens in our schools, in our offices, in our grocery stores and on the busses. Sometimes it's loud, but most of the time it's silent.
What do you hope audience members will experience during the show? What questions do you want them to leave with?
I hope that audiences will leave not with questions, but they will leave with a strong need to act. I hope that they will speak up, to not be silent anymore when they witness discrimination of any kind. I hope that some of the people will leave and be a more active participant in this divisive world. Atticus Finch didn't act out against racism because he was compelled to; he did it because he had to. I hope after watching the play people will be a stronger force for change. Beyond obligation.